Sun, sand and uncertainty: the promise and peril of a Pacific tourism bubble



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Regina Scheyvens, Massey University and Apisalome Movono, Massey University

Pacific nations have largely avoided the worst health effects of COVID-19, but its economic impact has been devastating. With the tourism tap turned off, unemployment has soared while GDP has plummeted.

In recent weeks, Fiji Airways laid off 775 employees and souvenir business Jack’s of Fiji laid off 500. In Vanuatu 70% of tourism workers have lost their jobs. Cook Islands is estimated to have experienced a 60% drop in GDP in the past three months.

In response, many are calling for the Pacific to be included in the proposed trans-Tasman travel corridor. Such calls have come from tourism operators, politicians and at least one health expert.

Quarantine concerns aside, there is economic logic to this. Australians and New Zealanders make up more than 50% of travellers to the region. Some countries are massively dependent: two-thirds of visitors to Fiji and three-quarters of visitors to Cook Islands are Aussies and Kiwis.




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Cook Islands has budgeted NZ$140 million for economic recovery, but this will increase the tiny nation’s debt. Prime Minister Henry Puna has argued for a limited tourism bubble as soon as New Zealand relaxes its COVID-19 restrictions to alert level 1. Cook Islands News editor Jonathan Milne estimates 75-80% of the population is “desperate to get the tourists back”.

A Pacific bubble would undoubtedly help economic recovery. But this merely highlights how vulnerable these island economies have become. Tourism accounts for between 10% and 70% of GDP and up to one in four jobs across the South Pacific.

The pressure to reopen borders is understandable. But we argue that a tourism bubble cannot be looked at in isolation. It should be part of a broader strategy to diversify economies and enhance linkages (e.g. between agriculture and tourism, to put more local food on restaurant menus), especially in those countries that are most perilously dependent on tourism.

Over-dependence on tourism is a trap

Pacific nations such as Vanuatu and Fiji have recovered quickly from past crises such as the GFC, cyclones and coups because of the continuity of tourism. COVID-19 has turned that upside down.

People are coping in the short term by reviving subsistence farming, fishing and bartering for goods and services. Many are still suffering, however, due to limited state welfare systems.

In Fiji’s case, the government has taken the drastic step of allowing laid-off or temporarily unemployed workers to withdraw from their superannuation savings in the National Provident Fund. Retirement funds have also been used to lend FJ$53.6 million to the struggling national carrier, Fiji Airways.




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Fiji has taken on more debt to cope. Its debt-to-GDP ratio, which ideally should sit below 40% for developing economies, has risen from 48.9% before the pandemic to 60.9%. It’s likely to increase further.

High debt, lack of economic diversity and dependence on tourism put the Fijian economy in a very vulnerable position. Recovery will take a long time, probably requiring assistance from the country’s main trading partners. In the meantime, Fiji is pinning hopes on joining a New Zealand-Australia travel bubble.

Rarotonga International Airport: three-quarters of visitors are Aussies and Kiwis.
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Out of crisis comes opportunity

Supporting Pacific states to recover is an opportunity for New Zealand and Australia to put their respective Pacific Reset and Step-Up policies into practice. If building more reciprocal, equitable relationships with Pacific states is the goal, now is the time to ensure economic recovery also strengthens their socio-economic, environmental and political infrastructures.

Economic well-being within the Pacific region is already closely linked to New Zealand and Australia through seasonal workers in horticulture and viticulture, remittance payments, trade and travel. But for many years there has been a major trade imbalance in favour of New Zealand and Australia. Shifting that balance beyond the recovery phase will involve facilitating long-term resilience and sustainable development in the region.

A good place to start would be the recent United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific report on recovering from COVID-19. Its recommendations include such measures as implementing social protection programs, integrating climate action into plans to revive economies, and encouraging more socially and environmentally responsible businesses.

This is about more than altruism – enlightened self-interest should also drive the New Zealand and Australian agenda. Any longer-term economic downturn in the South Pacific, due in part to over-reliance on tourism, could lead to instability in the region. There is a clear link between serious economic crises and social unrest.




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How might coronavirus change Australia’s ‘Pacific Step-up’?


At a broader level, the pandemic is already entrenching Chinese regional influence: loans from China make up 62% of Tonga’s total foreign borrowing; for Vanuatu the figure is 43%; for Samoa 39%.

China is taking the initiative through what some call “COVID-19 diplomacy”. This involves funding pandemic stimulus packages and offering aid and investment throughout the Pacific, including drafting a free trade agreement with Fiji.

That is not to say Chinese investment in Pacific economies won’t do good. Rather, it is an argument for thinking beyond the immediate benefits of a travel bubble. By realigning their development priorities, Australia and New Zealand can help the Pacific build a better, more sustainable future.The Conversation

Regina Scheyvens, Professor of Development Studies, Massey University and Apisalome Movono, Senior Lecturer in Development Studies, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How might coronavirus change Australia’s ‘Pacific Step-up’?



Scott Morrison attends the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu in 2019.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Tess Newton Cain, Griffith University

Across the globe, the coronavirus pandemic has prompted countries and governments to become increasingly inward-looking. Australia is not immune to this. One of the effects of this situation has been that the “Pacific Step-up” appears to have dropped entirely off the political radar.

The step-up is – or was – the signature foreign policy of the Morrison government. Although it predates Scott Morrison becoming prime minister, under his leadership it had really come to the fore. We saw an increase in ministerial visits to the region, a ramping up of labour mobility opportunities for Pacific islanders, and the establishment of a A$2 billion infrastructure financing facility.

So, how does the Pacific Step-up need to evolve to help respond to the challenges posed by coronavirus?

It’s important to acknowledge that Australia and the island members of the “Pacific family” share more than just an ocean. They have many common challenges. Addressing them requires sharing resources. The coronavirus response presents an opportunity to move the Pacific Step-Up from something that is done “to” or “for” the Pacific to something that Australia does “with” the Pacific.




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Despite its Pacific ‘step-up’, Australia is still not listening to the region, new research shows


It is too easy for the Australian media (and indeed the Australian public) to perpetuate the trope that Pacific people are helpless – chronic victims who need to be rescued from whatever calamity has most recently befallen them. Now is the time for Australian policymakers to step up and demonstrate real respect for their Pacific counterparts.

On top of the increasingly devastating effects of climate change, Pacific island countries are now managing the twin challenges of a potential public health emergency and its severe economic ramifications.

When it comes to the former, the focus has been on prevention. Many countries took swift and significant steps to minimise the risk of the virus entering their communities. Borders have been closed, restrictions on movements enforced and health and medical systems enhanced.

Pacific island countries are also already feeling the economic impacts of the global shutdown. This is particularly evident in those countries that rely on tourism and remittances for revenue, livelihoods and employment.

Several countries have moved quickly and decisively to introduce economic support and stimulus packages to meet some of the most pressing needs of their populations. Maintaining these into the medium and longer term will be a challenge.

In Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga, the impacts of the recent Tropical Cyclone Harold are presenting additional challenges. Reaching Category 5 strength, it caused more than 30 deaths and left large amounts of damage and destruction in its wake. Australia and other partners (particularly France and New Zealand) have provided assistance to government agencies in the region that are charged with responding to disasters of this type.

In the Pacific, and among many Australian commentators, it is widely acknowledged that the step-up is driven largely by geo-strategic anxiety about the growing influence of China in the Pacific islands region. Coronavirus has done little to dilute this angst. In some instances, it appears to have accentuated it. Certainly, China has made it abundantly clear it is ready, willing and able to be a friend in need for Pacific island countries.

A more sophisticated and nuanced Pacific Step-up that addresses the challenges posed by coronavirus provides Australia with an opportunity to demonstrate to Pacific counterparts its ability and willingness to offer something that is different and more valuable than is available elsewhere.

This can take one or more of several forms. First of all, Australia should continue to advocate to the global community the need to provide tailored financial support to Pacific island countries. This must include lobbying for meaningful debt relief to underpin economic recovery.

The IMF has already made some moves in this regard. Australia has also moved quickly in relation to its most recent loan to PNG. When the Pacific Islands Forum’s finance and economic ministers meet online in the near future, this will likely be on the agenda. Australia should look to have something concrete to put forward in support of this, including offers to lobby the G7 and G20.




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Recently, New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters raised the possibility of a New Zealand-Australia “bubble” based on low numbers of infections in both countries. He saw this as a basis for reopening the borders to allow for freer movement of people and goods.

Pacific island countries that have no COVID-19 cases – there are several – should look to be part of a “Pacific bubble” if this conversation goes forward. This would maintain Pacific islanders’ participation in labour mobility schemes.

Australia and New Zealand are also the key markets for Pacific tourism. The sooner tourists can be welcomed back to the resorts and beaches, the sooner island livelihoods can be restored.

The rhetoric of the Pacific Step-Up has been couched in terms such as “Pacific family”. We now need to know what this means for how Australia can and will support Pacific states and communities in the face of coronavirus.The Conversation

Tess Newton Cain, Adjunct Associate Professor, Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus Update: International


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United Kingdom

Despite its Pacific ‘step-up’, Australia is still not listening to the region, new research shows



Mick Tsikas/AAP

Leanne Smith, Western Sydney University

The Australian government has spent the past year promoting its “Pacific step-up” as one of the country’s “highest foreign policy priorities”.

Although there has been some progress on the diplomatic front in the past year – an increase in diplomatic visits, a boost in foreign aid and a new A$2 billion infrastructure financing initiative – there is some way to go to bring balance, mutual respect and a sense of long-term partnership and commitment to our relations with the region.

New research shows people in three of Australia’s closest Pacific neighbours – the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu – are concerned Australia does not know how to engage successfully as part of the Pacific community.

Three key messages came through:

  • the quality of our relationships matter more than the quantity of our aid or trade

  • our values, norms and ways of doing things are a vital part of how we conduct our engagement with the Pacific

  • Australia, and its historical relationship, is valued but we are one of many partners for Pacific islanders.

Late last year, the Whitlam Institute at Western Sydney University commissioned a policy research project led by the peacebuilding NGO Peacifica and Pacific specialist Tess Newton Cain. It aimed to understand how people in the three island nations view Australians and the government’s policies in the Pacific.

We conducted focus groups and one-on-one interviews with 150 participants from varying backgrounds, including people from urban and rural settings, women, young people, business people and those engaged in civil society and government. These conversations were then followed by expert seminars in Canberra and Suva.

The full report will be released at the Australasian Aid Conference on February 17.

‘Stifled by a degree of parochialism’

The participants in our surveys praised Australia’s efforts to empower women, as well as our humanitarian assistance programs, for their effectiveness and impact. But beyond that, the picture was more bleak in terms of whether we have the right policy and diplomatic priorities.

Across the three countries, there was a similar concern of a lack of balance and equality in the Australia-Pacific relationship and a belief Australia doesn’t truly hear the perspectives of its neighbours.




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There was also a perception of a certain level of racism and disrespect directed towards people from the Pacific. As one participant said, the relationship is

layered over and stifled by a degree of parochialism that is not only unnecessary, it’s counter-productive.

Our participants pointed to numerous examples of how Australians lack cultural sensitivity in their dealings with the Pacific, especially compared to people from New Zealand and even China. As one participant noted:

China is listening and looking, observing.

They also expressed major dissatisfaction with the contrast between the welcome Australians receive when they come to the Pacific compared to the welcome islanders receive when they come here. Visa conditions were a major part of this concern.

Remove the visa requirement to allow South Sea countries to be able to have access to a region that they helped to develop.

When discussing aid, our participants noted problems with the role of international NGOs working in the Pacific, many of which are based in Australia. Participants were concerned by the Pacific’s over-reliance on international NGOs, the crowding out of local partners and the failure of governments and international NGOs to appreciate and acknowledge the value of local knowledge.

The importance of recognising Pacific sovereignty

Historical memory runs deep and policy approaches to the region need to take into account colonial histories – including Australia’s own role.

For these nations, the late 19th century practice of “blackbirding” – the kidnapping of South Sea islanders as indentured labour for Australian plantations – is still very much part of the historical framing of the relationship with Australia.

Our participants also took very seriously issues of their own sovereignty, independence and the importance of national ownership of their futures. They reflected a desire for developing long-term and sustainable bilateral relations based on mutual respect and common interest.

One participant said,

as a Pacific islander, these are our countries, this is our place. Whatever countries want to do to help us should be something that is beneficial for us but also creating relationships. That is what our culture is all about, creating lasting relationships, not just to fulfil their own agendas and leave us.

Scott Morrison has stressed the importance of the ‘Pacific family’, but the message isn’t resonating completely in the region.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

The role of Indigenous Australians

Interestingly, our research shows Australian domestic politics are important to our relations with the region.

It’s not surprising Australia’s climate policies impact how we are perceived in the region, but our policies toward Indigenous people are also significant.

Our participants felt Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were almost invisible in Australia’s relations with the Pacific and this has limited our understanding of – and potential for engagement with – the region.




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Repeatedly, the point was made that Australia lacks a clear sense of identity and connection to place and this is hampering our relationships in the Pacific. As one participant said,

Although we are from the same region, the Pacific Islands and Australia rarely speak with one voice … When you see international meetings, Fiji and other Pacific countries are sitting on one side of the table, while Australia, New Zealand and the US are always sitting over there.

Ways to improve our understanding of the region

While our research shows there is a genuine warmth in the Pacific toward Australia, it also makes clear we could be doing much better.

One perceived flaw of the “Pacific step-up” is that it’s a unilateral Australian initiative for the region, not a shared agenda.




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We need to listen more to the national and international aspirations of Pacific islanders. We also need to expand our engagement beyond traditional diplomatic and government links. For many respondents, cultural and faith communities represent international linkages that are at least as important as nation-state relations.

Our report will make a number of recommendations for more effective Australian policy-making. One idea is co-hosting a regional cooperation summit, where a diverse range of regional policy-makers and communities can explore issues that are of utmost importance for Pacific peoples.

And as our research shows, strong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership and participation in such a gathering would be essential.


Correction: This article has been amended to correct the time period of blackbirding from the late 18th century to the late 19th century.The Conversation

Leanne Smith, Director – Whitlam Institute, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As Morrison heads to the Pacific, our nearest neighbours will be looking for more than kind words


Mark Kenny, Australian National University

Scott Morrison travels to Europe for D-Day commemorations next week. While there, he may also hold talks with leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of the G20 meeting in Japan in June.

With the UK and US in the midst of internal and international repositioning –otherwise known as turmoil – and with China continuing to flex and grow, safeguarding Australia’s strategic and commercial interests has rarely been more complicated, nor more of a singular Australian responsibility.

Somewhat perversely, this may explain why Morrison’s first stop as a freshly re-elected prime minister will not be London or Washington, or even Berlin, but rather, the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara.

That is significant. Whoever won the May 18 election, the regional “backyard” was set to become a renewed priority for Australia.

Attention now turns to small and micro nations, who suffer in varying degrees from the effects of remoteness, narrow economies, endemic poverty, poor infrastructure, and, most existentially, rising sea levels. These countries are eager for assistance in securing their futures, whether sourced from old friends like the US and Australia, or new enthusiasts like China.




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China’s influence continues to grow

Labor’s new deputy, Richard Marles, has long championed improved development aid and other assistance to Australia’s nearest neighbours, arguing it is Australia’s moral responsibility. That’s a given, but so is the strategic case for a renewed presence. Namely, the expanding diplomatic and strategic reach of Beijing.

Morrison is alive to it too.

China’s influence across the region – particularly as an infrastructure and project financier – is growing. This is seen in Canberra as a serious threat, with both major parties looking for ways to strengthen ties with Pacific nations that had been allowed to fray.

Darwin-based Labor MP Luke Gosling told me he would make the Northern Territory capital the official base for Australia’s renewed regional extension.

“Whether it is responding to earthquake, cyclone, tsunami, or terrorist attack – it should be the hub for humanitarian, emergency and disaster assistance to the region, but more importantly involved in capacity building with our regional neighbours,” he said.

Valid though this is, success will turn not so much on a change of arrangements internally, as a whole new basis to Australia’s regional pitch.




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Australia needs to listen first

Experts say the key to closer relations is talking to smaller countries about their concerns, rather than the tendency we’ve had to date to talk about ours.

For Morrison, that is a political challenge with distinct domestic characteristics. It means acknowledging the contemporaneous real-world effects of global warming, including the direct contribution to carbon emissions from mining and burning coal.

For low-lying island countries including Kiribati, with a population of just 110,000, and Fiji, this is no abstract debate but rather one of life and death, here and now.

“It’s their top security priority,” Michael Wesley, Dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University, told Sky News “whereas our top security priority in the Pacific is China”.

“Pacific leaders have made it very clear that they don’t see China in the Pacific as a threat, so we’ve got an immediate mismatch of what we perceive to be the problems between us and the Pacific Islanders.”

Wesley described global warming as an existential concern “happening to them right now”.

“We have to be extremely sensitive about how things like the Adani coal mine, [and] a new coal-fired power plant perhaps being opened, will play out in the Pacific, it goes down like a lead balloon.”

As with Mr Morrison’s visit to Honiara, the order of things matter when communicating internationally.




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Taking climate change concerns seriously

Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama was among the first to congratulate Morrison on his surprise election win. The pair had struck up a warm relationship when they met earlier this year. But now, as then, the Fijian used the opportunity to seek stronger climate leadership from the region’s wealthiest economy.

His longer post on Facebook provided the kicker:

In Australia, you have defied all expectations; let us take the same underdog attitude that inspired your parliamentary victory to the global fight against climate change. By working closely together, we can turn the tides in this battle – the most urgent crisis facing not only the Pacific, but the world. Together, we can ensure that we are earthly stewards of Fiji, Australia, and the ocean that unites us. Together, we can pass down a planet that our children are proud to inherit.

It was a similar message from Samoa, where Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi welcomed the election result, but noted in an interview with The Guardian that “[Australia] has been lagging behind,” regarding the need for action on the climate emergency.

And it’s a fair bet the content will be the same in Honiara.

The finer points of diplomacy have not been a strength of Morrison, who, even after his recent electoral endorsement, is still less than a year in the top job.

A plainly cynical suggestion made during the Wentworth byelection of moving the Australian embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem caused nothing but embarrassment. More recent comments depicting the US as our friend and China as merely our client raised eyebrows in Beijing.

But a desire to succeed, a personable nature, and an avowedly conservative disposition, suggest the Australian prime minister does not envisage significant direction changes in Australia’s stance on either regional or global affairs. That is a reality likely to prove disappointing to Pacific Island leaders looking for a lot more than kind words as their citizens face inundation.The Conversation

Mark Kenny, Senior Fellow, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why the Indian Ocean region might soon play a lead role in world affairs



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The economics of countries in the Indian Ocean region are rapidly growing.
from shutterstock.com

Craig Jeffrey, University of Melbourne

In recent days, Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne announced efforts to strengthen Australia’s involvement in the Indian Ocean region, and the importance of working with India in defence and other activities. Speaking at the Raisina Dialogue in Delhi – a geopolitical conference co-hosted by the Indian government – Payne said:

Our respective futures are intertwined and heavily dependent on how well we cooperate on the challenges and opportunities in the Indian Ocean in the decades ahead.

Among Payne’s announcements was A$25 million for a four-year infrastructure program in South Asia (The South Asia Regional Infrastructure Connectivity initiative, or SARIC), which will primarily focus on the transport and energy sectors.

She also pointed to increasing defence activities in the Indian Ocean, noting that in 2014, Australia and India had conducted 11 defence activities together, with the figure reaching 38 in 2018.




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Payne’s speech highlights the emergent power of the Indian Ocean region in world affairs. The region comprises the ocean itself and the countries that border it. These include Australia, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Madagascar, Somalia, Tanzania, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

In terms of global political significance, the Atlantic Ocean can be viewed as the ocean of our grandparents and parents; the Pacific Ocean as the ocean of us and our children; and the Indian Ocean as the ocean of our children and grandchildren.

There is an obvious sense in which the region is the future. The average age of people in the region’s countries is under 30, compared to 38 in the US and 46 in Japan. The countries bordering the Indian Ocean are home to 2.5 billion people, which is one-third of the world’s population.

The countries in the Indian Ocean region host a wide variety of races, cultures, and religions.
from shutterstock.com

But there is also a strong economic and political logic to spotlighting the Indian Ocean as a key emerging region in world affairs and strategic priority for Australia.

Some 80% of the world’s maritime oil trade flows through three narrow passages of water, known as choke points, in the Indian Ocean. This includes the Strait of Hormuz – located between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman – which provides the only sea passage from the Persian Gulf to the open ocean.

The economies of many Indian Ocean countries are expanding rapidly as investors seek new opportunities. Bangladesh, India, Malaysia and Tanzania witnessed economic growth in excess of 5% in 2017 – well above the global average of 3.2%.

India is the fastest growing major economy in the world. With a population expected to become the world’s largest in the coming decades, it is also the one with the most potential.

The strait of Hormuz is one of the world’s most strategically important choke points.
from shutterstock.com

Politically, the Indian Ocean is becoming a pivotal zone of strategic competition. China is investing hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure projects across the region as part of its One Belt One Road initiative.

For instance, China gave Kenya a US$3.2 billion loan to construct a 470 kilometre railway (Kenya’s biggest infrastructure project in over 50 years) linking the capital Nairobi to the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa.

Chinese state-backed firms are also investing in infrastructure and ports in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Bangladesh. Western powers, including Australia and the United States, have sought to counter-balance China’s growing influence across the region by launching their own infrastructure funds – such as the US$113 million US fund announced last August for digital economy, energy, and infrastructure projects.

In security terms, piracy, unregulated migration, and the continued presence of extremist groups in Somalia, Bangladesh and parts of Indonesia pose significant threats to Indian ocean countries.

Countries in the region need to collaborate to build economic strength and address geopolitical risks, and there is a logical leadership role for India, being the largest player in the region.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the Shangri La Dialogue in June, 2008:

The Indo-Pacific is a natural region. It is also home to a vast array of global opportunities and challenges. I am increasingly convinced with each passing day that the destinies of those of us who live in the region are linked.

More than previous Indian Prime Ministers, Modi has travelled up and down the east coast of Africa to promote cooperation and strengthen trade and investment ties, and he has articulated strong visions of India-Africa cooperative interest.

Broader groups are also emerging. In 1997, nations bordering the Bay of Bengal established the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), which works to promote trade links and is currently negotiating a free trade agreement. Australia, along with 21 other border states, is a member of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) which seeks to promote sustainable economic growth, trade liberalisation and security.

But, notwithstanding India’s energy and this organisational growth, Indian Ocean cooperation is weak relative to Atlantic and Pacific initiatives.




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Cooperation is key to securing maritime security in the Indian Ocean


Australia’s 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper seeks to support IORA in areas such as maritime security and international law. Private organisations, such as the Minderoo Foundation, are doing impressive research – as part of the Flourishing Oceans intiative – on the migration of sea life in an effort to advance environmental sustainability and conservation.

But Australia could focus more on how to promote the Indian Ocean. In Australia’s foreign affairs circles, there used to be a sense Asia stopped at Malta. But it seems the current general understanding of the “Indo-Pacific” extends west only as far as India.

What this misses – apart from the historical relevance and contemporary economic and political significance of the Indian Ocean region generously defined – is the importance of the ocean itself.

Not just important for trade and ties

If the Ocean was a rainforest, and widely acknowledged as a repository of enormous biodiversity, imagine the uproar at its current contamination and the clamour around collaborating across all countries bordering the ocean to protect it.

The reefs, mangroves, and marine species that live in the Ocean are under imminent threat. According to some estimates, the Indian Ocean is warming three times faster than the Pacific Ocean .

Overfishing, coastal degradation, and pollution are also harming the ocean. This could have catastrophic implications for the tens of millions of fishermen dependent on the region’s marine resources and the enormous population who rely on the Indian Ocean for their protein.

Australia must continue to strengthen its ties in the region – such as with India and Indonesia – and also build new connections, particularly in Africa.The Conversation

Craig Jeffrey, Director and CEO of the Australia India Institute; Professor of Development Geography, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Trump’s tour of Asia-Pacific is vital for the stability of the region



File 20171102 26456 1aglqyh.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
From an Australian perspective, Donald’s Trump Asian tour could hardly be more important.
Reuters/Yuri Gripas

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Not for several presidential cycles, and perhaps not since Richard Nixon’s visit to China to initial the Shanghai Communique in 1972, has a visit to Asia assumed such significance – and one that is potentially fraught.

US President Donald Trump leaves Washington late this week for a 13-day tour of Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam for APEC, and the Philippines before returning home via Hawaii.

In these two weeks, Trump will be exposed to an Asia-Pacific – or Indo-Pacific – that is undergoing a wrenching transformation against a background of risks to a “long peace”. It is one that has survived more or less intact since the end of Korean War, leaving aside Vietnam.

From an Australian perspective, the Trump Asian tour could hardly be more important, given Canberra’s challenge of balancing its security and economic interests.

An American wrecking ball in the region is the last thing Australia needs, especially one that risks mishandling a North Korean nuclear threat to regional security.

In this regard, Trump’s every utterance, including his contributions to social media, will be scrutinised over the next two weeks by a nervous region.

What is striking about this latest period is the velocity of a geoeconomic shift that is challenging long-held assumptions about US authority in the regional power balance.

Seemingly, the Asia-Pacific region can no longer take for granted a US stabilising role.

As China’s power rises, so does US leverage ebb. This is not a zero-sum game.

The question is how pieces of a kaleidoscope will settle, if indeed they do.

Trump’s Asia tour will enable an assessment of the extent to which the US will remain a reliable regional security partner and a participant in various regional forums.

Former president Barack Obama talked about a “Pacific Century”, involving as it did a US “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific. Trump has not used such terminology.

Indeed, one of his first executive acts was to undo work that had been put into US participation in a region-wide trade initiative – the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) – aimed partly at countering China’s geoeconomic dominance.

This was a hasty, ill-considered decision that sent all the wrong signals about US commitment to building an Asia-Pacific trading and security architecture.

The other 11 TPP signatories, including Australia, are pressing on with attempts to finalise the trade liberalising protocol, but US absence significantly lessens its weight.

It may be unrealistic – given Trump’s bellicose “America First” pronouncements on trade – but Washington would do its regional credibility no harm if it reversed itself on TPP.

On a visit to Australia last month to launch the first volume of his memoir – Not For The Faint-Hearted – former prime minister Kevin Rudd warned of the risks of the end of a period of relative stability.

His warnings were based on a paper produced by the Asia Society Policy Institute – Preserving the Long Peace in Asia – of which he is president.

In a contribution to the East Asia Forum, Rudd asked the question: how can we save Asia’s “long peace” in light of North Korea’s attempts to develop a ballistic missile nuclear capability?

This has been a crisis long in the making, beginning with the Soviet training of North Korean nuclear scientists and engineers after the second world war, the north’s expulsion of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors in 2002, and the subsequent series of ballistic and nuclear weapons tests.

The uncomfortable truth is that for the last quarter of a century, the international community has simply been kicking the can down the road. And now, at one minute to midnight, everyone is scrambling on what to do about it.

In Rudd’s view, the Asia-Pacific needs to develop a security understanding – like the Helsinki Accords in Europe – to deal with security challenges, including North Korea and, more broadly, territorial disputes that threaten regional stability.

His preferred option is to bolster the East Asia Summit (EAS) as a regional forum to promote peace and stability. He makes the valid point the EAS has, potentially, the regional heft to undertake such a stabilising role.

Disappointingly, Trump is not planning to stay in the Philippines an extra day for this year’s EAS gathering. It might have been time well spent.

Membership, including the ten nations of the Association of South East Asian Nations, plus China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and the US, means all the main Indo-Pacific players are participants.

This is how Rudd puts it:

The EAS has the mandate to expand its activities in the security domain. The Kuala Lumpur Declaration of 2005 is clear about this. Furthermore, members of the EAS have all signed the Treaty of Amity and Co-operation, which commits partners to peaceful dispute resolution. Moreover, the EAS uniquely has all necessary players around the table.

What is required in all of this is American leadership, but as things stand there is little sign of Washington possessing an overarching vision of where it might take the region in the next stage as China continues to expand its power and influence.

In this regard it is hard to disagree with a Lowy Institute paper – East Asia Policy under Trump. It identified a serious case of drift in American engagement with the region under a president whose knowledge of – and interest in – the Asia-Pacific appears limited at best.

US policy on East Asia is thus on autopilot, which presents two distinct risks. First that of a crisis, whether created by the president or events.

The US faces challenges to its economic leadership from Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, a program of massive infrastructure investment that will enmesh the economies of China and its Asian neighbours, challenges from Chinese attempts to shape regional institutions to its advantage, and to shape a narrative of the region’s future that puts Beijing at its centre.

It also faces challenges from an increasingly capable Chinese military. All this in a region that is becoming increasingly illiberal – and doubtful of US staying power.

This is a fairly bleak assessment of a US ability to engage the Asia-Pacific constructively in this latest period. In fairness to Trump, he remains on a steep learning curve. How all this will play out is anyone’s guess.

What is the case is there is no more important stop of Trump’s itinerary than his visit this coming week to China to engage the newly reinforced ruler Xi Jinping.

The China talks, in the lead-up to APEC in Vietnam, are the linchpin of Trump’s Asian foray. The two leaders exchanged a visit in April this year when Xi visited Trump in Mar-a-Lago.

On that occasion, a novice American president was feeling out his main rival for global leadership. This was a getting-to-know-you opportunity.

However, on this occasion more will be expected of a Trump-Xi encounter on issues like North Korea, concerns over China’s mercantilist behaviour, and its assertiveness in the South China and East China Seas.

While it would be unrealistic to expect a “grand bargain” to emerge between the leaders of a new bipolar world, what is needed is some clear guidance about US priorities amid the confusion that has accompanied Trump’s nine months in the White House.

Laying out some sort of vision for US engagement in the region should be a minimum requirement at a time of considerable uncertainty.

Elizabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations put it this way in a CFR blogpost:

The president can allay regional fears that the United States is commitment-phobic, by reinforcing at each step Washington’s allies and partners are the cornerstone of US engagement in the region. Reiterating the US commitment to freedom of navigation, free trade, and political freedoms will also reassure regional actors that it still makes sense to buy into a regional order underpinned by a US alliance system. Of course, this trip is only the first step in putting the United States on firmer ground in Asia, after many months of confusing signaling and disruptive initiatives.

The ConversationExpectations for Trump’s engagement with the region may be low, but the same could not be said for the stakes at a time of considerable uncertainty and risk.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Strengthened Xi and Abe could help moves toward peace in our troubled region



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Reuters

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

They may not be co-ordinated, nor linked in any way. But two events in Asia over the next week will help define Australia’s political and security environment for the next period.

First is the convening of the five-yearly Communist Party of China congress. This gets underway on Wednesday with a much-anticipated “work report” from party boss Xi Jinping.

Second is the Japanese elections scheduled for October 22. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is bidding to become the longest-serving leader of his country. He seems determined to enlarge Japan’s security footprint by continuing to beef up its defence forces and seek changes to its pacifist post-war constitution.

From an Australian perspective, the North Korean nuclear crisis invests both the reaffirmation – and strengthening – of Xi’s leadership for another five years, and the re-election of Abe, with particular importance.

A glance at the factsheets compiled by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade underscores the overwhelming economic importance of China and Japan to Australia’s wellbeing.

In 2016, China ranked first and Japan second as a destination for Australian merchandise trade exports. Trade in services to China ranked first, and Japan ranked eighth.

Japan’s economic and security importance to Australia tends to be underplayed. But it’s worth noting that Japanese investments in Australia are more than double China’s.

Xi’s signature statement to the party congress assumes critical importance given China’s expanding global leadership amid concerns about the Trump administration’s commitment to such a role. Each word and sentence will be parsed for its implications for regional and global security, and for the direction in which he plans to take the world’s second-biggest economy over the next five years.

This will be a speech – given the circumstances of China’s continued rise – that will rank with a US presidential State of the Union address.

The party congress will stretch over the best part of a week, and will be closely observed for indications of Xi’s continuing efforts to strengthen his grip on China’s leadership. As things stand, he has emerged as the most powerful Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping.

Given his relative youth in Chinese leadership terms, the 64-year-old Xi may well be ruling for the next decade – in other words an additional five-year term past 2017 to 2022. This is well past a nominal retirement age of 68.

In a paper for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Michael Swaine painted a generally optimistic picture of China’s continued evolution under a dominant Xi. However, he also acknowledged that China’s continued rise would inevitably result in tensions over:

… trade, investment, sovereignty rights, and a variety of anxieties involving Chinese and US or Japanese military forces in the Western Pacific.

There’s no doubt Xi and the Chinese leadership are seeking to more effectively use China’s growing international presence to promote the nation’s interests in such sensitive. As a result, tensions with China will in fact likely increase.

The good news is that, rather than marking a turn toward confrontation between China and the West and Japan, the 19th Party Congress will likely signal a high level of stability and continuity in Chinese foreign policy. The bad news is that this continuity is unlikely to reduce the most serious challenges facing China’s relations with the United States and its allies.

In all of this, Japan’s importance in regional security calculations is likely to come more sharply into focus in the next period. This is investing Abe’s likely re-election with a super majority in the Diet in partnership with his Komeito allies with more-than-usual significance.

Latest opinion polls are predicting a surprisingly big win for the Abe-led Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) after indications he may have been struggling against the New Hope Party, which was formed on the eve of the election campaign by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike.

According to a poll in the Yomiuri newspaper and Kyodo news agency, the LDP-led coalition is on track to win 300 or more seats in the 465-member lower house. This would be an improvement on its standing in the previous parliament.

If the Abe-led coalition is returned with a substantial majority, he is likely to push forward with attempts to revise Japan’s pacifist post-war constitution to enable a clearer definition of Japan’s military to enable it to assert itself militarily – if necessary.

Such a development would have implications for Australia’s growing security relationship with Japan. This partnership has not attracted much attention, but it has been substantial and evolving since a Joint Defence and Security Agreement was struck in 2007.

The two countries have progressively upgraded a bilateral Acquisition and Cross Services Agreement that enhances interoperability between the Australian Defence Force and the Japanese Self-Defence Force. Australia and Japan have also declared a Special Strategic Partnership aimed at strengthening security ties in the Indo-Pacific.

What’s driving closer defence co-ordination between the second world war protagonists is concerns about China’s rise, and the implications for a regional power balance. This would seem to be a prudent course.

In the aftermath of the Communist Party congress and the Japanese election, with Xi and Abe’s positions enhanced, it might be reasonable to assume that the sometimes-tense relations between China and Japan will take a turn for the better. Concerns about instability on the Korean Peninsula should provide a catalyst for greater co-operation, and a lessening of tensions over territorial disputes.

An early opportunity for a show of amity will come at next month’s APEC forum in Vietnam. This will also be attended by US President Donald Trump.

Abe is thought likely to press China for a long-delayed summit with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. North Korea would be a focus of those discussions. For its part, China is anxious that Japan lend its weight to the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

One indication that Abe is anxious to improve ties with China is that no cabinet ministers in Abe’s party visited the Yasukuni Shrine on the August 15 anniversary of the war’s end. China has previously angrily protested these visits.

From an economic perspective, close attention will be paid to statements by Xi and others at the party congress on China’s GDP growth targets and economic priorities for the next five years. Indications from the first half of this year are that China’s growth will exceed a 6.5% target for 2017. The economy has been strengthening in the second half of this year thanks, in part, to a construction boom.

But China’s debt-to-GDP ratio remains a significant concern. In the first quarter of 2017 total debt to GDP reached 257.8%. This is up from 187.5% five years ago.

In the end, China-watchers will be animated by personnel shifts in the Chinese leadership evidenced by announcements of a newly constituted Central Committee, Politburo, and, most importantly, Standing Committee of the Politburo.

The ConversationWhen these personnel shifts are unveiled they will reveal the extent to which Xi has strengthened his power over the party apparatus, and thus over China. The betting is this will be a win-win for Xi.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Iran & Pakistan Earthquake Horror


A massive earthquake has hit the Iran-Pakistan border region. The link below is to an article reporting on the disaster.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/17/rescuers-earthquake-iran-pakistan-border

Catalonia and Radical Islam


The link below is to an article that reports on a rising radical Islam in the Spanish region of Catalonia.

For more visit:
http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/3393/catalonia-islamic-republic