After a border dispute and spying scandal, can Australia and Timor-Leste be good neighbours?



Protesters outside the Australian embassy in Dili, Timor-Leste, in 2016, demanding a settlement of the border dispute between the nations.
Antonio Dasiparu/EPA

Michael Leach, Swinburne University of Technology

On August 30, Timor-Leste will celebrate the referendum that gave it independence from Indonesia. For the people of this small island, it has been a long battle – and one that continues today. You can read our companion story on the island nation’s struggle for independence here.


This Friday marks the 20-year anniversary of the day the East Timorese people voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia after a 24-year occupation.

Another significant anniversary comes next month, on September 20. That was the day of the arrival of the INTERFET mission, the Australian-led multinational force that brought an end to the violence that wracked Timor-Leste after the independence vote.

In the intervening three weeks, 1,500 Timorese were killed in the violence, which had been orchestrated by the Indonesian military and its proxy militias. Over 250,000 were forcibly displaced to West Timor and some 80% of the infrastructure was destroyed.

Many Australians are rightly proud of their contribution to Timor-Leste’s independence, which served as a historical corrective to Australia’s longstanding support for Indonesian’s invasion and forced integration of East Timor in 1975-76. The more than 5,000 Australian soldiers in the INTERFET mission marked the nation’s largest military deployment since the Vietnam War.

Yet despite the goodwill the mission engendered in Timor-Leste for the Australian people, relations between the two nations have repeatedly been undermined by contentious negotiations over control of the lucrative oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea.




Read more:
Australia and Timor Leste settle maritime boundary after 45 years of bickering


A treaty signed last March created a maritime boundary between the states for the first time. The border is expected to come into force this week following its ratification by both parliaments – another momentous milestone in Timor-Leste’s history.

But other thorny issues remain. When Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrives in Dili for the anniversary on Friday, he will likely face calls for Australia to drop its prosecution of a whistleblower who revealed an Australian spying operation against Timor-Leste.

As former Timor-Leste leader Jose Ramos Horta said,

If Australia doesn’t show political leadership, moral leadership on this issue, every time we talk to Australian leaders I will wonder if they have a tape recorder in their pocket [or] if my office has been bugged.

Australian soldiers conducting an operation to flush out militia fighters in Timor-Leste in September, 1999.
Jon Hargest/AAP

Conflict over oil and gas

Since its independence, Timor-Leste’s relations with Australia have been overshadowed by one major factor: the oil and gas fields on its contested maritime border.

Relations hit rocky waters in 2012 when Timor-Leste challenged the Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS), which had been signed by the two countries in 2006. This treaty had established a 50-year moratorium on maritime boundary negotiations, or five years after exploitation of the Greater Sunrise gas field ended, whichever occurred first.

Allegations then emerged in 2013 from a former ASIS agent (now known as Witness K) that Australia had spied on Timorese officials during the negotiations over the CMATS treaty. This led Timor-Leste to launch a case in The Hague challenging the treaty for want of good faith.

Australia was embarrassed by the exposure, but determined to maintain the countries’ ongoing treaty arrangements and focus instead on revenue-sharing agreements. However, Timor-Leste argued that the bulk of the oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea would lie on their side of a median line and pushed for a permanent boundary to be drawn between the countries.




Read more:
Australia and Timor Leste reach a deal on the Timor Sea – but much remains unknown


As relations deteriorated, ministerial visits ceased for almost five years.

Because Australia had abandoned the international courts as a means of resolving the maritime boundary in 2002, Timor-Leste had only one option left. In 2016, it pioneered the use of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) compulsory conciliation process: a non-binding but mandatory mediation between nations on maritime disputes.

The conciliation panel of five judges found the CMATS treaty’s moratorium on defining a maritime boundary was invalid. This dealt a fatal blow to decades of Australian foreign policy focused on maintaining its continental shelf claim in the Timor Gap in line with the 1972 Australia-Indonesia border treaty.

Australia could have attempted to tough it out since the tribunal’s finding was non-binding. But by this point, the Labor opposition was arguing the maritime boundary with Timor-Leste should be renegotiated in line with international law, putting additional pressure on the government to resolve the dispute.

A separate dispute over China’s claims in the South China Sea, also settled in 2016, made Australia’s position increasingly untenable, as well. The world was urging China to respect an international tribunal’s maritime ruling, so it would be difficult for Australia not to do the same.

A new boundary finally set in the sea

Once the UNCLOS opening decision came down, the two sides began negotiating a border in good faith. Timor-Leste dropped its espionage case against Australia in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, and later terminated the CMATS treaty, without Australian objection.

Announcement of the new maritime border treaty followed in March 2018. It was a major diplomatic breakthrough and soon led to the resumption of ministerial visits.

The new maritime boundary between Australia and Timor-Leste.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

The treaty created a median-line boundary in the former Timor Gap, placing the wells in the former Joint Petroleum Development Area (JPDA) in Timor-Leste’s sovereign waters.

The Timorese believe there is another A$1.5 billion of oil reserves in this area, but as these fields near the end of their life, the greater game lies in the as-yet-untapped Greater Sunrise field. This field straddles the eastern side of the new boundary and is believed to be worth in excess of US$40 billion.

Timor-Leste also achieved a major increase in royalties from the future development of this field, up from 50% under the CMATS treaty to 70-80%, depending on whether the pipeline eventually goes to Timor or Darwin.




Read more:
For Timor-Leste, another election and hopes for an end to crippling deadlock


China’s potential role in development

Since then, Timor-Leste’s focus has shifted to negotiations with its commercial partners over its ambitious plans for the Tasi Mane oil and gas megaproject on its southern coast.

This project could bring additional challenges for the relationship with Australia. The East Timorese government estimates that external financing will provide some 80% of the estimated US$10.5-12 billion funding for the project. And Timor-Leste’s ambassador to Australia has already stated that if funding partners cannot be found among Timor-Leste’s friends in Australia, the United States, Japan or South Korea, then Chinese capital would be a clear alternative.

Timor-Leste has rejected reports that China’s Exim bank offered a A$16 billion loan to finance the megaproject, though it acknowledges both countries have expressed willingness to cooperate over the separate development of Timor-Leste’s petrochemical industry.

It is also notable that China this month donated some US$3-5 million in defence materiel requested by the Timorese government.

Even though China might be seen as a logical partner for developing Timor-Leste’s oil and gas processing capabilities, Beijing’s involvement would certainly complicate relations with Australia.

Timor-Leste has generally sought to balance its relationships with key regional powers, in part to prevent the dominant influence of any single nation. The country’s foreign minister recently emphasised that discussions on the Tasi Mane project are ongoing with potential partners in Australia, the US, Europe and Asia.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop meets with her Timor-Leste counterpart, Dionisio Soares, in Dili in 2018. She was the first Australian government minister to visit Timor-Leste in five years.
Greg Roberts/AAP

Remaining obstacles to closer ties

Despite the major improvement in bilateral ties between the two countries, there are some remaining points of contention.

The prosecutions of Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery in the espionage whistleblower case have been criticised by Horta and another former Timor-Leste leader, Xanana Gusmão. This week, Gusmão indicated he would appear as a witness to give evidence on behalf of the two, raising the potential for further embarrassment for Australia.

Some political activists in both Australia and Timor-Leste have also called for Canberra to pay back oil and gas revenues it has received from the JPDA since the border treaty was signed in 2018, and accused Australia of delays in ratification.

While these accusations have made headlines, Timor-Leste’s parliament had not ratified the treaty either until last month. In any case, Timorese NGOs point to the far larger question of up to US$5 billion in revenues that Australia has received dating back to 2002, when revenue-sharing agreements began.

But it appears there is no appetite in either country to consider repayment of historical royalties.

As Australia and Timor-Leste prepare to celebrate the anniversary of the independence referendum – as well as the recent restoration of good bilateral relations – it’s worth keeping in mind that new hurdles potentially lie ahead, with implications for the wider region.The Conversation

Michael Leach, Professor, Politics & International Relations, Swinburne University of Technology

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

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US-China relations are certainly at a low point, but this is not the next Cold War



Though a Cold War between China and the US seems unlikely, there are still repercussions of a deepening rift.
Roman Pilipey/EPA

Nick Bisley, La Trobe University

Trump’s long-threatened trade war with China is now a reality. Beijing has met Washington’s sanctions with retaliatory measures as the world’s two most important economies square off.

Since Vice President Mike Pence’s speech to the Hudson Institute in October 2018, American policymakers have increasingly used hardline rhetoric toward China. FBI director Christopher Wray described China as a “whole of society threat” in testimony to Congress.

The view that China’s rise has come at the expense of the US is now seen as conventional wisdom. The evidently warm relationship established by leaders Donald Trump and Xi Jinping over chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago in 2017 seems a world away.




Read more:
After APEC, US-China tensions leave ‘cooperation’ in the cold


Given this, it is unsurprising that many scholars and analysts have described the emergence of a new Cold War between China and the US (including myself in an essay last year).

The Cold War seems an obvious historical parallel. Like the former Soviet Union, China is also a communist country. And the US and China both have genuinely global interests and the capacity to act on those interests around the world.

But is the deteriorating state of US-China relations likely to tip the world back into the kind of ideological and geopolitical competition that dominated international politics for four decades after the second world war?

The Cold War’s unique dynamics

The Cold War was unlike any great power rivalry that has come before. Most obviously, it was the first geopolitical contest of the nuclear age. Both the US and Soviet Union rapidly developed vast arsenals of the most devastating weapons yet conceived. And their jockeying for power and influence meant that the threat of global annihilation was an ever-present risk.

But it was not just a contest for power – the Cold War was also fight between two evangelical ideologies. Each side believed their respective ideologies – liberal capitalism and Soviet communism – represented universal and fundamentally superior ways of organising society. The mobilisation of resources on a global scale, the nature of these commitments, and the risks they were willing to take was underpinned by the ideological dimensions of the contest.

The Cold War was principally focused on Europe and East Asia, yet it had a global reach. As colonial empires crumbled after 1945, the Soviets and Americans competed for influence among those fighting for their independence and the newly free. This indirect competition, which led at times to proxy wars, and its consequence of dividing the world into duelling blocs was the Cold War’s third main component.

…And a very different current world order

Sino-American relations are at their lowest point since at least 1989 and appear to be entering a level of mutual mistrust and suspicion not seen since the 1970s. Yet in spite of the trade war, explicit calls from US officials to treat China as a full-spectrum threat, and a growing militarisation of their interactions in the western Pacific, this is no Cold War.

More importantly, Sino-American relations are not even on that trajectory. And shrewd statecraft could easily avoid a repeat of the four decades when the world sat on the edge of nuclear apocalypse.

Presently, there is no meaningful ideological dimension to the competition between the two. While China is formally a communist state, its economy is an unusual mix of command, market and statist forms.




Read more:
Are China and the US destined for war?


The country also shows little interest in spreading its particular mix of ideas and values globally, although, like all great powers, it is interested in increasing its global influence. China adheres to an orthodox view of sovereignty and evinces no meaningful desire to reshape the political and economic structures of states in its own image.

Equally, the contest between the world’s top two economies has not moved beyond the Asian theatre, geo-politically. Clearly, the US is concerned that Chinese technology may be used on a global scale to advance the country’s interests, hence its very visible campaign to try to contain Huawei’s global reach, but this is a long way from using conscripts to intervene in conflicts in Vietnam and Korea.

And most obviously, the economies of the USSR and US were hermetically sealed from one another. They may as well have been on different planets, such was the sparse nature of their interactions. The US and China could not be more different.

A rivalry for a new age

Today, China presents an increasingly confident face on the global stage. It is increasingly assertive and at times even abrasive in the way it tries to advance its interests.

But it is not yet explicitly contesting the US role in Asia or indeed the world. Rather, it is testing the US-led order to probe for vulnerability and creating new institutions to try to shape the world around it, like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Belt and Road Initiative.




Read more:
In the economic power struggle for Asia, Trump and Xi Jinping are switching policies


But it is a long way from a direct confrontation. In part, this is because China’s risk appetite is not that great. But it’s also because Beijing believes it does not need to take such steps to increase its influence in the world.

For its part, the US has moved from its cautious engagement of China to a position in which it is trying to counter Chinese advances and contain its influence. Even with the tariff wars, the two remain profoundly economically interdependent and it will take many years for any real de-coupling of their relationship to occur.

The first great power rivalry of the 21st century has begun. It is not a re-run of the Cold War, however. Instead, this rivalry will look unlike any that has come before it. How acute the competition will be and the consequences for the world order will depend on the price China and the US are willing to pay to undermine and limit the other’s ambition.The Conversation

Nick Bisley, Head of Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of International Relations at La Trobe University, La Trobe University

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

Christchurch attack strains Australian-Turkish relations ahead of ANZAC day


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Weeks ahead of the ANZAC commemoration at Gallipoli, serious tensions erupted between Australia and Turkey, after threatening comments by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the wake of the Christchurch massacre.

Scott Morrison on Wednesday called in the Turkish ambassador to give him a tongue lashing. He demanded a withdrawal of the remarks and the taking down of a nationalist video featuring footage of the Australian gunman’s live stream.

The strength of the Prime Minister’s response has an eye to the emotional place of Gallipoli in the Australian narrative. But he also has to be careful not to cause the Turkish government to respond by hampering next month’s ANZAC commemoration.

President Erdoğan, electioneering at Çanakkale, just across from the Gallipoli peninsula, referred to the massacre, saying: “They test us with the messages they give in New Zealand […] We understood that your hatred is alive […] We understood that you begrudge our lives.”

He said: “Your ancestors came. […] Later on, some of them returned back on their feet, some of them in coffins.

“If you will come here with the same intentions, we will be waiting for you. You should have no doubt that we will farewell you just like your grandfathers”.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters, visiting Indonesia, on Wednesday highlighted that the gunman was “a non-New Zealander, an outsider”.

Peters also said he thought Erdoğan had not known the full facts but “since he’s been apprised, or informed of the facts, he’s made a very conciliatory statement today […] which would stand in stark contrast to what he said the other day.”

In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post Erdoğan has written “all Western leaders must learn from the courage, leadership and sincerity of New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, to embrace Muslims living in their respective countries”.

Peters, who is going to Turkey this week, said when there he would “set any record straight that needs to be set straight as to what went on”.

Attacking Erdoğan’s original comments, Morrison told a news conference they were “highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment”.

Morrison said he had asked for the remarks to be clarified and withdrawn. “I’ve asked for these comments, particularly their reporting of the misrepresented position of Australia on Turkish television, the state-sponsored broadcaster, to be taken down,” he said.

He would wait for the Turkish government’s response – beyond that “all options are on the table”. Asked what these options were, the Prime Minister would not elaborate.

Morrison said he did not accept as an excuse that “things are said in an electoral context”.

The travel advisory for Turkey is under review. People planning to go to Gallipoli should exercise common sense and await further advice, Morrison said. The present advice is for people to exercise a “high degree of caution”.

Morrison said Erdoğan’s remarks were “offensive, because they insult the memory of our ANZACs and they violate the pledge that is etched in the stone at Gallipoli, of the promise of Atatürk to the mothers of our ANZACs. So I understand the deep offence Australians would be feeling about this.

“The comments completely misrepresented the Australian and New Zealand governments’ very strong response to the extremist attack, he said. All Australians had condemned it.

“We have reached out to embrace our Muslim brothers and sisters in New Zealand and in Australia, quite to the contrary of the vile assertion that has been made about our response,” Morrison said.

He said he had spoken with Turkish Australian leaders on Wednesday morning. “They have expressed to me their deep disappointment about these comments. They don’t represent the views of Turkish Australians.

“I am not going to single out the comments of one person and ascribe it to a people, whether in Turkey or across Australia. I don’t think it does reflect the views of the Turkish people, or certainly of Turkish Australians,” Morrison said.

He said Foreign Minister Marise Payne would be speaking to her Turkish counterpart.

The Australian ambassador to Turkey was due to speak with Erdoğan’s advisers.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Chinese-Australia relations may not be ‘toxic’, but they do need to keep warming up


Tony Walker, La Trobe University

When former Trade Minister Andrew Robb took to the ABC’s AM program to sound off about a “toxic” relationship between Australia and China, he exposed a rippling debate about how to manage an increasingly comlex foreign and security policy challenge.

Long gone are the days of the John Howard formula that Australia did not have to choose between its history, meaning America, and its geography, meaning China. Choices are no longer binary.

While the Robb word “toxic” may be an exaggeration, stresses in Australia-China relations are such it is clear we have entered a new and more challenging phase.

For a start, China is undergoing what is, arguably, the most testing moment of an economic transformation that began in 1978 at the third plenary of the 11th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. This is when Deng Xiaoping re-emerged to initiate one of the more remarkable economic shifts of the modern era.

Apart from a hiatus caused by the Tienanmen uprising in 1989, and an economic soft-landing in the mid-1990s, China has bounded ahead economically, and has seemed unstoppable – until now.

China’s economy and political system has encountered the sort of difficulties that were inevitable. Put simply, an investment driven – as opposed to consumer-led – model is running its course, piling up massive government and bank debt in the process.

China risks becoming caught in a “middle income trap” in which a developing country, having enacted the easier reforms, gets stuck in second gear in its effort to push ahead with its economic transformation.

You can only build so many road, bridges, fast trains, airports, ports and housing developments. Many of the latter have become “ghost cities”.

At this month’s National People’s Congress, the annual session of China’s “parliament”, Premier Li Keqiang gave what was, by Chinese standards for these sort of cheerleading events, an unusually downbeat assessment of challenges ahead.

China, Li said, faces difficulties “of a kind rarely seen in many years”.

What is undeniable is that China’s economy is faltering, its ability to create millions of new jobs annually to employ a restless population is being stretched, and its management of a continuing economic transformation has come under unusual stress. US-China trade tensions are not helping.

In counterpoint to the need for a more dynamic economic environment, its leadership, under President Xi Jinping, is asserting even tighter political controls when it should be giving freer rein to its entrepreneurial class.

This is the central contradiction of a model that has delivered what is the most extraordinary event in world economic history since the industrial revolution. But that model clearly has its limitations compared with those, say, of neighbouring Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

From an Australian perspective, a slowing and, perhaps more to the point, anxious China is not good news. While economists might argue that a slowdown and thus the need for Beijing to stimulate its economy by ramping up infrastructure projects will benefit iron ore and coal exporters, economic pressures more generally should be concerning.

A Chinese regime that feels itself under stress from within and without may prove to be more cantankerous, and unpredictable. Australian policymakers should be mindful of the consequences of China getting through this difficult stage without mishap.

Of course, forests have been felled publishing predictions China would be unable to maintain its remarkable transformation since early glimmers of an opening to the outside world appeared in 1978, two years after Mao Zedong’s death.

This brings us back to Andrew Robb’s observation about a “toxic” relationship between Beijing and Canberra. Referring to the shelving of a plan to develop a health precinct in China to match that of the Texas Medical Centre – the world’s largest medical facility – Robb said central government officials had kyboshed the arrangement due to ongoing tensions with Australia.

Australian medical professionals would have helped establish the facility. Robb said Landbridge (the company for which Robb was consulting) was

told in no uncertain terms by the seniors officials that unfortunately the relationship between Australia and China had become so toxic that this would be put in the bin.

Leaving aside Robb’s own chagrin at losing a lucrative consultancy, what is the fair judgement about the state of Australia-China relations?

And, what of Robb’s criticism of sections of the Australian security establishment, notably the Australian Strategic Policy Institute? He accused ASPI, a hothouse of China negativity, of being “a mouthpiece of the US security agencies and its defence industry”.

Given ASPI’s hawkish views on China more generally, Robb has a point.

His assessment is correct that China-Australia relations were off-track when the decision was made to scupper the Landbridge-proposed medical facility. But it is also the true that by the end of last year the relationship had been “reset”.




Read more:
Australia and China push the ‘reset’ button on an important relationship


Foreign Minister Marise Payne went to China in November for what was described as a cordial exchange. This followed a two-year freeze in relations during which no senior Australian official was welcomed in Beijing.

China had made no secret of its displeasure over speeches delivered over time by both then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and then Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in which they had criticised Beijing’s expansionist activities in the South China Sea, and, in Bishop’s case, China’s political model.

Turnbull compounded the situation when he misappropriated an expression attributed to Mao in proclaiming the People’s Republic on October 1, 1949. Australia had “stood up”, Turnbull said, when unveiling laws designed to curb foreign interference in Australian domestic affairs.




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Australia needs to reset the relationship with China and stay cool


Next day, Turnbull made things worse by repeating Mao’s words in Mandarin in his description of legislation that was clearly aimed at Chinese influence.

So what of Robb’s comments? Whatever toxicity existed between Canberra and Beijing seems to have dissipated somewhat. However, real risks remain in management of what is Australia’s most challenging relationship.

It is no good pretending otherwise. China is not a benign power. It will seek to get away with what it can. It resists abiding by a roadmap for a rules-based international order, as we understand it. It will use cyber technology ruthlessly to advance its interests by dubious means, on occasions. It will “disappear” foreign nationals of those countries which incur its displeasure. It will invest in agents of influence in the Australian system. This includes universities.

All this requires a level of vigilance on the part of the security agencies, and, possibly, a new White Paper aimed specifically at just how Australia might manage a complex relationship that is likely to become, more, not less, complicated.

Bear in mind one in three export dollarsdepends on a functioning relationship with China.

This is an unsatisfactory situation, but it is the reality.

On the other hand, no purpose is served by yielding to a Canberra security establishment whose machinations risk chilling a relationship that needs to be warmed up, not cooled down.

Former ambassador to China, Stephen Fitzgerald, proffered some good advice this week when he said in a newspaper interview that Australia needed to deepen its engagement with China rather than draw back, since, unlike the US, we are “living in a Chinese world”.

That, whether we like it or not, is the case.The Conversation

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

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

Megaphone diplomacy is good for selling papers, but harmful for Australia-China relations


Wanning Sun, University of Technology Sydney

The issue of China’s influence in Australia is complex. It ranges from worries about national security, political donations and media infiltration to concerns about scientific collaborations, Confucius Institutes, the patriotism of Chinese students, and allegiance of the Chinese community. The most recent trope is China’s so-called “debt trap” diplomacy with Australia’s neighbours in the Pacific.

But there’s a simple reason this anxiety about China’s influence is so vexed. For the first time in history, Australia has had to deal with a world power that is not, as longtime defence analyst Hugh White puts it, “Anglo-Saxon”, and is not a liberal democracy. To quote The Australian’s Dennis Richardson in relation to China and the US: “Australia is friends with both, ally of one”.

The media in both countries have played a significant role in inflaming tensions, as well. Increasingly, China is cast in an adversarial light in the Australian media, and vice versa with Australia in the Chinese media.

There is less and less space for journalists who try to put forth an objective opinion and for commentators who attempt to steer the debate in a more rational and less visceral direction. Each side feels the need to simplify its message and take an increasingly radical position.

War of words

Of course, the media narratives in both countries need to be considered in the context of the rise of political populism globally — particularly the triumph of President Donald Trump in the US and Brexit in the UK.

Australia has a free but financially struggling media. This makes for a tricky combination. Take a media sector that is desperate to boost its readership, combine with a populist turn in the political discourse, add a generous dash of fear of China’s growing global power, and stir. The result, while great for sound bites and political posturing, is not a pretty picture, but it does make a good story.

Some commentators argue the public debate about Chinese influence in Australia tends to be dominated by hawkish voices who favour close ties with the US. This strident position runs counter to the diplomatic, business and university communities, who argue for a more culturally sensitive and constructive engagement with China.

To the anti-China hawks, concerns for Australia’s multicultural harmony and social cohesion are secondary.




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Meanwhile, China’s extensive soft power ambitions to improve the country’s appeal on the international stage also seem to have been moved to the backburner when it comes to Australia. The charm offensive is no more; it’s now just plain offensive.

Populism also reigns supreme in China, although in different ways. The tighter and wider the scope of the Communist Party’s political control, the less space there is for dissenting voices, and the more fertile the ground becomes for nationalistic discourses to flourish.

In fact, in an increasingly repressive environment of control and censorship, nationalism is the only populist game in town if you want to make a profit.

Over the past two years, the Chinese state media’s reaction to Australia has shifted from indifference to bemusement, and now to anger. This change in tone is evidenced in an article in the Global Times last year:

Australia poses a problem for China. If we mind its silly carryings-on, it will deplete our energy, and it doesn’t seem worth our while; however, if we leave it be and pretend nothing is happening, that would only encourage it, and it may go from bad to worse. Australia is one of the countries that have benefited most from China’s rise, yet it is also one of the most provocative voices in the Western bloc. It is beginning to look like a piece of chewing gum stuck to the bottom of China’s shoe.

The Global Times is a subsidiary newspaper of the Chinese government’s mouthpiece People’s Daily, but unlike People’s Daily, it is profit-driven and licensed to drive sales by pandering to populist sentiments rather than to reason.

The question is whether the Australian media should take the bait, trade insults with The Global Times, and allow such visceral responses to shape the debate.




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When it comes to China’s influence on Australia, beware of sweeping statements and conflated ideas


There are signs the Australian media are not only taking the Global Times seriously but also literally.

In fact, so literally that if you enter the current China debate in Australia and critique some aspect of the anti-China rhetoric — and then get quoted favourably (and possibly out of context) by The Global Times — you may automatically qualify for being labelled a Beijing apologist.

Impact on relations

Can this kind of sustained war of words have an actual impact on how the two countries view one another? Yes, it can.

One only need look at the recent rhetoric of top government officials in both countries as an example. Last year, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull vowed to “stand up” to China in an unusually sharp statement, while Foreign Minister Julie Bishop made a blunt assessment of China’s lack of democracy. China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, just last week told Bishop that Australia needs to remove its “tinted glasses”.

Anecdotally, I’ve been told by some of my Chinese-Australian friends that their friends and families in China are repeatedly urging them to “stay safe” and “take care of themselves” as Australia becomes more anti-Chinese.




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But are Australia-China relations really as bad as the media have been making them out? If you look at the current number of Chinese tourists and students here, maybe the answer is no, or at least not yet. But the business community has already started to suffer.

As recently as two years ago, both countries were hoping to use their respective media to promote public diplomacy towards each other. At the moment, media organisations in neither country are doing that. In fact, public diplomacy has well and truly been replaced by megaphone diplomacy, specialising in what The Guardian’s Katherine Murphy calls “binary and cartoonish talk and analysis”, as is often found in the “graphic novel” genre.

The ConversationThe question we should be asking is not whether the relationship between Australia and China is as bad as the media in both countries portray it. Rather, it’s how much power the media has in shaping this relationship, and whose interests this current megaphone diplomacy is serving.

Wanning Sun, Professor of Chinese Media and Cultural Studies, University of Technology Sydney

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

Loose-cannon Trump enters the tinderbox of US-Russia-China relations


Joseph Camilleri, La Trobe University

Donald Trump’s inauguration speech had one simple message: “America first”. His was an inward-looking vision of the future in which America would set about regaining all that has been stolen from it.

His one promise was to restore America to its former wealth, power and security – to recreate a past that has long since gone.

But ours is an increasingly interdependent world, in which America’s relations with its arch-rivals, Russia and China, now less than cordial, are precariously poised. It is a world in which the wider economic, security and political environment is in a state of radical flux.

Neither Trump nor his cabinet nominees appear to grasp how far-reaching these changes are, how severely they limit America’s room for manoeuvre, and how serious are the dangers of miscalculation and overreach.

For all three countries, bilateral ties weigh heavily. Trade looms large in Sino-American relations, and US sanctions against Russia are a major bone of contention. But in reviewing relations between these three centres of power, we need to ask larger questions that go to the heart of regional and global security.

A key question is whether the US and Russia can find ways of accommodating each other’s legitimate interests without provoking European divisions and anxieties. Another is whether they can avoid the proliferation of proxy wars in the Middle East and elsewhere. Importantly, they face the task of averting a renewed nuclear arms race.

It also remains to be seen if China and the US are of a mind to contain, if not resolve, conflicts in East Asia. As the world’s two largest economies, they have to decide whether they will actively promote an orderly system of trade, institutions that can better guard against periodic financial crises, and a climate-change regime that is equal to the task.

We also wait to see whether the three most powerful members of the UN Security Council will allow the UN to play the constructive security and peace-building role assigned to it. Importantly, will they give UN reform the attention it so desperately needs?

Sadly, nothing on the public record suggests these challenges are uppermost in the minds of the new president or his advisers. Tellingly, on all these questions Trump’s inauguration speech maintained a deafening silence.

How will a Trump administration deal with Russia?

Trump is personally inclined to cultivate a better relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and to be tougher with China’s Xi Jinping.

But what is it that helps explain his approach? In each case, it seems his main preoccupation is to maximise business opportunities for the US corporate sector, and by extension for the US economy.

In decoding Trump’s chaotic use of language, we should not underestimate his ability to surprise and confound his critics. The greater risk would be to overestimate his capacity to control events, or the coherence of his anti-establishment rhetoric.

When it comes to Russia, we should not assume the Trump administration will speak with one voice. Nor should we assume that it will always command the support of the Republican majority in Congress, or that it will be able to disregard entrenched bureaucratic ways of thinking about Russia or the preferences of the immensely powerful US security and intelligence apparatus.

Several prominent Republicans are known for their hostility to Putin’s policies and advocacy of even stronger sanctions against Russia. Already the Senate Intelligence Committee has announced it will conduct a review of Russian hacking in the 2016 election and examine any intelligence “regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns”.

Even among his cabinet nominees, anti-Russian sentiment is strong. Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, James Mattis, Trump’s nominee for defence secretary, cited Russia as a major threat to US interests:

I think right now the most important thing is that we recognise the reality of what we deal with [in] Mr Putin and we recognise that he is trying to break the North Atlantic alliance.

With Mattis as Trump’s defence secretary, what chance a reset in Russian-American relations?

Even if Trump is given to periodic denunciations of NATO allies – for doing too little rather than too much – how likely is it that his administration will review NATO’s expansion into eastern Europe, or withdraw the thousands of troops that have just arrived in Poland as part of an ongoing rotational deployment?

In any case, Trump will sooner or later have to address the animosity he has aroused in the US intelligence community, and by extension in the American conservative establishment.

Recent allegations that Russian spies have gathered compromising material on Trump’s links with Moscow will make for added caution. Accurate or not, the leaked dossier will have the effect of subjecting his relationship with Putin to the closest scrutiny.

In the end, Trump may be happy to settle for improved economic relations and the easing of sanctions, but little more than that. Pleasant surprises are possible, but reversing the dangerous path on which Russian-American relations are currently set remains a distant prospect.

Donald Trump is personally inclined to cultivate a better relationship with Vladimir Putin.
Reuters

Troubling stance on China

Trump’s announced intention to play tough on China is even more troubling.

Having accused China of being a currency manipulator, of engaging in unfair trade practices, and of stealing American jobs and intellectual property, he could use his presidential powers to impose tariffs and other sanctions.

Given the large US balance of payments deficit with China, he could impose import surcharges of up to 15% for up to 150 days. He could also lodge a complaint against China at the World Trade Organisation.

But such measures are unlikely to produce the desired result, and each is open to costly retaliation. This may help to explain why Trump has, with characteristic clumsiness, made a point of raising two highly sensitive issues: relations with Taiwan, and the South China Sea dispute.

Acceptance of the One China policy has been the cornerstone of Sino-American relations for close to four decades. By threatening to review it, a Trump administration may hope to extract trade and other economic concessions from China. In return, it would agree to retain the status quo on Taiwan.

The same thinking may have inspired Trump’s brief post-election comment on the South China Sea, considerably amplified by Rex Tillerson, his nominee for secretary of state. Having likened China’s building of a militarised island in the Spratlys to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, he issued a rather extraordinary warning:

We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.

Is this a real threat or mere bluff? Either way, the signs are ominous. And although the official Chinese response has been measured, the Chinese media’s reaction was predictably swift and furious.

Donald Trump could use his presidential powers to impose tariffs and other sanctions on Xi Jinping’s China.
Reuters/Ruben Sprich

What do the next four years hold?

Trump and his team have yet to think through the implications of their statements. Far from “making America great again”, their sloganeering will deepen mistrust of US motives and irreparably damage any prospect of co-existence, let alone a more co-operative world order.

Perhaps the greatest casualty will be the loss of anything approaching a moral compass.

Support for torture, disregard for the rule of law, almost complete indifference to the human rights agenda, and erection of physical and legal walls to keep the victims of war, persecution and economic hardship at bay will merely serve to encourage authoritarianism the world over, not least in Putin’s Russia and Xi’s China.

Assuming Trump lasts the journey, the next four years offer an unprecedented opportunity for America’s friends and allies, both the people and their governments, to exercise a newly found independence of thought and action. Collaboratively and with humility, they may need to assume the moral leadership that has become the great imperative of our time.

The Conversation

Joseph Camilleri, Emeritus Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University

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

Pakistani Muslim Tortures, Accuses Christian Who Refused Slavery


Land owner falsely charges young man with illicit sex, calls villagers to beat, burn him.

SARGODHA, Pakistan, October 29 (CDN) — A Muslim land owner in Pakistan this month subjected a 25-year-old Christian to burns and a series of humiliations, including falsely charging him with having sex with his own niece, because the Christian refused to work for him without pay.

Fayaz Masih is in jail with burns on his body after No. 115 Chitraan Wala village head Zafar Iqbal Ghuman and other villagers punished Masih for refusing to work as a slave in his fields, said the Rev. Yaqub Masih, a Pentecostal evangelist. The village is located in Nankana Sahib district, Punjab Province.

Sources said neither Fayaz Masih nor his family had taken any loans from Ghuman, and that they had no obligations to work off any debt for Ghuman as bonded laborers.

Yaqub Masih said the young man’s refusal to work in Ghuman’s fields infuriated the Muslim, who was accustomed to forcing Christians into slavery. He said Ghuman considered Masih’s refusal an act of disobedience by a “choohra,” the pejorative word for Christians in Pakistan.

On Oct. 3 Ghuman and 11 of his men abducted Masih from his home at gun-point and brought him to Ghuman’s farmhouse, according to Yaqub Masih and Yousaf Gill, both of nearby village No. 118 Chour Muslim. Gill is a former councilor of Union Council No. 30, and Yaqub Masih is an ordained pastor waiting for his denomination to assign him a church.

Fayaz Masih’s family members told Yaqub Masih that Ghuman was carrying a pistol, and that the 11 other men were brandishing rifles or carrying clubs, axes and bamboo sticks. They began beating Masih as they carried him away, calling him a choohra, Yaqub Masih said.   

Gill said that Ghuman’s farmhands tied Fayaz Masih’s hands and legs and asked him once more if he would work in Ghuman’s fields. When he again refused, Gill said, Ghuman summoned four barbers; three ran away, but he forced one, Muhammad Pervaiz, to shave Masih’s head, eyebrows, half of his mustache and half of his beard.

After they had rubbed charcoal on Masih’s face, Ghuman then announced that Masih had had relations with Masih’s 18-year-old niece, Sumeera, and called for everyone in the village to punish him. He and his men placed Masih on a frail, one-eyed donkey, Yaqub Masih and Gill said, and a mob of Muslim men and children surrounded him – beating tins, dancing and singing door-to-door while shouting anti-Christian slogans, yelling obscenities at him and other Christians, and encouraging villagers to beat him with their shoes and fill his mouth with human waste, Yaqub Masih said.

Some threw kerosene on Masih and alternately set him on fire and extinguished the flames, Gill said. He added that Muslims made a garland of old shoes from a pile of garbage and put it around Masih’s neck.

Yaqub Masih said the abuse became unbearable for the young man, and he collapsed and fell off the donkey.  

 

Police Ignore Court

Masih’s sister, Seema Bibi, told Compass that the accusation that Masih had had sex with her daughter Sumeera was utterly false. She said Ghuman made the allegation only to vent his fury at Masih for refusing to work for him.

Seema Bibi said that Ghuman told her daughter at gun-point to testify against Masih in court on Oct. 4. Sumeera surprised the Muslim land owner, however, saying under oath that Masih was innocent and that Ghuman had tried to force her to testify against her uncle. A judge ruled that Sumeera had not had illicit relations with Masih, and that therefore she was free to go home.

Her mother told Compass, however, that since then Ghuman has been issuing daily death threats to her family.

After Masih collapsed from the abuse, Yaqub Masih and Gill called local police. Police did not arrive until three hours later, at 3:30 p.m., they said, led by Deputy Superintendent of Police Shoiab Ahmed Kamboh and Inspector Muhammad Yaqub.

“They rebuked the Muslim villagers that they could have killed this Christian youth, and they told them to give him a bath at once and change his clothes, in order to reduce the evidence against them,” Gill said.

Family members of Masih said Kamboh and Inspector Yaqub arrested some of the leading figures within the mob, but soon thereafter they received a call to release every Muslim.

“Instead of taking the Muslim men into custody, they detained my brother, and he was taken to the police station,” Seema Bibi said.  

On Oct. 4 police sent Masih to District Headquarters Hospital Nankana Sahib for examination, where Dr. Naseer Ahmed directed Dr. Muhammad Shakeel to mention in the medical report how severely Ghuman and his farmhands had beaten him, Gill said. He said the medical report also stated that Masih had sustained burns and that his head, mustache, eyebrows and beard were shaved.

In spite of the court ruling that Masih had not had sex with his niece, police were coerced into registering a false charge of adultery under Article 376 of the Islamic statutes of the Pakistan Penal Code, First Information Report No. 361/10, at the Sangla Hill police station.

At press time Masih remained in Shiekhupura District Jail, said Gill. Gill also has received death threats from Ghuman, he said.

The 11 men who along with Ghuman abducted Masih and brought him to Ghuman’s farmhouse, according to Masih’s family, were Mehdi Hussain Shah and Maqsood Shah, armed with rifles; Muhammad Amin, Rana Saeed, Muhammad Osama and four others unidentified, all of them brandishing clubs; Muhammad Waqas, with an axe; and Ali Raza, bearing a bamboo stick and a club.

Report from Compass Direct News

Christians in Middle East Fear Violence from Anti-Quran Protests


Those in the West who provoke Muslim extremists are not the ones who will suffer, they say.

ISTANBUL, October 5 (CDN) — Christians across the Middle East said they will be the ones to suffer if a group of anti-Islamic protestors in the United States goes through with its plans to publicly tear up or otherwise desecrate the Quran.

They roundly condemned the proposed actions as political stunts that are unwise, unnecessary and unchristian.

“This kind of negative propaganda is very harmful to our situation in Muslim countries,” said Atef Samy, assistant pastor for networking at Kasr El Dobara, the largest Protestant congregation in Egypt. “It generates uncontrollable anger among the people around us and gives the impression that all Christians feel this way about Islam.”

Samy said U.S. Christians who are protesting Islam need to think about the results of their “irrational actions.” The desecration, he said, will lead to protests and will incite people to commit anti-Christian violence.

“How do they expect Muslims to react?” he said. “And has anybody thought how we will pay for their actions or even their words?”

Tomorrow and Thursday (Oct. 6 and 7), political activist Randall Terry will host “Hear Muhammad Speak!” a series of demonstrations across the United States that he said are meant to “ignite national and world-wide debate/dialogue/education on the anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and at times violent message of the Quran.” During these protests, Terry plans to tear out pages from the Quran and encourage others to do the same.

He has said he is conducting the protest because he wants to focus attention also on the Hadith and the Sunnah, the recorded sayings and actions of Muhammad that Muslims use to guide their lives. Terry said these religious documents call “for the murder, beheadings, etc. of Christians and Jews, and the suppression of religious freedom.”

Known for his incendiary political approach, Terry is founder of Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion rights group. After stepping down from Operation Rescue, he publicly supported the actions of Scott Roeder, who murdered a Kansas physician who performed late-term abortions. Terry also arranged to have a protestor present an aborted fetus to then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton at the 1992 Democratic National Convention.

On this year’s anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Terry stood outside the White House and denounced Islam as one of five other protestors ripped out pages from the Quran and threw them into a plastic trash bag, which along with Florida Pastor Terry Jones’ planned (though ultimately cancelled) Quran-burning provoked isolated attacks across the Islamic world that left at least 19 dead.

Terry is part of a seemingly growing tide of people destroying or threatening to destroy the Quran as an act of protest against Islam or “Islamic extremism.”

 

Objections

Terry has said that he wants to “highlight the suffering of Christians inflicted by Muslims” and to call on Islamic leaders “to stop persecuting and killing Christians and Jews, and well as ‘apostates’ who leave Islam.”

But Christian leaders in the Middle East said protests in which the Quran is desecrated have the opposite effect. They are bracing themselves for more attacks. Protestors in the West can speak freely – about free speech, among other things – but it’s Christians in the Middle East who will be doing the dying, they said.

“This message of hate antagonizes Muslims and promotes hatred,” said Samia Sidhom, a Christian and managing editor of the Cairo-based newspaper Watani. “Thus churches and Christians become targets of counter-hate and violence. Islam is in no way chastised, nor Christianity exalted. Only hate is strengthened. Churches and Christians here find they need to defend themselves against the allegations of being hateful and against the hate and violence directed at them.”

Martin Accad, a Lebanese Christian and director of the Institute of Middle East Studies at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, agreed with Sidhom.

“We are held guilty by association by extremist Muslims, even though the vast majority of Muslims will be able to dissociate between crazy American right-wingers and true followers of Jesus,” he said.

Leaders in the Arabic-speaking Christian world said Terry’s protests and others like it do nothing positive. Such provocations won’t make violent Muslim extremists re-examine their beliefs or go away.

“Islam will not disappear because we call it names,” said Samy, of the Egyptian Protestant church. “So we must witness to our belief in Jesus without aggressively attacking the others.”

Accad, a specialist in Christian-Muslim relations and also associate professor of Islamic Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, said positive engagement is the best approach for Christians to take toward Islam.

“Visit their places of worship and get to know them, and invite them to yours,” Accad said. “Educate your own congregation about Islam in a balanced way. Engage in transformational partnerships with moderate Muslim leaders who are working towards a more peaceful world.”

The element of the protests that most baffled Christians living in the Muslim world was that burning or tearing another religion’s book seemed so unchristian, they said.

“In what way can burning or ripping the Quran serve Christianity or Christians?” Sidhom of Watani said. “It is not an action fit for a servant of Christianity. It merely expresses hate and sends out a message of extreme hostility to Islam.”

Accad called publicly desecrating the Quran an act of “sheer moral and ethical absurdity.”

“These are not acts committed by followers of a Jesus ethic,” Accad said. “They will affect the image of Christianity as badly as the destruction of the World Trade Center affected the image of Islam.”

Accad added, “Since when do followers of Jesus rip an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?”

Such protests also defeat the purposes of churches in Islamic nations, Christians said. H. Ramdani, a church leader in Algeria, said Christians must strive to build bridges with Muslims in order to proclaim Christ.

“It’s destroying what we are doing and what we are planning to do,” he said of the protests. “People refuse to hear the gospel, but they ask the reason for the event. Muslims are more radical and sometimes they are brutal.”

At press time Compass was unable to reach Terry by phone or e-mail for a reply to the Middle Eastern Christians’ complaints about the planned protests, but after he staged a Sept. 11 Quran-tearing event he released a statement expressing “great sadness” over the deaths that followed while denying that it was right for Muslims to react violently to such protests.

“Such logic is like saying that a woman who is abused by her boyfriend or husband is guilty of bringing violence on herself because she said or did something that irritated him,” Terry stated.

In the weeks leading up to the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attack, Terry Jones, leader of a small congregation in Gainesville, Fla., made his mark in the media by threatening to burn a stack of Qurans in protest of Islam. At the last minute, after wide condemnation from around the world, Jones stated that he felt “God is telling us to stop” and backed out of the protest.

Despite Jones’ retreat, protestors unaffiliated with him burned Qurans in New York and Tennessee, and demonstrations swept across the Muslim world. In the relatively isolated attacks that ensued, protestors set fire to a Christian school and various government buildings, burning the school and the other structures to the ground. In Kashmir, 17 people were killed in Islamic assaults, and two protestors were killed in demonstrations in Afghanistan.

Report from Compass Direct News