After early success, India’s daily COVID infections have surpassed the US and Brazil. Why?


Rajib Dasgupta, Jawaharlal Nehru University India is in the grip of a massive second wave of COVID-19 infections, surpassing even the United States and Brazil in terms of new daily infections. The current spike came after a brief lull: daily new cases had fallen from 97,000 new cases per day in September 2020 to around 10,000 per day in January 2021. However, from the end of February, daily new cases began to rise sharply again, passing 100,000 a day, and now crossing the 200,000 mark.

Night curfews and weekend lockdowns have been reinstated in some states, such as Maharasthra (including the financial capital Mumbai). Health services and crematoriums are being overwhelmed, COVID test kits are in short supply, and wait times for results are increasing.




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How has the pandemic been spreading?

Residents in slum areas and those without their own household toilet have been worst affected, implying poor sanitation and close living have contributed to the spread.

One word that has dominated discussions about why cases have increased again is laaparavaahee (in Hindi), or “negligence”. The negligence is made out to be the fault of individuals not wearing masks and social distancing, but that is only part of the story.

Negligence can be seen in the near-complete lack of regulation and its implementation wherever regulations did exist across workplaces and other public spaces. Religious, social and political congregations contributed directly through super-spreader events, but this still doesn’t explain the huge rise in cases.

The second wave in India also coincides with the spread of the UK variant. A recent report found 81% of the latest 401 samples sent by the state of Punjab for genome sequencing were found to be the UK variant.

Studies have found this variant might be more capable of evading our immune systems, meaning there’s a greater chance previously infected people could be reinfected and immunised people could be infected.

A new double mutation is also circulating in India, and this too could be contributing to the rise in cases.




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Low fatality rate?

In the first phase of the pandemic, India was lauded for its low COVID death rate (case fatality rate) of about 1.5%. However, The Lancet cautioned about the “dangers of false optimism” in its September 26 editorial on the Indian situation.

In a pandemic situation, the public health approach is usually to attribute a death with complex causes as being caused by the disease in question. In April 2020, the World Health Organization clarified how COVID deaths should be counted:

A death due to COVID-19 is defined for surveillance purposes as a death resulting from a clinically compatible illness, in a probable or confirmed COVID-19 case, unless there is a clear alternative cause of death that cannot be related to COVID disease (e.g. trauma)

It is unclear the extent to which the health authorities across the states of India were complying with this.

Many states have set up expert committees to re-examine and verify COVID-19 deaths after coming under criticism that reported death rates were not accurate. Many states made corrections in mortality figures, and the full extent of undercounting is being actively researched.

District-level mortality data, both in the first wave as well as in the current wave, confirm that the global case fatality rate of 3.4% was breached in several districts such as Maharashtra, Punjab and Gujarat. Case fatality rates in some of the worst-affected districts were above 5%, similar to the 5% mortality level in the US.

What are the challenges this time?

A majority of the cases and deaths (81%) are being reported from ten (of 28) states, including Punjab and Maharashtra. Five states (Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala) account for more than 70% of active cases. But the infection seems to have moved out of bigger cities to smaller towns and suburbs with less health infrastructure.

Last year, the government’s pandemic control strategy included government staff from all departments (including non-health departments) contributing to COVID control activities, but these workers have now been moved back to their departments. This is likely to have an effect on testing, tracing and treating COVID cases. And health-care workers now have a vaccine rollout to contend with, as well as caring for the sick.




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What now?

In early March the government declared we were in the endgame of the pandemic in India. But their optimism was clearly premature.

Despite an impressive 100 million-plus immunisations, barely 1% of the country’s population is currently protected with two doses of the vaccine. The India Task Force is worried that monthly vaccine supplies at the current capacity of 70 million to 80 million doses per month would “fall short by half” for the target of 150 million doses per month.

Strict, widespread lockdowns we have seen elsewhere in the world are not appropriate for all parts of India given their effect on the working poor. Until wider vaccination coverage is achieved, local containment measures will have to be strengthened. This includes strict perimeter control to ensure there is no movement of people in or out of zones with local outbreaks, intensive house-to-house surveillance to ensure compliance with stay-at-home orders where they are in place, contact tracing, and widespread testing.

It should go without saying large congregations such as political rallies and religious festivals should not be taking place, and yet they have been.

Strong leadership and decentralised strategies with a focus on local restrictions is what we need until we can get more vaccines into people’s arms.The Conversation

Rajib Dasgupta, Chairperson, Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University

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

As the US plans its Afghan troop withdrawal, what was it all for?


David Goldman/AP

Jared Mondschein, University of SydneyUnlike most US presidents, Joe Biden did not come to the White House with many fixed ideological positions. He did, however, come with fixed values. Chief among them is understanding how US policies impact working American families.

In his nearly half century of experience in and around Washington, Biden was known to ask any staffers using academic or elitist language to

pick up your phone, call your mother, read her what you just told me […] If she understands, we can keep talking.

The debate about the nearly 20-year US presence in Afghanistan has challenged three prior US presidents — George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Yet Biden, as the first US president in 40 years to have had a child who served in combat, sees things differently.

There undoubtedly remains a strategic argument — albeit shared by increasingly fewer Americans — for maintaining a US presence in Afghanistan. Namely, that it would continue to prevent terrorists from once again making safe haven there.

But Biden’s announcement that he would withdraw the remaining US troops by September essentially meant he saw no way of making the parent of another soldier killed in Afghanistan understand such an argument. As he said,

Our reasons for remaining in Afghanistan have become increasingly unclear.

Biden said it is ‘time for America’s troops to come home’.
Andrew Harnik / POOL/EPA

Shifting US support for the war

Today, most Americans agree with him.

When the longest war in American history began, 83% of Americans were in favour of it. But by 2019, 41% of Americans simply had no opinion on whether the US had accomplished its goals in Afghanistan.

Perhaps clearer than the US rationale for maintaining troops in Afghanistan is the fact Americans are dramatically less concerned about terrorism than they were 20 years ago.

A woman embracing her husband after his return from a deployment to Afghanistan in 2014.
David Goldman/AP

One month after the September 11, 2001, attacks, 71% of Americans said they were worried about a terror attack.

But by July 2020, terrorism ranked last in a list of ten issues that Americans deemed to be a “very big problem in the country today.” Climate change, violent crime, unemployment, government ethics, and racial injustice were all deemed more important.

And in February of this year, Americans were asked what of 20 options should be given “top priority” as a long-range foreign policy goal. The top-ranked priority, with 75% in support, was “protecting the jobs of American workers”.

The very last one? “Promoting democracy in other nations”, at just 20%.




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What was it all for?

The rationale for maintaining US troops in Afghanistan was not only unclear to most Americans, it also became unclear to a growing number of US veterans. In late 2019, 44% of veterans said they supported US troop reductions from Afghanistan — compared to just 33% of the general public.

As Biden reminded the world in his announcement, the US invaded Afghanistan to root out al-Qaeda and prevent future terror attacks on the US. He posited the death of Osama bin Laden and the degradation of al-Qaeda were evidence of success on that front.

But both of those were accomplished a decade ago — leading Biden to wonder what had been accomplished since then, and what could be accomplished in the future.

More than 2,400 American service members were killed in Afghanistan and more than 20,000 were wounded.
Massoud Hossaini/AP

More than a decade ago, the Obama administration fiercely debated the merits of decreasing the US troop presence in Afghanistan. Around that time, a US Marine colonel who did multiple deployments to the region reflected to me about the many Marines he lost there and the parents he consoled. He asked a simple question:

What exactly am I supposed to tell these mothers that their sons died for?

Ultimately, the withdrawal of US troops has led veterans and non-veterans alike to ask another question that others have asked in the past: What was it all for?




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It remains unclear if the more than 2,400 US troop and personnel deaths, US$2 trillion and 20 years achieved anything truly lasting on the ground in Afghanistan.

Yet, perhaps the greatest legacy from the US war in Afghanistan should not be something the US gained, but instead what it lost — unbridled confidence in and dependence on US hard power.

Such humility and restraint may be exactly what is needed for the challenge the Biden administration wants to focus on most, and is perhaps most relevant to the American working family: rebuilding at home.The Conversation

Jared Mondschein, Senior Advisor, US Studies Centre, University of Sydney

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

Russia and China are sending Biden a message: don’t judge us or try to change us. Those days are over


Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service/AP

Tony Kevin, Australian National UniversityThe past week has marked a watershed moment in Russia’s relations with the West — and the US in particular. In two dramatic, televised moments, US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have changed the dynamics between their countries perhaps irrevocably.

Most commentators in the West have focused on Putin’s “trolling” of Biden by dryly — though, according to Putin, unironically — wishing his American counterpart “good health”. This, of course, came after Biden called Putin a “killer”.

But a more careful and complete reading of Putin’s message to the US is necessary to understand how a Russian leader is, finally, ready to tell the US: do not judge us by your claimed standards, and do not try to tell us what to do.

Putin has never asserted these propositions so bluntly. And it matters when he does.

Biden has put Putin on notice, saying he will ‘pay a price’ for alleged meddling in the 2020 US presidential election.
Evan Vucci?AP

Putin’s message to the new US president

The tense test of strength began when Biden was asked about Putin in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos and agreed he was “a killer” and didn’t have a soul. He also said Putin will “pay a price” for his actions.

Putin then took the unusual step of going on the state broadcaster VGTRK with a prepared five-minute statement in response to Biden.

In an unusually pointed manner, Putin recalled the US history of genocide of its Indigenous people, the cruel experience of slavery, the continuing repression of Black Americans today and the unprovoked US nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the second world war.

He suggested states should not judge others by their own standards:

Whatever you say about others is what you are yourself.

Some American journalists and observers have reacted to this as “trolling”. It was not.

It was the preamble to Putin’s most important message in years to what he called the American “establishment, the ruling class”. He said the US leadership is determined to have relations with Russia, but only “on its own terms”.

Although they think that we are the same as they are, we are different people. We have a different genetic, cultural and moral code. But we know how to defend our own interests.

And we will work with them, but in those areas in which we ourselves are interested, and on those conditions that we consider beneficial for ourselves. And they will have to reckon with it. They will have to reckon with this, despite all attempts to stop our development. Despite the sanctions, insults, they will have to reckon with this.

This is new for Putin. He has for years made the point, always politely, that Western powers need to deal with Russia on a basis of correct diplomatic protocols and mutual respect for national sovereignty, if they want to ease tensions.

But never before has he been as blunt as this, saying in effect: do not dare try to judge us or punish us for not meeting what you say are universal standards, because we are different from you. Those days are now over.




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China pushing back against the US, too

Putin’s forceful statement is remarkably similar to the equally firm public statements made by senior Chinese diplomats to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Alaska last week.

Blinken opened the meeting by lambasting China’s increasing authoritarianism and aggressiveness at home and abroad – in Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and the South China Sea. He claimed such conduct was threatening “the rules-based order that maintains global stability”.

Yang Jiechi, centre, speaking at the opening session of US-China talks in Alaska.
Frederic J. Brown/AP

Yang Jiechi, Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief, responded by denouncing American hypocrisy. He said

The US does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength. The US uses its military force and financial hegemony to carry out long-arm jurisdiction and suppress other countries. It abuses so-called notions of national security to obstruct normal trade exchanges, and to incite some countries to attack China.

He said the US had no right to push its own version of democracy when it was dealing with so much discontent and human rights problems at home.




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Russia and China drawing closer together

Putin’s statement was given added weight by two diplomatic actions: Russia’s recalling of its ambassador in the US, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s meeting in China with his counterpart, Wang Yi.

Beijing and Moscow agreed at the summit to stand firm against Western sanctions and boost ties between their countries to reduce their dependence on the US dollar in international trade and settlements. Lavrov also said,

We both believe the US has a destabilising role. It relies on Cold War military alliances and is trying to set up new alliances to undermine the world order.

Though Biden’s undiplomatic comments about Putin may have been unscripted, the impact has nonetheless been profound. Together with the harsh tone of the US-China foreign ministers meeting in Alaska — also provoked by the US side — it is clear there has been a major change in the atmosphere of US-China-Russia relations.

What will this mean in practice? Both Russia and China are signalling they will only deal with the West where and when it suits them. Sanctions no longer worry them.

The two powers are also showing they are increasingly comfortable working together as close partners, if not yet military allies. They will step up their cooperation in areas where they have mutual interests and the development of alternatives to the Western-dominated trade and payments systems.




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Countries in Asia and further afield are closely watching the development of this alternative international order, led by Moscow and Beijing. And they can also recognise the signs of increasing US economic and political decline.

It is a new kind of Cold War, but not one based on ideology like the first incarnation. It is a war for international legitimacy, a struggle for hearts and minds and money in the very large part of the world not aligned to the US or NATO.

The US and its allies will continue to operate under their narrative, while Russia and China will push their competing narrative. This was made crystal clear over these past few dramatic days of major power diplomacy.

The global balance of power is shifting, and for many nations, the smart money might be on Russia and China now.The Conversation

Tony Kevin, Emeritus Fellow, Australian National University

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

US massage parlour shootings should ring alarm bells in Australia: the same racist sexism exists here


Damian Dovarganes/AP

Tegan Larin, Monash UniversityThe recent US shootings at massage businesses in Atlanta should ring alarm bells in Australia. Eight people were killed in the attacks, including four Korean women and two Chinese women.

US authorities are still trying to determine the exact motive behind the attack by a 21-year-old white man, who is a suspected sex buyer.

But some feminist groups, such as Asian Women for Equality, immediately identified misogynist racism as a key element behind this sort of violence. As one member of the group, Suzanne Jay, said,

Men are being trained by the prostitution industry. They’re being encouraged and allowed to orgasm to inequality. This has an impact on Asian women who have to deal with these men.

The global sex trade, feminists have argued,

increasingly contributes to the dehumanisation of all Asian women.

Indeed, it has been reported that the Atlanta shooting suspect explained the attacks were a form of vengeance to eliminate the “temptation” for his “sexual addiction”.

How Australia’s massage businesses operate

Like the US, Australia’s “massage parlours” are associated with the prostitution of Asian women. These venues, outwardly presenting as massage businesses but offering illicit sexual services, make up the majority of brothels in the city I study, Melbourne.

Australia’s commercial sex industry is regulated at the state and territory level, resulting in a patchwork of differing models.

In Victoria, massage parlours are estimated to outnumber legal brothels five-fold. My research on Melbourne’s massage parlours supports this estimate.




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Despite the main purpose of Victoria’s Sex Work Act to “control sex work”, the majority of Victoria’s brothels get around the legislative requirements and controls by operating under the guise of legitimate massage businesses.

Massage businesses are usually considered a general retail premises in most council areas, which do not require a planning permit or registration.

Australia’s sex industry is also heavily reliant on a culture of sexualised racism.

An analysis of online massage parlour advertising conducted as part of my research shows ads commonly feature images of Asian women in suggestive poses. The wording highlights race or ethnicity, with such phrases as “young and beautiful trained girls from Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, China and Malaysia”.




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In addition to ads, my research also examined online sex buyer review forums. These typically encourage men to include descriptions of “ethnicity, appearance, breast size”, ratings of the women’s body parts and the “services” received.

These sex buyer reviews not only demean and denigrate women, they also promote the sexualised and racist stereotypes that pervade the industry.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a recent study of sex buyer reviews of Australia’s legal brothels found

that sex buyers actively construct and normalise narratives of sexual violation and violence against women.

The effects of sexualised racism in prostitution

This blatant racism, misogyny and male sexual entitlement is not confined to massage parlour owners or their customers. It’s also embedded in Victoria’s Sex Work Regulations.

The updated regulations now allow advertising to reference “race, colour or ethnic origin of the person offering sexual services”. This means that Victoria’s sex industry legally promotes women from minorities as an eroticised “other”.




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This normalisation of sexualised racism promoted by the sex trade in Australia may have wider effects.

A Korean-Canadian doctor, Alice Han, for example, recounted to the ABC being asked twice in a span of 12 hours in regional New South Wales whether she was a sex worker.

She said this exemplifies “a pattern of demeaning stereotyping and racial profiling” of Asian women in Australia, and the association of Asian women with prostitution more broadly.

Australia’s sex industry also relies on the migration and trafficking of Asian women for its survival.

Indeed, Australia’s sex industry is rife with modern slavery for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Cases have been found in both legal and illegal brothels, signalling the wholesale failure of prostitution legislation in this country.

This raises questions about the model of total decriminalisation being proposed in Victoria. This model seeks to decriminalise not only those exploited in prostitution but those who profit from them, such as pimps, brothel owners and sex buyers.

The best path forward

Australia is increasingly behind the rest of the world when it comes to approaching prostitution from a gender equality perspective.

Indeed, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has consistently reprimanded Australia for not meeting its requirements to reduce the demand for prostitution.

In order to address the mix of racism, misogyny and men’s sexual entitlement that prostitution is founded on, Australia must adopt a new national framework. The Nordic or “Equality” model offers one path forward — it decriminalises those working in prostitution, but not those who exploit them.

A ‘stop Asian hate’ rally outside the Georgia state capitol in Atlanta.
Ben Gray/AP

This model, which has garnered support from survivors of prostitution and anti-trafficking organisations around the world, includes robust social services to support those in the sex trade and assist them into transitioning to other industries.

We know prostitution relies on the abuse of the world’s most marginalised women and girls in order to function. It is predominantly Asian and migrant women who suffer on the front lines of Australia’s sex trade.

While the national conversation confronting society’s acceptance of sexual violence is well overdue, we cannot ignore the sexism, misogyny and racism bound up in Australia’s sex trade.The Conversation

Tegan Larin, PhD Candidate Monash University XYX Lab, Monash University

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

Quad group makes vaccine deal as a wary China watches on



AAP/AP/Ryohei Moriya

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

American officials and those representing other parties to a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) may try to pretend that a summit of Quad leaders was not driven primarily by concerns about a China threat.

Briefing reporters after the meeting and the announcement of a vaccine deal to help low-income countries fight the COVID pandemic, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan sought to play down the issue when he said the Quad was not fundamentally about China:

The Quad is not a military alliance; it’s not a new NATO, despite some of the propaganda that’s out there.

But the fact is there would be no Quad, and no inaugural summit of the leaders of the US, Japan, India and Australia if it were not for deepening alarm among the US and its allies about how China’s rise might affect peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.

The leaders’ joint statement leaves no doubt a China preoccupation is driving the elevation of this body to national leader status. In doing so, it invests it with much greater significance. The statement reads:

We strive for a region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values and unconstrained by coercion.

If this is not “fundamentally about China”, it’s not clear what it is about.

It remains to be seen whether the first Quad summit bolsters the group’s ability to counter a rising and increasingly assertive China, or whether differing priorities among its participants expose its limitations.

The Quad is being marketed as a constellation of liberal democracies against an illiberal China. But there is a world of difference between how each of the participants view and interact with China.




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Not just about China

In assessing the likely effectiveness of the Quad, it is well to keep in mind that nations do not have permanent friends or permanent enemies – just permanent interests.

Canberra would be foolish to invest too much faith in what is, at this early stage, a consultative body that will meet semi-regularly to discuss regional challenges and conduct military exercises.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison would be advised to contain his exuberance in describing the Quad as the arrival of a “new dawn”.

This is not a “new dawn” in Asia, even if we are witnessing a Chinese sun rising.

In a paper – How Biden can make the Quad endure – the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argues the body needs to avoid a “China Trap” – becoming a narrowly-defined China-obsessed body – and seek to broaden its scope.

In this regard, it is a positive development that Quad leaders have undertaken to supply up to one billion coronavirus vaccines across Asia by the end of 2022. This is a practical demonstration of the Quad’s potential and one aimed at countering China’s soft power.

The Quad must ensure it doesn’t fall into the ‘China trap’, making everything about Beijing’s rising power.
AAP/AP/Andy Wong

A ‘new kind of diplomacy’

History is important to understanding the Quad’s genesis and where it might head. The body owes its start to the establishment in 2004 of an ad hoc grouping formed to deal with the devastating Boxing Day tsunami.

The United States, Japan, India and Australia established what was described then as the “Tsunami Core Group”. This initiative represented a “new type of diplomacy” to face an existential challenge.

In 2007, the first meeting of the Quad was held on the fringes of the ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila. The Quad showed promise as a regional grouping, but the Kevin Rudd government, elected that year, abandoned the Quad dialogue on the grounds it would be perceived as being part of a China containment policy.

This did not align with Labor’s strategic impulse, which was to continue to elevate relations with Beijing.

In 2017, under the Turnbull government, the grouping was revived. It has been described as “Quad 2.0”, to distinguish it from its first iteration.

Since then, participants elevated a dialogue among themselves to defence and foreign minister level. Quad countries have also participated in regular military exercises. However, until last week, when newly-elected President Joe Biden decided that in his first significant foreign policy initiative he would bring together Quad leaders, the body had lacked head-of-government imprimatur, and thus credibility.

That has changed.

Biden’s description of the Quad as a “vital arena for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific” means it has the potential to become an important component of a regional security architecture.

This is provided it does not get bogged down in a defensive anti-China mindset in dealing with regional concerns from China’s power to climate change to health challenges.

Helping to put the Quad summit into perspective is the planned meeting late this week in Anchorage, Alaska between US Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken, Sullivan and their Chinese counterparts. This includes Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

This will be the first high-level meeting between senior American and Chinese officials since the inauguration of the Biden administration on January 20. The Anchorage meeting will be critical to Washington’s efforts to establish a better working relationship with Beijing.

Top of the agenda will be discussion about a prospective summit between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

This is shaping as one of the more important encounters of the modern era.

Testifying last week before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Blinken said the Anchorage meeting would be an opportunity

to lay out in very frank terms the many concerns that we have with Beijing’s actions and behaviour.

The Blinken-Sullivan meeting with Chinese counterparts will be framed by a discussion Biden had last month with Xi in which he told the Chinese leader the US intended to challenge China’s “coercive and unfair economic practices” as well as its record on human rights, and its crackdown on Hong Kong.

According to the White House summary of that discussion, Biden also said he hoped to cooperate with Xi on matters like the coronavirus, nuclear proliferation and climate change.

There was no indication from the summary whether Xi had raised with Biden his election description of the Chinese leader as a “thug”.




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China’s response to the Quad meeting has been predictable, although less florid than might have been anticipated. This no doubt reflects an understanding in Beijing that attitudes in New Delhi, Tokyo, Washington and Canberra are not identical. This is how Beijing’s mouthpiece the Global Times put it in a commentary:

The Quad is not an alliance of like-minded countries as the US claims. The three countries other than the US would probably take a tactic of coordinating with the US in narrative while sticking to their own approaches to China.

Beijing will seek to wedge Quad members where it believes opportunities arise. Its wedge diplomacy will be a test for the group’s solidarity in its efforts to provide a regional counterweight to China.

Consolidation of the Quad’s importance will depend on self-interest of its various participants and circumstances. Beijing’s willingness to acknowledge the legitimate interests of Quad members will determine whether it proves to be a useful addition to a crowded regional architecture, or another irritant in an increasingly fractious relationship between China and the West.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Vice-chancellor’s fellow, La Trobe University

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

After Trump, what is the future of the Republican Party?


David Smith, University of Sydney

In the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, seven out of 50 Republican senators voted to convict the former president of inciting insurrection. This has raised more questions than it has answered about where the Republican Party is going.

It still looks like Trump’s party, but for how long? Bill Cassidy, one of the seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump, says Trump’s power over the party will “wane”. He will certainly hope so. The Republican Party of Louisiana has already censured Cassidy for his disloyalty to Trump.

On the other hand, Lindsey Graham, one of Trump’s top allies, believes Trump and his supporters are so important to the future of the party that Republicans should nominate his daughter-in-law to replace retiring Senator Richard Burr (who voted to convict).

Some in the party see Trump as a major liability who will only get more toxic. He is the first president since 1932 to oversee the loss of the White House and both houses of Congress in a single term. Joe Biden got the highest vote share of any presidential challenger since 1932 in the highest-turnout election since 1900, earning 7 million more votes than Trump.

However much Trump energised his supporters, he energised more of his opponents.

However much Trump energised his supporters, he energised his opponents more.
Kamil Krzaczynski/EPA/AAP

Despite all this, Republicans came within 90,000 votes of winning both houses of Congress and the presidency in 2020. Many Republicans believe Trump is an electoral asset who helped them outperform expectations and narrow the Democrats’ margins nationwide.

Unlike in 2012, there won’t be a Republican Party autopsy of the election defeat. Large numbers of Republicans doubt the outcome of the election, and most of the party’s legislators are unwilling to tell them otherwise.

In any case, the party went in the opposite direction from the path of moderation that the last autopsy recommended, and within four years they were back in control of the whole federal government.

So what might the future hold?




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The party is unlikely to split

The Republican Party has a huge and energetic pro-Trump base that controls the grassroots machinery of the party. It also represents a formidable primary voting bloc.

It has a much smaller but high-profile faction that wants to leave Trump behind, with significant representation among legislators, donors and media commentators.

For now, the two sides are stuck with each other.

In the past few weeks, figures on both sides have threatened to form new parties if they can’t control the direction of the GOP.

These threats have quickly evaporated. The most a new conservative party could achieve is to damage the electoral prospects of Republicans (something Trump might have contemplated in the face of the impeachment threat).

The American electoral system, which is winner-takes-all from top to bottom, is notoriously unforgiving to would-be third parties. Even people who feel alienated from their own parties are better off staying and fighting for power rather than forming a new party, which would never get anywhere near power.

It has been more than 160 years since divisions over slavery destroyed major parties in the United States. The Republican and Democratic parties have survived since the Civil War despite numerous fractures and even violent conflicts.

Congressional outcasts occasionally defect to the other major party. But, more often, members at odds with their party eventually retire and are replaced by new members more closely aligned with its direction. This process is one of the factors leading to the current polarisation of Congress.




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Moderates are being policed more harshly than extremists

Newly elected representative Marjorie Taylor Greene has become the focus of concerns about right-wing extremism in the Republican Party. Greene has a long history of amplifying dangerous conspiracy theories on social media.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell warned that “loony lies and conspiracy theories” are “a cancer for the Republican Party and our country”. Greene fired back: “The real cancer for the Republican Party is weak Republicans who only know how to lose gracefully. This is why we are losing our country.”

Newly elected representative Marjorie Taylor Greene has a long history of amplifying conspiracy theories.
Shawn Thew/EPA/AAP

House Democrats moved to strip Greene of her membership of congressional committees after Republican leader Kevin McCarthy refused to discipline her.

Greene has been forced to back down from her support of QAnon and some conspiracy theories that congressional Republicans consider beyond the pale.

But Greene’s central conspiratorial grievance – that Trump was robbed of a rightful victory in the 2020 election – is an article of faith and a politically energising force for much of the Republican base. Trump raised US$255 million dollars off it in the weeks after the election.

Many Republicans in Congress acquiesced to the “stolen election” fantasy, some with the excuse that they are faithfully representing their constituents. Even McConnell waited weeks before acknowledging Biden’s victory.

Republicans who openly acknowledged Biden’s victory and dismissed claims of widespread election fraud faced anger and censure from state party organisations, as well as from Trump himself. Republicans who backed impeachment saw immediate retribution, and will almost certainly have to defeat well-supported primary challengers in the future.

The historical willingness of American conservatives to police extremism has been overstated. It doesn’t matter that Trump and Greene are poison to the larger electorate. Neither election losses nor the stigma of “extremism” are enough to kill right-wing political movements in America.

Accepting the Republican nomination in 1964, Barry Goldwater declared that “extremism in defence of liberty is no vice”. Goldwater went on to one of the largest electoral defeats in history, but within 15 years his movement, led by Ronald Reagan, had thoroughly conquered the Republican Party, taken the White House and reshaped American political culture. Trump’s followers have similar ambitions.

‘Trumpism’ without Trump could be tough to pull off

No one knows yet what role Trump will play in future Republican politics. His recent attack on McConnell suggests he at least wants to continue to punish Republicans he sees as disloyal. The possibility Trump could run again will make politics awkward for Republicans eager to claim his mantle for their own presidential ambitions.

The prospect of “Trumpism without Trump” has enticed conservatives and worried liberals ever since the Trump phenomenon began. Republicans have learned to rail against “globalism” and the “deep state”. They are unlikely to return to comprehensive immigration reform any time soon.

Trump has breathed new life into old conservative staples such as law and order and the perils of socialism. But Trump’s relationship with his supporters goes far beyond his political positions, or even the grievances and emotions he harnessed.

Trump’s appeal was based on the perception that he had unique gifts that no politician ever had. He cultivated a media image that made him synonymous, however incorrectly, with business success. His tireless verbal output, whether through Twitter or at endless rallies, created an alternative reality for his followers. Many saw him as chosen by God.

That kind of charismatic magic will be extremely difficult for any career politician to recapture. Republicans may discover that Trumpism is not a political movement but a business model, a model only ever designed for one benefactor.The Conversation

David Smith, Associate Professor in American Politics and Foreign Policy, US Studies Centre, University of Sydney

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