As of February 25, a total of 221.7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered around the world. Well over one-third of these doses were in just two countries — the United States and the United Kingdom.
A study in mid-November analysed commitments to buy 7.48 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Just over half will go to the 14% of the world’s population who live in high-income countries.
It’s estimated most high-income countries will achieve widespread vaccination coverage by the end of 2021. Most middle-income countries will not achieve this until mid- to late 2022, while the world’s poorest countries, including almost every country in Africa and some in our own Asia-Pacific region, will have to wait until 2023.
This inequality is clearly a moral outrage. But it is also a surefire way to perpetuate the pandemic’s devastating health, social and economic impacts on the whole world.
Why everyone benefits from vaccine equity
There are many reasons why rich countries should do all they can to ensure global vaccine equity — in which COVID-19 vaccines are distributed fairly to different populations, including people of different means and backgrounds.
First, there is the moral argument. Given the vaccines already exist, every day that goes on results in deaths we could have prevented.
Second, the longer it takes to eradicate the virus globally, the more it will mutate, possibly reducing the effectiveness of the vaccines. That would affect us all.
Third, as long as the virus is here, trade flows and global supply chains will be severely disrupted. Avoiding this is also in our own interests if we want to see foreign tourists and students return to our shores.
Finally, a prolonged pandemic might result in even more poverty, destabilising the already fragile livelihoods of millions of poor people in low- and middle-income countries. This, in turn, could result in conflict, undermining global political stability, which would affect us all.
Here are three ways to ensure global vaccine equity.
1. The COVAX facility — but there are issues
A number of large middle-income countries have begun to roll out their vaccination programs, including India, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Egypt, South Africa and Indonesia. Only a few African countries have begun their vaccination programs, of which just one, Zimbabwe, is a low-income country.
Some middle-income countries and most low-income countries will be relying on the World Health Organization (WHO)-led COVAX facility, to which Australia contributes funding. This aims to administer two billion doses of vaccine, starting with health-care workers, in poorer countries by the end of 2021.
However, COVAX doses will cover only up to 20% of the population of each country. And COVAX supplies may be slow to arrive, especially if delays in the production and delivery to richer countries push back delivery dates for poorer ones.
For instance, Ghana, the first of 92 countries to receive vaccines through this initiative, only received its 600,000 doses last week.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, has said that rich countries’ approaches to manufacturers to secure more vaccine doses are undermining COVAX’s effort to achieve its goal of purchasing two billion doses of vaccines to administer during 2021.
2. Countries can produce their own vaccines
Low- and middle-income countries can also produce COVID-19 vaccines themselves, an option taken by nations including India, Thailand, Vietnam and Cuba.
The company recently announced it would manufacture vaccines for India before doses earmarked for the rest of the world, a move that may delay vaccine shipments to dozens of countries and hamper the firm’s plans to share its vaccine supply. India is also developing its own vaccine, from Bharat Biotech, which has been approved in India.
Cuba has four vaccines under development. The most promising in early trials is Soberana 2, which will start phase three clinical trials shortly. If successful, Cuba’s Finlay Institute plans to produce up to 100 million doses by the end of 2021.
In Thailand, two vaccines are under development by Chulalongkorn and Mahidol universities. Both are about to start human trials.
In Vietnam, Nanogen Pharmaceutical has received government go-ahead to start clinical trials of its vaccine Nanocovax. The company can produce two million doses a year but plans to increase that to 30 million doses in the next six months.
3. Rich countries can donate spare vaccines
Rich countries can donate vaccines to poorer countries. France’s President Emmanuel Macron said richer countries should send up to 5% of their current vaccine supplies to poorer nations. There is little evidence other countries have followed France’s lead.
What could Australia do?
Australia has agreements to purchase enough vaccines (Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Novavax) to inoculate its population many times over.
In addition to its pledge to COVAX, Australia could contribute to vaccine equity in our region in two ways.
First, once CSL ramps up domestic production of the AstraZeneca vaccine, we could provide a portion of doses to our close neighbours, including Pacific nations and Indonesia.
Once the Therapeutic Goods Administration approves the Novavax vaccine, which is likely to occur by the middle of the year, we could share our order of 51 million doses with poor countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
These doses could be provided either free or at heavily discounted prices. Deliveries should be made directly from the manufacturer rather than sending “leftovers” from Australia, which could lead to expired vaccines ending up in neighbouring countries.
In a nutshell
But the projected two-year delay between vaccinating the world’s rich and the poor is both morally unacceptable and the biggest impediment to the world’s health and economic recovery.
The giant Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership between Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the ten members of ASEAN (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) was signed online on Sunday, November 15.
India left negotiations in November 2019, but even so, the deal will cover one third of the world’s population and economy.
Australia and the other governments refused to release the text until after signing, continuing Australia’s regrettable secrecy about deals it is about to sign.
India left the RCEP because of concerns about its potentially negative impact on local industry development.
Since Australia already has free trade agreements with all of the remaining members, India’s absence significantly diminishes what might have been in it for Australian exporters.
What’s left are some agreements on common standards and the claimed ability for Australia to talk to China more than it can through its own one-on-one trade agreement.
The text was completed before the pandemic and has not been revised since.
As it happened, Australia took actions during the pandemic that were technically contrary to the rules embodied in the RCEP in order to boost local manufacturing capacity for essential products.
We’ve already bent the rules
But the rules signed up to on Sunday will integrate Australia further into regional production chains and commit Australia to avoid assistance for local industries of the kind that will arguably be needed to rebuild and strengthen the economy.
Other rules signed up to on Sunday open essential services such as health, education, water, energy, telecommunications, finance and digital trade to foreign investors and restrict the ability of governments to regulate them in the public interest.
It remains to be seen whether these rules will give governments the flexibility they will need to get “the balance right”
Oddly for an agreement dealing with standards, there’s nothing in it about forced labour or child labour, and no mention of climate change.
But there are also welcome omissions.
No further rights for foreign investors
The final text confers no special rights on foreign corporations to sue governments through what are known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement clauses common in other agreements, although there is an opportunity for the members to revisit the idea two years after ratification
Nor are there increases in patent monopolies for medicines of the kind included in the original Trans-Pacific Partnership. These were suspended in the revised Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership now ratified by Australia and six other countries.
The RCEP will be reviewed by a parliamentary committee which, as is usual in these agreements, will be unable to change the text.
The Coalition has a majority on that committee.
Some commentators see the RCEP through the lens of US-China competition..
Looked at this way, the US has been weakened by the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the original Trans Pacific Partnership.
It is argued that the RCEP is China’s creation, and the incoming Biden administration will need to counter it by re-joining the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership, which excludes China.
But this is a US-centric a view that downplays the leading role of the ASEAN countries in creating the RCEP.
A Biden administration is unlikely to re-join the Trans Pacific Partnership any time soon. Parts of the Democratic party remain strongly opposed to it.
The US will rejoin genuinely multilateral organisations such as the World Health Organisation and the Paris Climate Agreement.
But Biden’s trade policy is likely to focus on domestic priorities such as the pandemic and climate change, about which the RCEP says nothing.
The ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu once said,
Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.
Looking at the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) today, it’s hard to say which of these tactics is most germane.
Getting the answer right will have enormous consequences for the United States and the future of the Indo-Pacific region. Underestimating the PLA breeds complacency and risks costly overreach. Overestimating the Chinese military grants it unwarranted advantage.
Similarly, for the Chinese leadership, miscalculating its military capability could lead to disaster.
As such, any serious appraisal of Chinese military power has to take the PLA’s progress – as well as its problems – into account. This was the focus of a recent study we undertook, along with retired US Army lieutenant colonel Dennis Blasko, for the Australian Department of Defence.
The PLA’s new-found might
By all appearances, the PLA has become a more formidable force over the past decade. The massive military parade in Beijing last October to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China showed off more than 700 pieces of modern military hardware.
One of these weapons, displayed publicly for the first time, was the DF-41, China’s most powerful nuclear-armed ballistic missile. It is capable of hitting targets anywhere in the US.
Under President Xi Jinping, China has also expanded its military footprint in the South China Sea. Military experts say China has used the global distraction of the coronavirus pandemic to shore up its position even further, drawing rebukes from neighbours. Tensions have heightened in recent days as the US and Australia have sent warships into the sea for drills.
In the past few years, China has also stepped up its military exercises around Taiwan and disputed waters near Japan, and last December, commissioned its second aircraft carrier, the Shandong, into service with the PLA Navy.
The most recent annual assessment of the PLA by the Pentagon acknowledges China’s armed forces are developing the capability to dissuade, deter or, if ordered, defeat third-party armed forces (such as the US) seeking to intervene in “a large-scale, theatre campaign” in the region.
The report also expects the PLA to steadily improve its ability to project power into the Pacific and beyond.
A recent study commissioned by the US Congress goes further, saying China’s strategy aims to
disrupt, disable or destroy the critical systems that enable US military advantage.
The report called for a “new American way of war”.
All of these highlight the increasing capabilities of the PLA and underscore the challenges China’s rising hard power pose to the United States and its regional allies. But what of the challenges the PLA itself faces?
Overcoming the ‘peace disease’
Interestingly, many of these problems are openly discussed in official Chinese publications aimed at a Chinese audience, but are curiously absent when speaking to a foreign audience.
Often, pithy formulaic sayings of a few characters summarise PLA shortcomings. For example, the “two inabilities” (两个能力不够), a term that has appeared hundreds of times in official Chinese media, makes reference to two shortcomings:
the PLA’s current ability to fight a modern war is insufficient, and
the current military commanders are also not up to the task.
Another frequent self-criticism highlights the “peace disease” (和平病), “peacetime habits” (和平积习) and “long-standing peace problems” (和平积弊).
The PLA was last at war in the mid-1980s, some 35 years years ago. Today’s Chinese military has very little combat experience.
Put more pointedly, far more soldiers serving in the PLA today have paraded down Chang’an Avenue in Beijing than have actually operated in combat.
Owing to these and many other acknowledged deficiencies, Xi launched the most ambitious and potentially far-reaching reforms in the PLA’s history in late 2015.
This massive structural overhaul aims to transform the PLA from a bloated, corrupt and degraded military to one increasingly capable of fighting and winning relatively short, but intensive, conflicts against technologically sophisticated adversaries, such as the United States.
But, recognising how difficult this transformation will be, the Chinese political and military leadership has set out a decades-long timeline to achieve it.
In Xi’s estimations, by 2020, the PLA’s mechanisation will be “basically achieved” and strategic capabilities will have seen major improvements; by 2035, national defence modernisation will be “basically completed”; and by mid-century, the PLA will be a “world-class military.”
In other words, this transformation – if successful – will take time.
At this relatively early point in the process, authoritative writings by PLA leaders and strategic analysts make clear that much more work is needed, especially more realistic training in joint operations, as well as improved leadership and greater communications integration across the services.
PLA modernisation depends more on “software” — human talent development, new war-fighting concepts and organisational transformation — than on the “hardware” of new weapons systems. This underscores the lengthy and difficult nature of reform.
‘Know the enemy and know yourself’
The many challenges facing the PLA’s reform effort suggest the Chinese leadership may lack confidence in its current ability to achieve victory against a strong adversary on the battlefield.
However, none of this means we should dismiss the PLA as a paper tiger. The recent indictment of PLA personnel for the 2017 hack of Equifax is a cautionary reminder of the Chinese military’s expansive capabilities.
Rather, it means a prudent assessment of the PLA must take its strengths and weaknesses into account, neither overestimating nor underestimating either one. Should strategic competition between the US and China continue to escalate, getting this right will be more important than ever.
So, is China appearing weak when it is strong, or appearing strong when it is weak? Much current evidence points to the latter.
But this situation will change and demands constant reassessment. Another quotation from Sun Tzu is instructive:
If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
The COVID-19 coronavirus is spreading across the world. Initially the epicenter was China, with reported cases either in China or in travellers from China. There are now at least four further epicenters: Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea.
Although the World Health Organisation believes the number of cases in China has peaked and should fall, case reports are climbing from countries previously thought to be resilient due to stronger medical standards and practices.
In a strongly connected and integrated world, the impacts of the disease will go beyond mortality (deaths) and morbidity (people incapacitated or caring for the incapacitated and unable to work).
Companies across the world, irrespective of size, depend on inputs from China – much more so than during the 2002-04 China-centred Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pandemic.
In 2003 China accounted for less than one twentieth of world trade. It now accounts for one seventh, making it the world’s biggest importer and an integral part of most global production chains.
Just as important to the world economy, panic is distorting spending. Global stock markets have plunged.
Fear is as important as trade
Entire cities in China have closed and travel restrictions have been placed on people entering from infected countries.
The fear of an unknown deadly virus is similar in its psychological effects to the reaction to terrorism threats and produces a high level of stress, often with longer-term consequences.
A large number of people feel at-risk at the onset of a pandemic, even if their actual risk of dying is low.
The International Monetary Fund expects COVID-19 to knock 0.4 points off China’s economic growth target of 5.6% and 0.1 points off global growth, an assessment it will continue to update.
On Monday the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development sliced 0.8 points off its forecast for China’s growth and 0.5 points off its forecast for Australian growth.
As part of a large research project in the Centre for Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR) at the Australian National University, we have applied experience gained from evaluating the impact of SARS for the World Health Organisation in 2003 and 2006 to seven scenarios for COVID-19:
The scenarios vary the attack rate (the proportion of the total population contracting the virus), the mortality rate (the proportion of total
population who dies), whether epidemic is a one-off (essentially temporary) or recurrs each year (essentially permanent), and whether it spreads globally or is largely confined to China.
Australian faces a significant hit to GDP
We find that in the four scenarios where the epidemic goes global, Australia’s GDP which in the 12 months to December grew just 1.7%, would suffer a hit in the first year of between 2% and 7.9%, most likely sending GDP backwards (a recession).
In all countries the sharp hit to growth would be followed by a gradual recovery.
The results are very sensitive to the assumptions used, including government responses in each country.
In the short term, central banks and treasuries will need to make sure disrupted economies continue to function.
Australia: percentage change in real GDP
While cutting interest rates is an option, the shock will require a mix of monetary, fiscal and health policy responses. Quarantining affected people and reducing large scale social interaction would be an effective response.
Wide dissemination of good hygiene practices can be a low cost and highly effective response that can also reduce the extent of contagion and keep down the social and economic cost.
The longer-term responses are even more important.
Many governments have been reluctant to invest sufficiently in their health care systems, especially in public systems in less developed countries where many infectious diseases are likely to originate.
Investments in overseas public health matter
The idea that any country can be an island in an integrated global economy is being proved wrong.
Poverty kills people. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 shows that diseases, potentially generated in poor countries due to overcrowding, poor public health and interaction with wild animals, can kill people of any socioeconomic group in any country.
There needs to be vastly more investment in public health and development in the richest but also, and especially, in the poorest countries.
Our study suggests big economic costs in countries such as Australia can be avoided through global cooperative investment in public health in all countries.
We have known this for decades, yet politicians continue to ignore the scientific and economic evidence about the role of global public health in improving the quality of life and driving economic growth for us all.
Warwick McKibbin, Chair in Public Policy, ANU Centre for Applied Macroeconomic Analysis (CAMA), Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and Roshen Fernando, PhD Student in Economic Policy, Australian National University
The health implications of the Wuhan coronavirus (now called “Covid-19”) outbreak are, obviously, deeply concerning.
At the time of writing, it had infected more than 50,000 people and killed more than 1,300. Cities and cruise ships are in lockdown. Major trade shows like the Mobile World Congress have been cancelled. Even the Dalai Lama has indefinitely postponed all public appearances.
It has been widely noted that the crisis is having a large economic effect, not only on China but on countries such as Australia.
Those ripple effects stem from the fact that, compared to the time of the SARS outbreak in 2003, China is both a much larger economy and vastly more interconnected with the rest of the world.
Take Australia’s connections. China is Australia’s largest source for international students, with nearly 190,000 Chinese studying in our tertiary institutions. China is also Australia’s largest source of tourists and biggest trading partner.
Even if other countries don’t have the same level of exposure, the whole world is now radically interconnected. Global supply chains for products from cars to mobile phones run across multiple countries.
The components of an iPhone, for example, come from manufacturers in the United States as well as China, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.
The tectonic technological forces that have driven globalisation also mean an unprecedented “black swan” health crisis can quickly turn into a full-blown economic crisis.
Digital technology to the rescue
Against this backdrop, it is striking that the same technological forces behind global interconnectedness are key to coping with the coronavirus crisis.
An example comes from the Alibaba Group – arguably China’s leading e-commerce company. It is using everything from food delivery to cloud computing to help combat the crisis.
One of the first things that happens in a crisis is demand surges for goods and services in limited supply – face masks, for example.
Alibaba has encouraged sellers on its platforms to increase the supply of masks and other in-demand equipment. It has also used its influence to discourage the kind of price-gouging often seen during natural disasters.
On top of that, consider what life is like for about 11 million people in Wuhan, a city where normal life has ground to a halt as people avoid going out. How do they get groceries and other essentials?
A week before Chinese New Year, demand for takeaway food and other services increased 129%, according to Alibaba.
It’s worth pausing to reflect on how much worse the quarantine imposed on Wuhan and surrounding areas would be without the technology that makes transport and logistics today so sophisticated.
Keeping medical staff well cared for in Wuhan has also been crucial.
Leveraging Alibaba’s 18 Freshippo techno supermarkets in Wuhan, the group has set up a dedicated food-delivery team to provide free food and safe drinking water to local hospitals, rescue teams, reporters and volunteers. The group’s Amap Taxi operation has organised a volunteer force to provide free transport for all medical staff 24 hours a day. Alibaba’s travel platform “Fliggy” is be used to offer free accommodation to medical staff – a total of more than 10,000 rooms.
Finally, Alibaba’s cloud-computing business Ali Cloud – similar to Amazon Web Services – has helped health authorities track the outbreak and its spread. It has provided unlimited computing capacity to global medical researchers to accelerate the finding of a cure for the virus. It is also collaborating with Zhejiang Province’s Disease Control Centre to develop an artificial intelligence gene-analysis system that could could slash diagnosis time from two hours to half an hour.
At a time when globalisation is being sharply questioned, it is important to remember the upsides as well as the downsides of an interconnected world.
Yes, radical global interconnectedness makes the world more vulnerable to financial and public health crises. Yet those same forces have also lifted roughly 2 billion people out of extreme poverty in the past 30 years.
Those same technological forces drive the e-commerce platforms, cloud computing and artificial intelligence that help mitigate the effects of these crises.
We live in a world of violent challenges to the status quo, from Chile and Iraq to Hong Kong, Catalonia and the Extinction Rebellion. These protests are usually presented in the media simply as expressions of rage at “the system” and are eminently suitable for TV news coverage, where they flash across our screens in 15-second splashes of colour, smoke and sometimes blood.
These are huge rebellions. In Chile, for example, an estimated one million people demonstrated last month. By the next day, 19 people had died, nearly 2,500 had been injured and more than 2,800 arrested.
How might we make sense of these upheavals? Are they revolutionary or just a series of spectacular eruptions of anger? And are they doomed to fail?
Key characteristics of a revolution
As an historian of the French Revolution of 1789-99, I often ponder the similarities between the five great revolutions of the modern world – the English Revolution (1649), American Revolution (1776), French Revolution (1789), Russian Revolution (1917) and Chinese Revolution (1949).
A key question today is whether the rebellions we are currently witnessing are also revolutionary.
A model of revolution drawn from the five great revolutions can tell us much about why they occur and take particular trajectories. The key characteristics are:
long-term causes and the popularity of a socio-political ideology at odds with the regime in power
short-term triggers of widespread protest
moments of violent confrontation the power-holders are unable to contain as sections of the armed forces defect to rebels
the consolidation of a broad and victorious alliance against the existing regime
a subsequent fracturing of the revolutionary alliance as competing factions vie for power
the re-establishment of a new order when a revolutionary leader succeeds in consolidating power.
Why today’s protests are not revolutionary
This model indicates the upheavals in our contemporary world are not revolutionary – or not yet.
The most likely to become revolutionary is in Iraq, where the regime has shown a willingness to kill its own citizens (more than 300 in October alone). This indicates that any concessions to demonstrators will inevitably be regarded as inadequate.
We do not know how the extraordinary rebellion in Hong Kong will end, but it may be very telling there does not seem to have been significant defection from the police or army to the protest movement.
Is there hope for a Hong Kong revolution?
People grow angry far more often than they rebel. And rebellions rarely become revolutions.
So, we need to distinguish between major revolutions that transform social and political structures, coups by armed elites and common forms of protest over particular issues. An example of this is the massive, violent and ultimately successful protests in Ecuador last month that forced the government to cancel an austerity package.
The protests in Hong Kong and Catalonia fall into yet another category: they have limited aims for political sovereignty rather than more general objectives.
All successful revolutions are characterised by broad alliances at the outset as the deep-seated grievances of a range of social groups coalesce around opposition to the existing regime.
They begin with mass support. For that reason, the Extinction Rebellion will likely only succeed with modest goals of pushing reluctant governments to do more about climate change, rather than its far more ambitious aspirations of
a national Citizen Assembly, populated by ordinary people chosen at random, to come up with a programme for change.
Mass protests also fail when they are unable to create unity around core objectives. The Arab Spring, for instance, held so much promise after blossoming in 2010, but with the possible exception of Tunisia, failed to lead to meaningful change.
Revolutionary alliances collapsed rapidly into civil war (as in Libya) or failed to neutralise the armed forces (as in Egypt and Syria).
Why is there so much anger?
Fundamental to an understanding of the rage so evident today is the “democratic deficit”. This refers to public anger at the way the high-water mark of democratic reform around the globe in the 1990s – accompanied by the siren song of economic globalisation – has had such uneven social outcomes.
One expression of this anger has been the rise of fearful xenophobia expertly captured by populist politicians, most famously in the case of Donald Trump, but including many others from Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil to Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and Victor Orbán in Hungary.
Indeed, there are some who claim that western liberalism has now failed).
Elsewhere, the anger is popular rather than populist. In upheavals from Lebanon and Iraq to Zimbabwe and Chile, resentment is particularly focused on the evidence of widespread corruption as elites flout the basic norms of transparency and equity in siphoning government money into their pockets and those of their cronies.
The broader context of today’s upheavals also includes the uneven withdrawal of the US from international engagement, providing new opportunities for two authoritarian superpowers (Russia and China) driven by dreams of new empires.
The United Nations, meanwhile, is floundering in its attempt to provide alternative leadership through a rules-based international system.
The state of the world economy also plays a role. In places where economic growth is stagnant, minor price increases are more than just irritants. They explode into rebellions, such as the recent tax on WhatsApp in Lebanon and the metro fare rise in Chile.
There was already deep-seated anger in both places. Chile, for example, is one of Latin America’s wealthiest countries, but has one of the worst levels of income equality among the 36 nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Rebellions with new characteristics
Of course, we do not know how these protest movements will end. While it is unlikely any of the rebellions will result in revolutionary change, we are witnessing distinctly 21st century upheavals with new characteristics.
One of the most influential approaches to understanding the long-term history and nature of protest and insurrection has come from the American sociologist Charles Tilly.
Tilly’s studies of European history have identified two key characteristics.
First, forms of protest change across time as a function of wider changes in economic and political structures. The food riots of pre-industrial society, for instance, gave way to the strikes and political demonstrations of the modern world.
And today, the transnational reach of Extinction Rebellion is symptomatic of a new global age. There are also new protest tactics emerging, such as the flashmobs and Lennon walls in Hong Kong.
Tilly’s second theory was that collective protest, both peaceful and violent, is endemic rather than confined to years of spectacular revolutionary upheaval, such as 1789 or 1917. It is a continuing expression of conflict between “contenders” for power, including the state. It is part of the historical fabric of all societies.
Even in a stable and prosperous country like Australia in 2019, there is a deep cynicism around a commitment to the common good. This has been created by a lack of clear leadership on climate change and energy policy, self-serving corporate governance and fortress politics.
All this suggests that Prime Minister Scott Morrison is not only whistling in the wind if he thinks that he can dictate the nature of and even reduce protest in contemporary Australia – he is also ignorant of its history.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has foreshadowed his government will have Australia play a more active role in seeking to set global standards.
Delivering the Lowy Lecture on Thursday night, Morrison said Australia “cannot afford to leave it to others to set the standards that will shape our global economy”.
He has asked the foreign affairs department for an audit of global institutions and rule-making processes where Australia had the greatest stake, and he plans to tap Australian expertise in expanding its role.
Morrison’s initiative, which follows his recent United States trip and his criticisms during it of China’s behaviour on trade, has particularly in mind the World Trade Organisation which is seen to need reform.
In comments that seemed to have an eye to Brexit and Donald Trump’s recent lauding of patriotism over globalism, Morrison made a sharp distinction between positive and negative globalism.
He said that “Australia does and must always seek to have a responsible and participative international agency in addressing global issues.” This he dubbed this “practical globalism”.
Australia was not served by isolationism and protectionism, he said. “But it also does not serve our national interests when international institutions demand conformity rather than independent cooperation on global issues.
“The world works best when the character and distinctiveness of independent nations is preserved within a framework of mutual respect. This includes respecting electoral mandates of their constituencies.
“We should avoid any reflex towards a negative globalism that coercively seeks to impose a mandate from an often ill defined borderless global community. And worse still, an unaccountable internationalist bureaucracy. Globalism must facilitate, align and engage, rather than direct and centralise. As such an approach can corrode support for joint international action.
“Only a national government, especially one accountable through the ballot box and the rule of law, can define its national interests,” he said. “And under my leadership Australia’s international engagement will be squarely driven by Australia’s national interests.
“To paraphrase former prime minister John Howard, as Australians, ‘we will decide our interests and the circumstances in which we seek to pursue them.’
“This will not only include our international efforts to support global peace and stability and to promote open markets based on fair and transparent rules, but also other global standards that underpin commerce, investment and exchange.”
The Prime Minister sought to put a positive spin on his labelling of China as a “newly developed” economy during his foreign policy speech in the US last week – a description which the Chinese contest.
“China has in many ways changed the world, so we would expect the terms of its engagement to change too. That’s why when we look at negotiating rules of the future of the global economy, for example, we would expect China’s obligations to reflect its greater power status.
“This is a compliment, not a criticism.
“And that is what I mean when describing China as a newly developed economy.
“The rules and institutions that support global cooperation must reflect the modern world. It can’t be set and forget,” he said.
Morrison told his audience that his passions had always been for domestic politics – he did not naturally seek out international platforms. But as prime minister he had to be directed by Australia’s national interest.
He said he would be visiting India in January and also Japan early next year. This follows a busy international schedule in 2019.
The world’s largest democratic election is set to take place in India. Voting will take place in seven phases from April 11 to May 19, and the result will be announced May 23.
An extraordinary 900 million people are eligible to vote, 130 million for the first time. Not only is it the “largest democratic exercise” in history, it is among world’s most expensive. In 2014, the Lok Sabha (lower house) elections cost the Election Commission of India half a billion US dollars.
Several key issues are emerging in this election that will prove decisive in voter decision-making behaviour. Unsurprisingly, economic development is front and centre. Despite having one of the world’s highest economic growth rates, growth slowed to 6.4% in the final quarter of 2018, down from a peak of 8.2% in mid-2018.
Unemployment rates are at their highest since the 1970s, as the economy struggles to create jobs for rural migrants moving to cities and a large youth cohort now entering the labour market. Unemployment and inflation, which directly affect household incomes, are widely seen as the biggest concerns for Indians in the lead up to the election.
The spread of “fake news” and misinformation is also an important electoral complication. WhatsApp in India is tackling the spread of misinformation through a verification centre called Checkpoint. Indian users of the Facebook owned social networking service, of which there is 200 million, can send pictures, messages, and videos to be fact-checked.
This comes as Facebook removed hundreds of pages that shared misleading content about India and Pakistan following a suicide bombing in Kashmir. How to deal with these increasing tensions between India and Pakistan are a key feature of the political campaign.
How India’s electoral system works
India has a Westminster system of government, a legacy of the British Raj. In the Lok Sabha (lower house) there are 543 seats up for grabs. An additional two seats for the Anglo-Indian community are nominated by the president. These 545 seats will form the 17th Lok Sabha. The Prime Minister is selected from the members of the largest party or coalition.
There is no direct election for the Rajya Sabha (upper house). Rather, the current 233 Rajya Sabha members are elected by the Legislative Assembly in each of the states and the two union territories, with an additional 12 members nominated by the president. The Rajya Sabha may have up to 250 members, but it doesn’t reach this quota at present.
Narendra Modi versus Rahul Gandhi
There are two distinct personalities leading the major parties in this election. Both have taken advantage of the Representation of the People Act 1951 during their career, which allows candidates to contest an election from two seats – what the Wall Street Journal calls the “political equivalent of spread betting”.
Current Prime Minister Narendra Modi leads the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – a Hindu nationalist party. Modi won both of the seats he nominated for in the 2014 elections, Vadodara in his home state of Gujarat, and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. He chose the seat of Varanasi and will recontest this seat in 2019. It is unknown whether he will contest a second seat, but there is speculation he might in the south of the country.
Leader of the opposition, Rahul Gandhi, leads the secular Indian National Congress (Congress). Gandhi has already declared that he will contest two seats in 2019, Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, as well as Wayanad in the southern state of Kerala.
Gandhi is latest generation of Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, which has played a decisive role in Indian politics since independence in 1947. In keeping with family tradition, Gandhi recently appointed his sister Priyanka Gandhi as the All India Congress Committee secretary responsible for Uttar Pradesh. The All India Congress Committee is responsible for the Congress’ decision making.
Uttar Pradesh is the primary battleground
It’s no coincidence that both Modi and Gandhi will contest seats in Uttar Pradesh. Commentators often describe Uttar Pradesh as “the battleground state” of Indian elections. With a population size of roughly 230 million people, Uttar Pradesh sends more members to the Lok Sabha than any other state; it holds 80 seats, followed by Maharashtra (48), West Bengal (42) and Bihar (40).
The BJP won the 2014 election with an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. The only time a party won by a larger majority was in 1984 following Indira Gandhi’s assassination, when Rajiv Gandhi led the Congress to win 78% of seats. But an absolute majority is more of an anomaly than the norm in recent Indian electoral history.
This means that in 2019, both the major parties are courting and negotiating with minor parties. Reports on the status of party alliances have the BJP performing strongly with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), while Congress is struggling to build their opposition coalition.
It’s hard to predict whether Modi or Gandhi will emerge victorious in the election. Opinion polls are presently split. Modi and the BJP benefit from the advantages of incumbency, but recent deterioration in economic performance poses an opportunity for opposition parties.
Although it’s shaping up more like elections of the past, where the result will depend on negotiating party alliances, the 2019 Lok Sabha elections will still go down in history as the world’s biggest election.
Living in a networked world has many advantages. We get our news online almost as soon as it happens, we stay in touch with friends via social media, and we advance our careers through online professional networks.
But there is a darker side to the internet that sees far-right groups exploit these unique features to spread divisive ideas, racial hate and mistrust. Scholars of racism refer to this type of racist communication online as “cyber-racism”.
Even the creators of the internet are aware they may have unleashed a technology that is causing a lot of harm. Since 2017, the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, has focused many of his comments about the dangers of manipulation of the internet around the spread of hate speech, saying that:
Humanity connected by technology on the web is functioning in a dystopian way. We have online abuse, prejudice, bias, polarisation, fake news, there are lots of ways in which it is broken.
Our team conducted a systematic review of ten years of cyber-racism research to learn how different types of communicators use the internet to spread their views.
Racists groups behave differently to individuals
We found that the internet is indeed a powerful tool used to influence and reinforce divisive ideas. And it’s not only organised racist groups that take advantage of online communication; unaffiliated individuals do it too.
But the way groups and individuals use the internet differs in several important ways. Racist groups are active on different communication channels to individuals, and they have different goals and strategies they use to achieve them. The effects of their communication are also distinctive.
Individuals mostly engage in cyber-racism to hurt others, and to confirm their racist views by connecting with like-minded people (seeking “confirmation bias”). Their preferred communication channels tend to be blogs, forums, news commentary websites, gaming environments and chat rooms.
Strategies they use include denying or minimising the issue of racism, denigrating “non-whites”, and reframing the meaning of current news stories to support their views.
Groups, on the other hand, prefer to communicate via their own websites. They are also more strategic in what they seek to achieve through online communication. They use websites to gather support for their group and their views through racist propaganda.
Racist groups manipulate information and use clever rhetoric to help build a sense of a broader “white” identity, which often goes beyond national borders. They argue that conflict between different ethnicities is unavoidable, and that what most would view as racism is in fact a natural response to the “oppression of white people”.
Collective cyber-racism has the main effect of undermining the social cohesion of modern multicultural societies. It creates division, mistrust and intergroup conflict.
Meanwhile, individual cyber-racism seems to have a more direct effect by negatively affecting the well being of targets. It also contributes to maintaining a hostile racial climate, which may further (indirectly) affect the well being of targets.
What they have in common
Despite their differences, groups and individuals both share a high level of sophistication in how they communicate racism online. Our review uncovered the disturbingly creative ways in that new technologies are exploited.
For example, racist groups make themselves attractive to young people by providing interactive games and links to music videos on their websites. And both groups and individuals are highly skilled at manipulating their public image via various narrative strategies, such as humour and the interpretation of current news to fit with their arguments.
A worrying trend
Our findings suggest that if these online strategies are effective, we could see even sharper divisions in society as the mobilisation of support for racism and far-right movements spreads online.
There is also evidence that currently unaffiliated supporters of racism could derive strength through online communication. These individuals might use online channels to validate their beliefs and achieve a sense of belonging in virtual spaces where racist hosts provide an uncontested and hate-supporting community.
This is a worrying trend. We have now seen several examples of violent action perpetrated offline by isolated individuals who radicalise into white supremacist movements – for example, in the case of Anders Breivik in Norway, and more recently of Robert Gregory Bowers, who was the perpetrator of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.
In Australia, unlike most other liberal democracies, there are effectively no government strategies that seek to reduce this avenue for the spread of racism, despite many Australians expressing a desire that this be done.
Ana-Maria Bliuc, Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology, Western Sydney University; Andrew Jakubowicz, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Technology Sydney, and Kevin Dunn, Dean of the School of Social Science and Psychology, Western Sydney University