Archive for August, 2010

Australia: After the Boom Years

August 27, 2010 Leave a comment

By Philip Bowring, Op-Ed Contributor, International Herald Tribune

The low quality of debate between Australia’s major political parties appears to have been one reason why neither achieved a majority in Saturday’s election. The electorate does seem to recognize, however incoherently, that after a decade of almost uninterrupted growth and prosperity the nation faces some difficult choices. The most important of these revolves around one word: population.

Several aspects of this problem were highlighted in the election. The most obvious and politically most potent is the rate of immigration, which has recently been very high even by the standards of a nation built on migrants.

The second is the rapid aging of the population. The median age is likely to rise from 35 in 2000 to 40 by 2020, while the number of people 65 years and over is set to climb from 12 percent to 17 percent by the end of the decade. This makes the issue of how to pay for pensions and age-related services a crucial tax consideration.

The third factor is the divide between comfortable, expanding urban Australia and the vast rural hinterland, some of which faces depopulation and cries out for government support. Read more…


Australian: We have a Recipe for do-nothing Foreign Policy

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

By Greg Sheridan, Visiting Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars

THIS is a terrible election result for Australian foreign policy.

That is not a comment on either Tony Abbott or Julia Gillard, both of whom could possibly become a good foreign policy prime minister. But a hung parliament and a minority government is a recipe for risk averse, do-nothing foreign policy. It will be a great challenge for Abbott or Gillard to transcend that situation. This is not just your columnist’s view, but pretty much the consensus among Washington officials, think-tankers and commentators, many of whom have watched our election closely.

The Australian election got a lot of coverage in the US. It is bizarre that the Western world is producing so many very close electoral outcomes. With an electorate of more than 11 million, that Australia was split so evenly between its centre-left and centre-right groupings replays both British and American experience.

At the same time, all over the West the centre is bleeding to both Left and Right. Discussing this with a senior American the other night, I was surprised when he expressed envy for the Australian situation.

“In our country the centre is not so much bleeding,” he said, “as flooding away in great rivers.”

Nonetheless, the Americans are both fascinated and somewhat disappointed in our election result. At the official level, most of them liked Kevin Rudd. They do not express a preference between Abbott and Gillard because they do not know them that well.

But they are worried that the equivocal election result might mean at least a temporary end to Australian activism and leadership in foreign policy.

You can see why. A depleted Gillard government, mortally wounded, internally divided, dependent day-by-day for its survival on the vote in the House of Representatives of the far-left Greens and a far-left independent, is hardly likely to be an enthusiastic free trade proponent.

Nor is such a government likely to answer any possible need for security back-up for the Americans in contingencies we can’t yet imagine.

Read more…

Lugar Asks Obama to Appoint US Ambassador to ASEAN

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ernest Z. Bower, Senior Adviser and Director, CSIS Southeast Asia Program

In a letter dated 25 August 2010, US Senator Richard Lugar (Republican of Indiana) urged President Barack Obama to move expeditiously in appointing a new US Ambassador to ASEAN.  “As you are aware,” states Lugar, “the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a strategic partner of the United States and our nation’s fourth largest export market.”

Lugar, a friend and adviser of the President from their days together in the Senate (in fact, Lugar was rumored to be under consideration for the Secretary of State position during the Obama transition period, goes on to point out that the Senate schedule will preclude a nominee for US Ambassador to ASEAN from being confirmed before the US ASEAN Summit which is being planned for late September or early October in either Washington or New York.  “Factoring in fall recess, we will be fortunate if a timely nomination may allow for sufficient time for the Senate to consider the Ambassador-nominee prior to the end of the year,” noted Lugar.

Read more…

Neighborly Strife

August 25, 2010 Leave a comment

By Greg Torode, Chief Asia Correspondent, South China Morning Post

The unfolding diplomatic battle between China and the US over the region is, at this point, producing more heat than light. The running rhetorical skirmishes see mainland commentators rail against US military exercises off its coasts and attempts to divide and rule China’s neighbours; in Washington, meanwhile, a variety of analysts warn ever more vigorously against Chinese assertiveness.

One thinly veiled attack on Washington in a recent Xinhua commentary captured the mood, warning of a certain superpower that “stirred up tensions, disputes and even conflicts, then set foot in to pose as a ‘mediator’ or a ‘judge’ in a bid to maximise their own interests”.

The smoke and thunder may make for some lively reading but it risks obscuring one vital point for Beijing – what if Washington’s re-engagement across East Asia is not the problem, but merely a symptom of mounting difficulties for China in a wary region? Read more…

Absent in Danang: Urgent Need for A US Trade Policy in Asia

August 25, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ernest Z. Bower, Senior Adviser and Director, CSIS Southeast Asia Program

A political commitment to trade is badly needed in the United States.  That point is underlined as the economic and trade ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) gather in Danang, the largest city in central Vietnam positioned on the white sand beaches of the coast and nestled next to the beautifully preserved ancient city of Hoi An.  The ASEAN Ministers are there meeting with their counterparts from all the other East Asia Summit members –  and future member – Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and Russia (the prospective member).   Even the EU is represented at a ministerial level at the meeting.  As the proverbial roll call of serious players on economic integration and trade in Asia is called in Danang, one important actor is missing:  The United States – absent.

The gap in US strategy for intensifying its engagement in Southeast Asia is clearly trade.  While the United States is starting to connect the dots diplomatically and on security architecture, our trade professionals, some of the most hard-core, experienced Southeast Asia hands in the Administration, are essentially benched as they wait for political and policy decisions to put the US trade leadership back into the game.  That call is clearly being held hostage by the White House and its focus on U.S. midterm elections in November.  Political will better follow elections quickly – meaning pre-Thanksgiving, ideally during President Obama’s extended November tour of Asia – or US engagement in the region will continue to be incomplete and less than strategic. Read more…

Green Foreign Policy: Feeling Queasy

August 24, 2010 1 comment

By Andrew ShearerDirector of Studies and Senior Research Fellow, Lowy Institute for International Policy

As the horse-trading continues to see whether Labor or the Coalition can form a government, one thing about this election is clear: the Greens have emerged as a big winner. Bob Brown and friends will wield the balance of power in the Senate from July and have emerged as a serious force in Australian politics.

What are some of the implications for Australian foreign and defence policy?

Over 1 million Australians voted Green, but somehow I doubt many of them read the fine-print. While masquerading as an environmental party to woo inner-city sophisticates – evidently a successful ruse – the Greens are merely the latest incarnation of the Loopy Left in Australian politics. Here’s just a selection of their campaign ‘principles’ and commitments:

Read more…

Vietnam’s Defensive Diplomacy

August 23, 2010 Leave a comment

By Caryle A. Thayer, Professor of Politics, Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra

Asia’s military landscape is shifting, and nowhere more so than in maritime Southeast Asia. This week saw another major development: the inaugural U.S.-Vietnam defense policy dialogue in Hanoi.

Tuesday’s meeting builds on triennial exchanges of defense ministers begun in 2000 and marks a definite turning point in bilateral relations. Since 2008, the two countries have conducted an annual Political, Security and Defense Dialogue under the auspices of the U.S. State Department and Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Now they have developed a high-level channel for direct military-to-military discussions under their respective defense department.

But the event raises many questions: What is the real significance of this meeting, conducted at the vice ministerial level? Does this new dialogue signal a shift in Vietnam’s policy from maintaining equidistance between the great powers to one of alignment with the U.S.? Does it also signal a shift in Washington’s policy toward China from one of engagement to containment? How might U.S.-Vietnamese defense relations develop in the future?

Read more…