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Weekend catch-up: Whitlam, a new President in Indonesia, intelligence review, China in Afghanistan and more

by Brendan Thomas-Noone

Bringing together the best longer Interpreter articles you were too busy to read this week.

Former Prime Minister of Australia Gough Whitlam passed away this week at the age of 98. Sam Roggeveen interviewed Nonresident Fellow Murry McLean on the legacy of Whitlam's foreign policy for Australia: 

I talked with Murray McLean this morning, and as you will hear, he argues that Whitlam established the basis for a fully independent Australian foreign policy, setting relations with Asia on a truly equal basis while also tenaciously defending the ANZUS alliance. McLean provides some wonderful historical detail from the early 1970s, when not only Australia but the US, Canada and others were re-thinking their relations with China. When we chatted after the interview, he recommended this 2012 essay by Stephen FitzGerald, Australia's first ambassador to Beijing, on Whitlam's historic 1971 visit.

Historian James Curran wrote on the tumultuous relationship between Whitlam and Nixon and its effect on the Australia-US alliance: 

But it was the speed and direction of the Australian moves which put Whitlam on a collision course with the Nixon Administration. At a time when Washington was trying to rebalance its regional policy following the subordination of other concerns to the fighting in Vietnam, Labor's policy prescription in Asia was bound to throw relations into a tailspin. Against Whitlam's impatience for Australia to be accepted in Asia in a new way and his eagerness to embrace a world less constrained by rigid bipolarity, American officials maintained the need for incremental change, with one eye on the fragility of détente and the other on the persistence of great-power politics.

The new Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, was inaugurated in Jakarta this week. Lowy Institute Research Fellow and Indonesia specialist Aaron Connelly had this to say on Jokowi's attendance at the G20 Summit: 

It would be a mistake for Jokowi to skip the G20.

It is an important opportunity for the new president to engage in debates in Brisbane over proposed measures to boost global economic growth and fund infrastructure projects. Given the the importance of commodity exports to the Indonesian economy and the dire need for improved infrastructure throughout the archipelago, the outcome of those debates could be key to Jokowi's ability to deliver growth and prosperity at home, despite significant macroeconomic and political headwinds.

Rory Medcalf reflected on Jokowi's inaugural address:

The inauguration speech of Indonesia's 7th President, Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo, was powerful despite its brevity, or perhaps because of it. It contained a striking blend of personal humility, national pride and an ethos of unremitting work. But as an analyst of Asian geopolitics, I was most struck by its message about Indonesia's rightful aspirations as a seagoing Indo-Pacific power; an archipelagic country connecting two oceans.

And Catriona Croft-Cusworth attended Jokowi's inaugural parade in Jakarta:

The peaceful celebrations are a sign of acceptance by supporters of losing presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, and, hopefully, a sign of a peaceful and constructive term ahead for Jokowi as president. However, with only a minority in the House of Representatives against Prabowo's bulky coalition, Jokowi will have to do more than win the hearts of the people to succeed in making significant changes as president

In a detailed and important post, Senator John Faulkner wrote on the need for a wide-ranging review of Australian intelligence:

Enhanced power requires enhanced accountability. The greater the potential for that power to infringe on individual liberties, the greater the need for accountability in the exercise of that power. This is not to suggest that our security and intelligence agencies are acting perniciously or misusing their powers. But in the relatively recent past those powers were used inappropriately, with a consequent erosion of public trust. We must be conscious that enhancements we agree to now may lend themselves to future misuse in the absence of appropriate and effective accountability mechanisms.

Julian Snelder on the contradictions in Hong Kong's future with China:

Francis Fukuyama addresses this paradox in his latest book, Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy. He says that a well-functioning society needs three building blocks: a strong state, rule of law and public accountability, delivered in that sequence. Hong Kong's protesters are demanding the third element, while China itself works on the second, so perhaps the tension between them is understandable. China's state media has praised Fukuyama's book as a vindication of its cautious, paternalistic approach. Fukuyama himself has wondered where China is heading. He argues that China, which built a modern state two millenia before Europe, still lacks an impersonal, impartial legal system.

The Lowy Institute's East Asia Program Director Merriden Varrall took a look at the Chinese Communist Party's Fourth Plenum:

When thinking about China, even when the language may sound familiar (and in the case of 'rule of law', reassuring), the underlying concepts are often completely different. The ultimate implications are not going to be what we expect if we take the terminology at face value. While there will very likely be some important and positive developments at this Fourth Plenum, we should not expect to see Chinese judges' decision-making suddenly de-linked from Party considerations. 'Comprehensively advancing the rule of law' does not equate to a separation of powers and a rollback of the Party-state's role in legal affairs. Rather, it should be understood as a sophisticated development in how the Party manages governance and control.

Mike Callaghan argued that the World Trade Organisation is in trouble

The WTO needs a major shake-up. But this will only come if the crisis confronting the global trading system is acknowledged. On reflection, it is probably unfortunate that the Bali deal was reached. The WTO trade ministers meeting last December was widely seen as make-or-break for the WTO. If there had been no agreement, there would have been a crisis, and the need for changes to the way the WTO operates would probably have been confronted. Now the WTO is in a crisis, but this is not getting sufficient recognition.

In a new Lowy Analysis, Dirk van der Kley takes a detailed look at China's foreign policy in Afghanistan:

Beijing has also vastly increased its regional diplomatic footprint. China hopes to achieve a consensus on the Afghan issue among surrounding countries because they are at the front line of containing any new Afghan instability. What this consensus may look like is vague, but could include increasing regional cooperation on issues such as anti-narcotics and counter-terrorism, with practical measures such as intelligence sharing, joint military exercises and judicial or law-enforcement training (some of these already happen bilaterally or through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization).

The battle for the Syrian city of Kobane is quickly becoming symbolic, said Rodger Shanahan:

Kobane's value though, lies in what it represents more than what it is. One of the principles of war that applies to insurgent groups as much as it does to conventional armies is the maintenance of momentum. If you have momentum, then you force your opposition to make reactive decisions under pressure that often turn out to be sub-optimal. You can also create fear and panic in the opposition, as ISIS showed in its attack on Mosul and subsequent drive south which resulted in the collapse of several Iraqi army divisions. ISIS has also relied on battlefield victories to replenish its ammunition stocks and gain military equipment and recruits.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Jack Amick.

      
 



Hong Kong's fight and the future of China

by Julian Snelder

'The umbrella revolution won't give Hong Kong democracy, protesters should stop calling for it' says Eric X Li, a vocal advocate of the CCP's authoritarian model. 'This is about inequality, not politics, so democracy can't fix the problem.'

Actually, if Hong Kong did have universal suffrage, it is quite conceivable its citizens would elect a populist leader running on redistributive policies. 'Tyranny of the majority' is precisely what Hong Kong's elites fear. Chief Executive CY Leung crassly told foreign reporters this week that allowing public nominations for his post 'would give too much power to poor and working-class residents.' Inequality is a major source of unhappiness and property is the root cause of Hong Kong's inequality. A progressive populist could raise Hong Kong's tax rate and flood the real estate market with land and free housing.

Li is wrong that universal suffrage couldn't bring that about.

But what about his broader arguments? Eric Li praises China's government as responsive, meritocratic and efficient, especially in delivering economic development. He further argues that it is representative because it is politically, and not just economically, legitimate and practices a consultative, 'consensual' style of executive deliberation. China has the system that's right for its present needs, Li argues, and surveys of citizen satisfaction would concur. By contrast, Li can fluently cite a dismal litany of failed electoral democracies.

Francis Fukuyama addresses this paradox in his latest book, Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy. He says that a well-functioning society needs three building blocks: a strong state, rule of law and public accountability, delivered in that sequence. Hong Kong's protesters are demanding the third element, while China itself works on the second, so perhaps the tension between them is understandable. China's state media has praised Fukuyama's book as a vindication of its cautious, paternalistic approach. Fukuyama himself has wondered where China is heading. He argues that China, which built a modern state two millenia before Europe, still lacks an impersonal, impartial legal system.

The Communist Party's Fourth Plenum this week focused on 'governance according to law.' The Plenum may disappoint foreign observers, but Xi Jinping rightly wants 'power confined within a cage' of regulation, meaning a continued draconian campaign on corruption, less local interference in courts, and hopefully a lower caseload for judges and improved transparency in sentencing. Xi Jinping's political actions have been strongly centralising, and it is clear Communist Party rule will be strengthened. Officials offer a circular justification: the Party wrote the law, so there is no conflict between its authority and the proper application of justice. 

Hu Shuli writes this week that China's original 1979 'rule of law' was a traumatised reaction to the Cultural Revolution's 'rule of the people.' Today the Party's power over society is immensely greater. She courageously opines that now 'the rule of law is fundamentally incompatible with an authoritarian system.' But a true 'separation of powers' is not going to happen; in fact the term is an official taboo. Even 'constitutionalism' is seen as a seditious attack on 'the people's democratic dictatorship'.

The country has no shortage of laws; it's the selective prosecution of them that's the problem. Foreign legal scholars like Jerome Cohen and Carl Minzner have expertly documented an arbitrary 'rule by law' culture that has undermined societal trust by created an overweening, unanswerable bureaucracy.

Which brings us back to the problem of Hong Kong, the well-functioning civil society without a vote. The students on the street are fighting for freedoms they already possess, as much as the right to new ones. They mistrust the Party's monopoly over all forms of power, including the judiciary and the media, and there is fear of a regression of public accountability.

It is worth considering that we are already almost 20 years into the 50-year 'One Country Two Systems' framework. We cannot imagine how China will look in 2047; yet on current trends its legal system will still be vastly different than Hong Kong's. Probably in another decade, the reality of that impending collision will start to sink in. History may record Occupy Central as the first tremor of concern.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Pasu Au Yeung.

      
 


China shoots for the moon again

by Morris Jones

China has just launched another spacecraft to the moon. The flight will carry a small capsule around the far side of the moon before returning to earth. If all goes well, the capsule will parachute to a soft landing on the flat steppes of Inner Mongolia, where China usually lands its space capsules.

Officially, this flight is a test of a capsule system to be used in a future robot sample-return mission, which should launch in a few years. Unofficially, the mission serves as another reminder of China's long-term goals of sending astronauts to the moon. The capsule is a scale replica of the crew descent module used on China's Shenzhou astronaut-carrying spacecraft. (Some analysts still refuse to believe China wants to place footprints on the moon. It's another delicious example of politics trumping reason.)

Publicity for this mission has been unusually tight, even by the typically guarded standards of the Chinese space program. This seems to be a trend, judging by recent missions. Perhaps China wants to advance further without tipping off America to its growing achievements. 

Photo by Flickr user Jose Maria Cuellar.

      
 



G20 links: Tax mandates, WTO, protests in Brisbane, climate change and more

by Tristram Sainsbury

The Lowy Institute's G20 Studies Centre will present a weekly selection of links in the lead-up to the Brisbane G20 Leaders’ Summit on 15-16 November.

  • European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy have issued a joint letter to EU leaders about key issues for discussion at the Brisbane Summit.
  • Jeffrey Owens outlines the extensions in the G20 tax mandate stemming from the Cairns Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting.
  • The Director of the Lowy Institute's G20 Studies Centre, Mike Callaghan, asks if the G20 can save the WTO following warnings from Roberto Azevêdo, the head of the global trading body, that it had descended into 'paralysis'. This follows Azevêdo's announcement that consultations will take place on the future of the Bali decisions and post-Bali work program.
  • The pressure for climate change to be discussed by G20 leaders in Brisbane is building following a statement given last week by US G20 sherpa Caroline Atkinson that members should give a political push to specific steps that will reduce global warming.
  • RBA Deputy Governor Philip Lowe delivered an address titled 'Investing in a Low Interest Rate World', a topic that have been the focus of many discussions around the G20 table this year.
  • Last week, the Lowy Institute hosted Wayne Swan to talk on the G20 and Australia's role in international economic governance.
  • Australian G20 organisers are aware of 21 protests being planned during the Brisbane Summit.
      
 


Time for a thorough review of spy agency oversight

by John Faulkner

Since 11 September 2001, new threats to Australia's national security have emerged, with Australians targeted by terrorist organisations at home and abroad.

Close to home, the threat of terror became a shocking reality with the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings, the 2004 bombing of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, the 2009 Holsworthy Barracks terror plot, and other planned attacks on Australian soil, prevented by authorities. On 12 September 2014, based on advice from agencies, the Government moved the Australian terror-alert level from Medium to High for the first time.

The powers, functions, and resources of the Australian Intelligence Community (AIC) have changed and expanded dramatically since the September 11 attacks. The current security environment does require such enhanced powers. However, this has come with a share of controversy. Recent information coming from the material disclosed by Edward Snowden, for instance, reveals something of the nature of Australia's intelligence cooperation with the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand, and raises questions about the extent to which this cooperation might circumvent national laws relating to the surveillance of citizens.

In the heightened atmosphere of war and terrorism there is also a danger that proper effect will not be given to important measures to safeguard the rights of Australian citizens. In the case involving Joseph 'Jihad Jack' Thomas, for instance, the Victorian Court of Appeal overturned his conviction because admissions he made whilst in custody in Pakistan had been obtained by ASIO and Australian Federal Police (AFP) agents contrary to Australian legal safeguards. The case of Dr Muhamed Haneef revealed the capacity of counter-terrorism laws to infringe the rights of an individual and to deny just treatment. The Haneef case also highlights arguments, which have not been resolved, about the power to detain people.

The decision to go to war in Iraq raised questions in Australia about the quality of intelligence assessments and the public use the government made of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. By contrast with Australia, the UK has conducted at least six major inquiries into issues surrounding the role of intelligence agencies in the Iraq war.

The protection of our hard-won democratic freedoms demands enhanced oversight of the AIC's expanded powers. With legislative change extending the powers of security agencies, the requirement for reliable, effective external oversight arguably becomes more critical to maintaining an essential level of trust in the community about agency operations.

In a paper posted on my website today, I make eight recommendations to improve oversight and scrutiny:

  1. It is the parliament to which the intelligence agencies are accountable, and it is the parliament's responsibility to oversight their priorities and effectiveness. The Australian Parliament has no better or more authoritative forum than the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) to do this job. But the provision requiring a prescribed balance of PJCIS members between the Houses has been an unnecessary impediment to ensuring the best qualified eligible parliamentarians serve on the committee. This should change to ensure the PJCIS has the capacity to draw on those parliamentarians with the greatest expertise and experience.
  2. The AFP now plays a central role in Australia's counter-terrorism framework. To ensure comprehensive and consistent oversight arrangements it is critical that the AFP's counter-terrorism elements be added to the list of organisations reviewable by the PJCIS.
  3. Currently the PJCIS is charged with reviewing the administration and expenditure of intelligence agencies. I would argue that the powers and access of the PJCIS should be enhanced to include access to the classified annual reviews of intelligence agencies.
  4. Currently the PJCIS can only request a matter be referred to it by the responsible Minister. In the US and UK, the equivalent committees set their own agenda and work program. It is time for the PJCIS to be given the power to generate its own inquiries if it believes, following consultation with relevant agencies, that such action is necessary and appropriate.
  5. The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) provides detailed scrutiny of the legality and propriety of intelligence agencies' operations. The Government and the Parliament must ensure the resources and level of staffing provided to IGIS continue to meet the growing demands and responsibilities placed on them by the expansion of the Australian intelligence community and its powers.
  6. There should be broader and more formalised liaison between the PJCIS and other oversight bodies including the IGIS and the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor.
  7. In recent years, in some instances the Parliament has used sunset clauses when intelligence agencies have been granted unprecedented powers. These unprecedented powers include AFP preventative detention orders, AFP control orders, and ASIO questioning and detention powers. The lifespan of too many such sunset clauses has been too long. It is simply not possible to predict the nature and extent of terrorist threats over a ten-year period. Giving future sunset clauses a three-year lifespan would be more appropriate to meet immediate threats to national security and give a new Parliament, with a fresh perspective, the opportunity to reconsider their necessity.
  8. Not only has oversight of the intelligence agencies failed to keep pace with their burgeoning role and powers, it has been decades since the effectiveness and adequacy of the oversight framework have been critically examined. It is time to satisfy the Australian community, the Parliament, and the agencies themselves that we have got this right. The time has come for a thorough review of the current arrangements for oversight of Australian intelligence agencies. The inquiry should encompass the role, powers and scope of existing oversight mechanisms and consider the adequacy of the legislative framework which governs oversight; the degree to which it is coordinated and comprehensive; and whether the resources allocated to such bodies are adequate.

Enhanced power requires enhanced accountability. The greater the potential for that power to infringe on individual liberties, the greater the need for accountability in the exercise of that power. This is not to suggest that our security and intelligence agencies are acting perniciously or misusing their powers. But in the relatively recent past those powers were used inappropriately, with a consequent erosion of public trust. We must be conscious that enhancements we agree to now may lend themselves to future misuse in the absence of appropriate and effective accountability mechanisms.

Photo by Flickr user sobriquet.net.

      
 



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