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1 July 2020

The Pacific bubble

Last Friday, Xi Jinping wrote a letter to congratulate Taneti Maamau on his re-election as president of Kiribati. Xi, whose letter celebrated the new-found warmth between the two countries, had good reason to be pleased. Last year, Maamau cut ties with Taiwan, switching Kiribati’s allegiance to China. In January, he travelled to Beijing to meet …

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24 June 2020

Morrison’s cyber games

At 8.43 a.m. last Friday, Scott Morrison’s office announced that the prime minister would be giving a press conference at Parliament House in seventeen minutes. This was unexpected, as Morrison was due to travel that morning to the seat of Eden-Monaro, to support the Liberal candidate in the upcoming by-election. At 9 a.m., Morrison appeared before …

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17 June 2020

It’s not another Cold War (yet)

On Tuesday, Australian foreign minister Marise Payne criticised China and Russia for spreading disinformation and using the COVID-19 pandemic to “undermine liberal democracy to promote their own, more authoritarian models”. This criticism followed Scott Morrison’s attack on China last week, in which he condemned Chinese economic “coercion” …

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10 June 2020

Modi and ScoMo bond over China

Since early May, the armies of China and India have engaged in regular clashes, resulting in the deployment of thousands of troops to their disputed border in the Himalayas. Neither side wants a full-scale escalation – the conflict has involved fistfights and rock-throwing, not shooting – but the standoff is a reminder of the fractious relationship …

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3 June 2020

In a bind over Hong Kong

Last Thursday, China introduced a new national security law for Hong Kong – its most serious violation of the “one country, two systems” principle since Britain handed over the territory in 1997. In 2003, similar laws were proposed but mass protests prompted Hong Kong’s chief executive to drop the bill. This time, the law was not proposed …

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27 May 2020

Trump pushes Australia towards Europe

Since the election of Donald Trump, the United States has made two far-reaching changes to its foreign policy: it has officially labelled China a rival, and it has abandoned support for international agencies and rule-making. Both positions have hardened since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, the White House released a report detailing …

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20 May 2020

COVID-19: Canberra’s China blunder

On Tuesday, the World Health Organization resolved to hold an inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic. Australia led the initial call for an inquiry, and the strong support for it from the WHO’s decision-making body should have been a victory for Australian diplomacy. Instead, the resolution was ultimately drafted by the European Union, which, unlike …

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13 May 2020

Food security: Tuck in but stay alert

With packets and cans back on supermarket shelves, it is easy to forget that only two months ago a food shortage seemed to top the national security agenda of many Australians. But now, as they can once again satisfy their apparent fondness for meals of rice and crushed tomatoes, the real food-security conundrum is emerging.

Australia is a …

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6 May 2020

COVID-19: China’s Wolf Warriors

In 2010, Zhao Lijian, then a low-level Chinese diplomat in Washington, joined Twitter. He was later reassigned to Islamabad, where he gained local notoriety for his bellicose put-downs of Pakistani critics of Beijing. His fame went global last July, when he responded to criticism of China’s mass internment of Uighurs with tweets highlighting racial …

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29 April 2020

COVID-19: Buying into US–China tension

In the United States, the presidential race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden is quickly turning into a contest over who is toughest on China. The Trump team has launched a #BeijingBiden campaign, with a dedicated website – – attacking Biden for a “ruinous” forty-year quest to boost trade with China. In response, Biden’s …

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