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11 August 2021

With Greg Earl

Climate pressure

The global temperature is likely to rise 1.5 degrees by 2040, according to the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The report, released on Monday, also suggests that even if carbon emissions are drastically lowered, the temperature will rise 1.6 degrees by 2060.

There is a broad consensus that global warming should be limited to 1.5 degrees, which is commonly cited as a climate tipping point. But to achieve this, scientists say, we must reach net zero by 2050.

The report could offer some new grist to the mill for the domestic climate change debate: it suggests Australia faces hotter summers, flooding, longer and more frequent droughts, and other natural disasters.

The Morrison government’s initial response to the report has been to emphasise the need for combined international action and reiterate its support for tackling global warming with new technology instead of new emissions reductions. On Tuesday, Scott Morrison conceded for the first time that Australia was facing a decline in investments due to perceptions about its policies.

But the government may come under more pressure to endorse the 2050 net-zero target agreed to by many of its key trading partners when it attends the UN’s Glasgow Climate Change Conference in October.

As a result of the IPCC’s new forecast, Australia may also face a higher likelihood of trade sanctions from its allies and economic partners in the United States if it won’t commit to cutting more emissions.

This will partly depend on whether China, Australia’s biggest export market and the world’s biggest carbon emitter, plays a cooperative role in the UN talks or continues to demand that richer countries take action first.

Myanmar envoy

Myanmar’s pro-democracy groups have rejected the appointment of a special envoy by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations after it failed to consult them about its decision.

ASEAN has selected Brunei’s deputy foreign minister Erywan Yusof to start a dialogue on the Myanmar crisis and oversee humanitarian aid to the country.

Before settling on Erywan, ASEAN countries were in a stand-off over the appointment, which gave the Myanmar military time to consolidate power and delay the promised November 2020 election until August 2023. During this period, coup leader General Min Aung Hlaing also declared himself prime minister.

While Erywan has warned the military he wants to visit the country to talk with all political factions, opposition from civil society groups has shown how complex this task will be.

The Morrison government has backed ASEAN’s “quiet diplomacy” on Myanmar, but in the face of ASEAN’s inaction, it has come under pressure to join the United States and some European countries in imposing new sanctions on the military leaders.

Erywan’s appointment will likely give the government some breathing space, allowing it to remain aligned with ASEAN on Myanmar as part of its broader strategy of building a closer relationship with the group to deal with the rise of China.

Curiously, the government has only recently acknowledged the scale of its new ASEAN step-up, apparently concerned about a domestic backlash.

Australian spending in the region – on the pandemic and general aid – increased more in the past year than any time since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami recovery spending.

But last week, Foreign Minister Marise Payne announced new spending on ASEAN health, small business and disaster management programs, declaring that the group “played a critical role in maintaining stability and cooperation in South-East Asia”.

Beijing games

Australian business is looking to next February’s Winter Olympics in Beijing as an opportunity to ease bilateral tensions with China.

Trade Minister Dan Tehan had previously encouraged business to take a role in “back-channel” communications with China, after his attempts to meet his ministerial counterpart were repeatedly rejected.

At an Australia China Business Council event last week, former sports minister and Australia–China Council chair Warwick Smith backed the idea of sports diplomacy.

Smith suggested China and Australia have a common business interest in successfully managing the Olympics, with Beijing hosting its second games next year and Brisbane set to host Australia’s third games in 2032.

But Smith’s proposal may put Australian business and Olympics communities at odds with the politicians and human rights advocates who favour a boycott of the Winter Games due to China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who also attended the Business Council event, emphasised the importance of the Australia–China relationship, and said the countries still cooperated in areas such as countering drug trafficking and development assistance.

However, echoing Scott Morrison’s comments at the Group of Seven summit in June, Payne said Australia would not enter into a dialogue with China if that meant responding to the “fourteen grievances” against Australia that Chinese diplomats released to the press in Canberra last year.

The government is right not to agree to a dialogue with conditions attached. But it should also be cautious about allowing China’s list of grievances to become a roadblock to communication with China.

That would place even more weight on abstract sports diplomacy.


Biden comes face to face with South-East Asian diplomacy

“Biden’s high-level diplomacy seems to be producing some initial results. Washington seems to understand more about its strategic competitors, and its international image is improving.” Hoang Vu & Thuc D. Pham, East Asia Forum

Australia and India – a time to refocus on trade talks

“[India] is trying to modernise its food processing and grains storage technologies, as well as its dairy sector, and it is trying to provide clean drinking water, electricity and digital connectivity to its villages. In many of these areas, Australian companies are potential partners.” Anil Wadhwa, The Interpreter (Lowy Institute)

Why did China crack down on its ed-tech industry?

“Marketers tap parents’ guilt mentality of not giving their kids the best chances they deserve with anxiety-inducing pitches. Scammers prey on low-income households with misleading free trials and deep discounts, which subsequently lock families into expensive multi-year contracts.” Lizzi C. Lee, The Diplomat


Micronesian leaders boycott Forum, stand firm on plan to leave bloc

“Fiji prime minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s official apology proved not convincing enough to break the impasse and appease the Micronesian leaders.” Bernadette Carreon, Asia Pacific Report

Influence for hire – the Asia-Pacific’s online shadow economy

“Commercial influence-for-hire services will continue to proliferate for as long as there’s a market and cheap digital labour to deliver them. This creates risks for societies that aspire to meaningful democratic participation and opportunities for foreign interference.” Jake Wallis, The Strategist (ASPI)


With the Falling of the Dusk, book review by Hugh Riminton

“For twelve years, Stan Grant lived in or reported on China. Best known for his work on Australian history, race and identity, Grant intriguingly nominates China as ‘the defining story of my career’.

“He brings to it, he asserts, a perspective not available to other Australians working this beat. ‘I am not of the West,’ he declares. ‘People of the West do not know what it is to face your own extinction.’ His Wiradjuri people know. So do the Chinese.” CONTINUE READING


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