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3 August 2022

With Grant Wyeth

Indonesia challenges AUKUS

Ahead of the United Nations’ tenth conference on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT), Indonesia has expressed concern over the use of highly enriched uranium for naval propulsion. In a leaked draft of its submission to the UN, Indonesia argued that sharing nuclear technology for military purposes contradicts the spirit and objective of the NPT, even if it’s not for the development of nuclear weapons themselves. Although it is not named, the AUKUS agreement between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom to build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines is the only such known proposal between states and is clearly the subject of Jakarta’s critique.

Alongside concerns it raises about nuclear proliferation, AUKUS is also viewed as part of the wider strategic competition between the United States and China which Indonesia sees as a potentially destabilising force.

Jakarta’s concern is that the move by states to seek a credible deterrent to aggressive behaviour risks creating an arms race that enhances insecurity. Indonesia is signalling that it fears AUKUS falls into the latter category of a dangerous escalation of destructive capabilities. Although these fears should also acknowledge China’s massive recent military build-up.

Indonesia is also worried that a naval arms race might leave it behind as it continues to focus its resources on internal development. As a vast array of islands, Indonesia has the potential to become a major naval power, and it has significant maritime interests that are being challenged in the South China Sea. An arms race that Indonesia cannot yet compete in makes these interests more difficult to defend.

PNG votes

Voting concluded in Papua New Guinea’s general election on 22 July. The election has been chaotic, with counting centres attacked, ballot boxes destroyed, ballots set on fire, electoral roll discrepancies, armed groups chasing voters from polling stations, and politically motivated violence that has led to dozens of deaths. Counting remains ongoing as the original dates for the official declaration of successful candidates was initially pushed back by two weeks, but then revised to just a week.

The manner in which the election has been conducted will only further undermine public distrust of the electoral system and may harm the legitimacy of the new government. This should be of grave concern for Australia. Prior to the election, Australia was involved in training PNG security forces, as well as assisting the PNG electoral commission with some of its planning. Yet this assistance has proved ineffective. Australia needs to walk a fine line between offering assistance and avoiding the perception of being paternalistic and undermining PNG’s self-determination.

The difficulties that persist with PNG’s elections suggest there may be bigger problems to address than just logistics. There is the question of whether a Westminster parliamentary system is effective for a country of such enormous complexity, where local allegiances far outweigh any collective sense of nationhood, producing a weak party system that struggles to create effective governments and a sense of legitimacy. Although, it is difficult to see what other models might best accommodate PNG’s unique political and social conditions.

Pelosi and Taiwan

Taiwan’s status, and the role it plays in the strategic competition between the United States and China, is being amplified this week with a visit to the island by the speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. While previous visits to Taiwan by US officials have been greeted with a stern rebuke from the Chinese embassy in Washington, a high-profile figure such as Pelosi visiting Taiwan has aggravated Beijing more than usual, with it announcing a series of military operations and warning of “serious consequences”.

Pelosi’s visit is a sign that officials from the US and elsewhere are tiring of the ambiguous status of Taiwan as a state and its inability to be recognised as such – except by those who choose not to diplomatically recognise Beijing. Last week, a delegation of Japanese MPs – including a former defence minister – visited the island to meet with President Tsai Ing-wen. Last year, former prime minister Tony Abbott also met with Tsai in Taipei.

While Pelosi’s visit could be seen as needlessly antagonistic – potentially destabilising the status quo that the United States seeks to defend – the emotional investment that China’s president, Xi Jinping, has placed on incorporating Taiwan into China has made the issue more difficult for Beijing. The nationalism that the Chinese Communist Party has used to consolidate its power domestically also binds it to a potentially unachievable objective, compounding the sense of humiliation it feels when foreign political leaders seek to show solidarity with the Taiwanese people.  


A free extract from “Australia’s Choice” by Kishore Mahbubani

“Australia’s strategic dilemma in the twenty-first century is simple: it can choose to be a bridge between the East and the West in the Asian Century – or the tip of the spear projecting Western power into Asia.

Different Australian governments have pursued each option in recent history. In the 1990s, when I served as the permanent secretary in the Singapore foreign ministry, we worked with Australian leaders, including Prime Minister Paul Keating, Foreign Minister Gareth Evans and Permanent Secretary Michael Costello, to draw Australia closer to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Indeed, we spoke ambitiously of creating a new community of twelve: the ten ASEAN states, Australia and New Zealand. More recently, Scott Morrison’s government has swung in the opposite direction, serving as the tip of US power in Asia and adopting foreign policy positions at great variance with the choices of the ten ASEAN states.”CONTINUE READING


Weekly round-up

A new Australian foreign policy agenda under Albanese

“In contrast to its predecessor, the new government’s language about China has been disciplined. Careful steps have been taken to ‘stabilise’ the relationship … After years of marginalisation, foreign policy has been restored to a more central part of Australian statecraft.” Allan Gyngell,east asia forum

Why deglobalisation brings war closer over Taiwan

“Decoupling was once considered to be the path to stabilising superpower competition … In truth, the opposite is the case. The less integrated the global economy, the more likely that each side thinks they could survive a military clash, and the more they might countenance one.” Richard McGregor,Australian financial review

Unpacking China’s Global Development Initiative

“It is still early days for the GDI. But beyond its focus on ‘development’, it appears clear that the GDI is China’s latest attempt to reshape broader global rules and governance in its favour, with significant implications for human rights.” Mercedes Page,The interpreter (lowy institute)


China’s new resource company could sideline Australian iron ore

“China’s vast steel industry will always need Australian iron ore, but a central agency could decide to favour non-Australian supplies … However, the greater risk for Australia is not increased supply but a fall in Chinese demand. That may be happening now.” David Uren,The strategist (aspi)

Challenges for the Pacific Islands Forum – between cohesion and disintegration?

“Island members also face the challenge of balancing China’s strategic interests in the region with those of its long-term traditional partners … China’s ambitions and the way in which it pursues bilateral strategies, may well test the Forum’s diverse membership’s capacity to maintain a neutral stance in the unfolding geopolitical scenario.” Stephanie Lawson,australian outlook (aiia)

New from Black Inc Books

The Shortest History of the World

David Baker

A fascinating journey through life, the universe and everything

How did time begin? What conditions led to humans evolving on Earth? Will we survive the Anthropocene? And is it really true that we’re all made from stars?

The Shortest History of the World follows the continuum of historical change in the cosmos – from the Big Bang, through the evolution of life, to human history. Combining knowledge from chemistry, biology and physics with insights from the social sciences and humanities, The Shortest History of the World takes a bird’s eye view of 13.8 billion years.

In this compelling and revealing book, David Baker traces the rise of complexity in the cosmos, from the first atoms to the first life and then to humans and the things we have made. He shows us how simple clumps of hydrogen gas transformed into complex human societies. This approach – Big History – allows us to see beyond the chaos of human affairs to the overall trajectory. Finally, Baker looks at the dramatic and sudden changes we’re making to our planet and its biosphere and how history hints at what might come next.

“We have been the dominant species on this planet for the briefest flicker of our history, and until we understand that, we can’t reckon meaningfully with the dramatic and sudden changes we’re making to our planet and its biosphere.” —John Greenread more



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