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27 April 2022

With Grant Wyeth

What the Pacific wants

The Solomon Islands’ security agreement with China is presenting a serious Australian foreign policy crisis. Yet Australian responses driven by hawkish rhetoric that sees Pacific island countries simply as geopolitical chess pieces will risk alienating  Pacific Islanders and undermining Australia’s relationships and objectives. 

Additionally, Australia’s development assistance within the region should not be seen as a vehicle for buying influence. Aid is often essential for Pacific island countries due to their unique geographies, though this is not necessarily what they want. Greater market access for goods and services – in particular, labour market access to Australia and New Zealand – is their priority.

The Pacific Labour Mobility scheme is a mechanism that Pacific island countries are enthusiastic about, and a soft power bonus that China cannot match. Yet hurdles to participation for both employers and employees, as well as the limited sectors participants can work in, hinder its effectiveness. Seeing Pacific Islanders as only farmhands or meat processors restricts the scheme’s broader aims. There are skills and capabilities within Pacific island countries that would justify an expansion.

Australia should not underestimate the power of the dignity of work and the ability to provide for one’s family. The respect, trust and security within the Pacific that Australia desires can be consolidated through greater people-to-people links, rather than government transactions.


Defending Japan

Last week, Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) submitted a proposal to the office of the prime minister advocating that Japan double its defence spending within the next five years. The proposal was timed to coincide with the forthcoming revision of Japan’s National Security Strategy, the first since 2013.

If adopted, it would demonstrate that Japan no longer feels bound by spending limits imposed after World War II, when it committed to an informal cap on defence spending of 1 per cent of GDP. This would also further highlight the weakening commitment to Article 9 of Japan’s constitution, which renounces the right to use force as a means of settling international disputes.

In 2014, the government of Shinzō Abe overturned Japan’s ban on arms exports – a shift designed to secure the contract for Australia’s new submarine fleet. Since then, it has sold maritime radars to the Philippines, signed a general agreement to export arms to Vietnam, and is in talks with Indonesia to construct eight new frigates. 

China’s rapid rise to great power status, an unpredictable North Korea, and Japan’s island disputes with Russia are leading to a belief for Japan that its post-war defence constraints are unsuited to current realities. Political instability in the United States, which may threaten Washington’s security guarantees, is also causing concern.

For Australia, Japan’s increased defence spending would be enthusiastically welcomed. Despite the submarine deal falling through, Canberra and Tokyo have become intimate and trusted security partners over the past decade, signing a new agreement in January to provide mutual access to each other’s ports and bases, and greater logistical coordination. 


Macron’s next mission

French president Emmanuel Macron won last weekend’s run-off election against the radical reactionary Marine Le Pen, but his 58 per cent of the vote was far from a triumph. Le Pen’s share of the vote indicates that there is an entrenched cynicism in France towards liberal ideas – and the institutions that house them.

The hope was that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would prove a clarifying event, that it would provide greater understanding of the brutality of authoritarianism, and spark recommitment to liberal values in countries like France that have prominent reactionary movements. This hasn’t proved to be the case. Despite Le Pen’s close and very public ties to Russia, she secured over two and a half million more votes than she did in the 2017 presidential run-off.

Clearly Le Pen’s views are no longer taboo; they are now mainstream. This creates additional pressure not just for French society, and especially its minorities, but for the European Union and NATO as well – institutions that Le Pen has expressed suspicion towards. While Macron may have secured some stability for another five years, the problem for France, Europe and allies like Australia is that he cannot run again.

Macron’s party – Le République En Marche – currently holds just under half of the seats in the National Assembly (with parliamentary elections to be held in June), but it remains a personal vehicle rather than an institutional party. With the previous two dominant parties – Les Républicains and Parti Socialiste – having been reduced to spectators, Macron’s most critical task in his second term may be to find a successor. 




This week we ask John Blaxland, Tess Newton Cain, Mihai Sora and Joanne Wallis: is the Pacific step-up working? CONTINUE READING


Weekly round-up

Russia’s Ukraine invasion must be Australia’s clarion call

“Faced with the most dangerous strategic environment since 1942, Australia urgently needs a more robust and imaginative statecraft … the ADF’s force structure, size and operational fighting concepts must be critically reviewed against the principal adversary that Australia faces: China.”  Ashley Townshend & Thomas LonerganTHE STRATEGIST (ASPI)

How Ukraine will change Europe’s Indo-Pacific ambitions

“Whereas the UK is more at ease following and integrating with a US-led security architecture in the region as evidenced by AUKUS, France sees its role – and the EU’s – as adding value by providing regional partners with a different and less confrontational set of options in order to … lower the risk of confrontation with China. These approaches are not incompatible and could even be complementary.” Alice Billon-Galland & Hans Kundnani,CHATHAM HOUSE

India-Australia Economic Cooperation Trade Agreement – a step toward a resilient global supply chain and stable Indo-Pacific

“New Delhi’s strong ties to Russia have prompted some concern about the future of an Australia-India partnership. The recent signing of an economic agreement suggests this relationship will only grow stronger.” Ashok Sharma,australian outlook (AIIA)


Not all maritime disputes are built the same

“Maritime disputes in South-East Asia should be viewed less as a single big basket of problems, and more as smaller individual problems with their own corresponding solutions.” Evan Laksmana,The Interpreter (lowy institute)

Redesigning security architecture in a post-invasion world

“Politically sensitive security challenges, such as arms races and territorial disputes, sometimes need to be addressed in an informal setting by neutral organisations that can convene officials from adversarial states and encourage off-the-record conversations on addressing strategic risks.” Tanya Ogilvie-White,east asia forum


Telling Tennant’s Story

Dean Ashenden

Tennant Creek and Australia’s Unresolved Past

The tale of a town, and a nation

Returning after fifty years to the frontier town where he lived as a boy, Dean Ashenden finds Tennant Creek transformed, but its silence about the past still mostly intact.

Provoked by a half-hidden account, Ashenden sets out to understand how the story of “relations between two racial groups within a single field of life” has been told and not told, in this town and across the nation.

In a riveting combination of memoir, reportage and political and intellectual history, Ashenden traces the strange career of the great Australian silence – from its beginnings in the first encounters of black and white, through the work of the early anthropologists, the historians and the courts in landmark cases about land rights and the Stolen Generations, to still-continuing controversy.

In a moving finale, Ashenden goes back to Tennant Creek once more to meet for the first time some of his Aboriginal contemporaries, and to ask how the truths of Australia’s story can best be told.Read More



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