Friday 10 Apr 2020 | 01:21 | SYDNEY

Australia in the World

Our 'bilateral' relations with the EU

A question for readers: why did Trade Minister Simon Crean refer to our relationship with the EU as 'bilateral' in a radio interview this morning? Obviously, we don't talk about our relations with other multinational bodies like the UN or ASEAN this way. I realise the EU has a

Should it all be Chinese to us?

Guest blogger: Scheherazade Rogers, a Lowy Institute intern, is undertaking a Master of Translating and Interpreting (Chinese-English)/Master of International Relations at Macquarie University. A key ambition that emerged from the recent 2020 Summit was to ‘ensure that the major

Signs the terrorists are winning: Litter

One thing you will not find for love or money at the Sydney train stations I most often use — Central, Wynyard and Martin Place — is a rubbish bin. These have been removed as a security measure, presumably to prevent the kinds of bombings the IRA used to undertake on the London underground.

Discount diplomats

Nice to see Russell Trood kick this argument along in the pages of The Australian. Other than the odd crank who goes on about cocktail-sipping diplomats, no one denies the importance of a well-functioning foreign ministry. Even US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who you would expect would be

Reader ripostes: Sovereignty in Southeast Asia

Two responses to Andrew Shearer's post on ASEAN. The first is from Hans: I find something puzzling about Andrew Shearer's enthusiastic support for 'the breaking down [within ASEAN] of views on sovereignty, and an increasing emphasis on consistency with international norms&#

Gates on future wars

Robert Gates is not a newcomer to the complex business of strategic forecasting. He made his name as a Soviet analyst in the Cold War. He has therefore spent most of his long career trying to work out what kind of useful judgements he can make about the future to help his Government make

Foreign entanglements

From an Australian perspective, one of the key questions we should ask of the US presidential candidates is, which one is more likely to see Australia getting involved in another US-led military action? Those who advocate a McCain presidency as best for Australia's interests need to keep

What does Joel Fitzgibbon think of this?

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates is proving himself quite the provocateur. He has given speeches advocating increased funding for US soft power, he has criticised the US Air Force for being old fashioned, and now he says elements of the US military are prone to what he calls 'Next-War-itis&#

Taxing tyranny

In the pages of coverage of the first Australian Labor Government budget in 12 years, one small tax increase has largely been overlooked, and yet it seems to contradict the rhetoric of the new government more than most and exacerbate Australian insularity by adding to our 'tyranny of distance

Australia budget looks at a turbulent world

The new federal budget tells two international stories. One story is of the US economy falling over. The Treasury Budget Outlook at first uses the phrase 'a sharp slowdown in the US economy.' But Treasury then twice states its expectation of 'a mild recession' in the US. The word

Burma: Time for some activist middle power diplomacy

It is impossible to look at this morning’s media coverage of Burma — even the few skerricks of news to have made it through the wall of secrecy erected by one of the world’s most appalling regimes — and not feel profound anger. Just look at the photograph in this morning’s Sydney Morning

Australia not yet exploiting the camel boom

Yesterday, The Economist's blog, Free Exchange, led me to this Financial Times article on India's camel boom: As the cost of running gas-guzzling tractors soars, even-toed ungulates are making a comeback, raising hopes that a fall in the population of the desert state’s

ASPI does resilience

Yesterday the Australian Strategic Policy Institute released a new paper advocating a more resilient Australia. Societal and economic resilience is a topic we've tackled before here at The Interpreter, and it is very encouraging to see it get such systematic treatment from ASPI. Let's hope

Reader riposte: Understanding Americans

Chris responds to my post of yesterday: I have lived in the USA in three separate periods totalling some five years and spent most of my working life in some form of business relationship with US companies and people. I love them dearly but I also view them as the most devious bastards

China: Go easy on the human rights outrage

Rowan Callick, China Correspondent for The Australian, has unearthed an unedifying interview given by Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission President John von Doussa to Chinese state television. Judging by the quotes, von Doussa is too accommodating to China on human rights and Tibet,

China still hard to love

In the Weekend Australian, Greg Sheridan wrote: The China obsession of the Rudd Government, and especially of the PM himself, has alarmed leaders in India, Japan and Southeast Asia, who fear Australia is reorienting its foreign policy to an unbalanced stress on China. There

What media freedom, Commodore?

The deportation from Fiji today of Fiji Times publisher Evan Hannah is a very disturbing sign of interim leader Commodore Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama’s lack of commitment to democracy. Interim Defence and Immigration Minister Ratu Epeli Nailatikau reportedly said the deportation order was linked

Doubts about the new security agenda

Regular readers will know I'm something of an enthusiast for what might be called the 'new security agenda'. I'm sympathetic to the idea that we face a number of serious non-military security threats in our future, and that the era of state-on-state conflict may be passing. I also

Rethinking globalisation

Foreign investment has become a touchy issue for many countries, with rich countries increasingly keen to throw up barriers to foreign capital. And apparently Australia is not immune to the trend. According to this story by The Australian’s Jennifer Hewett, at least ten Chinese companies

Smith vs Varghese? Not so fast

Paul Dibb sets out in today’s Sydney Morning Herald to depict a clash of views on Australia’s strategic outlook, pitting Foreign Minister Stephen Smith against the Director-General of the Office of National Assessments, Peter Varghese. The Minister is portrayed as elevating the importance of

The petrol riddle

Via the Observing Japan blog, I see that the Japanese Government is set to end its gasoline tax holiday. This comes soon after Republican presidential nominee John McCain proposed a similar measure for the US, which Hillary Clinton has backed and Barack Obama won't. The McCain proposal does

Trade politics

Graeme Dobell draws attention to one of the problems associated with negotiating (high profile) preferential trade agreements, or PTAs: once significant political capital has been invested in the negotiations, it may become extremely difficult politically to walk away from even a lousy deal. 

Steketee on our anti-terror laws

Mike Steketee might be a bit annoyed at his sub-editor today. Steketee has written a perfectly reasonable column about why the last government's anti-terror laws went too far, but the piece is headlined 'Real terror is found in legislation', which suggests a rather more radical

The urgency of regional nuclear arms control

The New America Foundation recently hosted an event here in Washington, moderated by the Arms Control Wonk himself, Jeffrey Lewis, on the nuclear dimension of Sino-US relations. The presenters, Darryl Press and Keir Lieber, have published a number of provocative articles on the topic (see here, here

The JSF decision

I hope that The Australian's Cameron Stewart is right, and that Joel Fitzgibbon won't use the air power review report, due to land on his desk today, to make a definitive announcement about the Joint Strike Fighter. Stewart reports that Fitzgibbon will keep his options open until next year

Reader riposte: Howard trade legacy

Alison Broinowski writes in response to Graeme Dobell's post: Of course Japan refuses to negotiate with Australia on beef, dairy, wheat, barley, and sugar! So did the United States. The Howard Government, by accepting a preferential trade agreement that conceded no access for years

Free trade matters

On the spur of the moment yesterday I decided that Graeme Dobell's excellent post on the Australia-Japan trade negotiations needed some jazzing up to get the punters in. So I added a headline and a photo that played on how boring the whole subject is. If that managed to get a few people to

Australia-Japan trade talks: The tedium just starting

Spare a thought for our trade negotiators – high pain threshold, high boredom threshold, and an extraordinary ability to do meetings. This week marks the first birthday of the free trade negotiations with Japan, but the celebrations are muted because the tough part of this process gets under way

Our air power future decided this week

The Australian is reporting that the air power review report due to land on Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon's desk later this week will recommend Australia proceed with the purchase of up to 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to replace the RAAF's F/A-18 Hornets. Patrick Walters' report

The PNG delegation

Good lord, Jenny. A sixty-person delegation for the trip to PNG? That seems rather extravagant in these days of DFAT austerity. It reminds me of a story I once heard (probably apocryphal) about former Defence Minister Robert Ray, who complained that whenever he flew out of Canberra on a commercial

Defence counter-terrorism spending: Me, the few

Rodger Shanahan says Defence spending on counter-terrorism (CT) is relatively modest, and that new spending after 9/11 went mostly toward raising another Tactical Assault Group* and an Incident Response Regiment. He doesn't mention helicopters, but the Howard Government bought more of those

Defence counter-terrorism budget

Sam's suggestion that counter-terrorism money from the ‘hard power’ Defence budget be reallocated to the ‘soft power’ DFAT budget because they reaped too much reward from the Howard Government’s focus on military solutions to the terrorist threat is a bit on the simplistic side

Miliband faint praise

Although there are now definite signs of resistance to the cult of Kevin (see this and especially this), here's one strange example of it, from British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who, it turns out, is a lively blogger. Miliband wrote a post last week about Rudd's visit to the UK

2020 Summit: Economic integration with the Pacific

It was extremely pleasing to see a title like Closer Economic and Political Integration with the Pacific appear in the Australia 2020 Summit report. This represents a sharp and most welcome break with an Australian tendency to cast the Pacific Islands as weak and failing states that pose

Pacific Island Gurkhas

While the issue of Pacific labour mobility has gained traction with the election of the new Labor Government and was also featured at the 2020 Summit, another related but separate issue is the recruitment of Pacific Islanders into the Australian Defence Force. The issue was first raised last year

Reader riposte: Defence at the 2020 Summit

A reader writes:  Am I the only one who's concerned defence issues didn’t seem rate to rate at all in the discussion on Australia’s place in the world — that out of 13 working groups in that session, empowering and protecting women got special attention but one of the

Grain prices: Who afraid of the US farm lobby?

While Canberra is focused on 2020, a much more pressing problem may go unaddressed: the world grain shortage. For all sorts of reasons (weather, higher living standards, inadequate investment in productive capacity, speculative activity, diversion of grains for bio-fuel production), there is a

Reader riposte: The 2020 Summit

Alison Broinowski writes (my thoughts follow): Many thanks Graeme Dobell for showing the rest of us the big picture before it got smaller. But even 13 headings are too many to address the question that underlies all of this. It comes down to a basic inconsistency in Labor’s tripartite

2020 Summit: Asian tongues and Pacific labour

The recommendations from the foreign policy/security stream of the 2020 summit chime quite closely with policy inclinations of the Rudd Government. And most of them don’t even come with much of a price tag. The call to become Asia literate and lift language education will add an extra $100

2020 Summit: Asian giants and butcher paper

To write a vision for Australia’s future in the region requires sheets of butcher's paper and marker pens – just like every brainstorming conference you’ve ever attended. Add in the Beatles singing 'Come Together', and a Foreign Minister who can recite the running order of the &#

Dealing with China Inc.

I enjoyed Peter McCawley’s email on international competition policy and China’s intervention in the proposed BHP takeover of Rio. The irony he points to – the world’s leading communist country taking the lead in arguing for more market competition – is just one of the ways in which the

DFAT funding: Is NZ showing the way?

A number of us on this blog have criticised or at least questioned the Rudd Government's cuts to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's budget. But we haven't said what size foreign affairs budget we would prefer to see. Would we, for instance, like to emulate New Zealand,

Reader riposte: International competition policy

From Peter McCawley: Stephen Grenville's post on the political economy of the proposed BHP take-over of Rio raises key issues. One difficult issue, beloved of Australian policy-makers, is the matter of 'healthy competition'. It's something of a paradox when the world&#

Reader riposte: Who wants to work at DFAT?

Christian Bennett writes (my response follows): It will be an entertaining year watching Andrew Shearer and Carl Ungerer slug it out on The Interpreter. But I wonder if they will shine a brighter light on what I suspect they both would agree is a weeping sore for the Department of

Australia and Korea: On firmer ground

Brendan’s point is that at the same time the new left-leaning Australian government is calling for a more multilateralist foreign policy, the new conservative government in Seoul is pushing a more bilateralist foreign policy focused on strengthening the US alliance, repairing relations with

Resiliency in counter-terrorism policy

If you've just discovered The Interpreter thanks to this short interview I did with AAP, the blog post you are looking for — questioning proposals for the Government to have new powers to monitor email — is here. But I treat the concept of resiliency in counter-terrorism policy in slightly