Showing posts with label China Foreign Policy in the Pacific. Show all posts
Showing posts with label China Foreign Policy in the Pacific. Show all posts

Saturday, December 21, 2013

X-Post: Australia’s Regional Foreign Policy Left Standing In The Shadows Of The Anglosphere

Upon taking government, Australia’s conservative coalition parties, led by Tony Abbott, had a simple foreign policy refrain: more Jakarta, less Geneva.

The previous Labor government had a more ambitious suite of policies on positioning Australia in the Asian century, yet regionalism was still order of the day. Despite the supposed predilection for regionalism and Australia’s unique geopolitical interests, leaked NSA documents on intelligence operations in Indonesia suggest the country is struggling to reconcile historical alliances to the Five Eyes network and the rising ASEAN heavyweights. In short, Australia may still be standing in the shadows of the Anglosphere.

Material leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden indicates the Australian Defence Signals Directorate attempted to tap the phones of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the president’s wife and high-level Indonesian ministers in 2009. Claims have also aired that the Australian Secret Intelligence Service placed listening devices in the Timorese cabinet room in 2004 during deliberations on a proposed oil and gas treaty with the Australian government.

The theatrical diplomatic confrontation that has followed these leaks coincides with a critical juncture in the Australia-Indonesia relationship. Indonesian cooperation with the Abbott government’s border protection strategy is operationally essential. Operation Sovereign Borders requires high-level Indonesian cooperation as most asylum seekers transit through Indonesia before making a seaward journey to Australia.

Many of the NSA revelations about Australian intelligence activities are not surprising, nor unexpected to the political elite of Asian Pacific countries. However, the revelations are likely to reinforce the worst stereotypes and popular regional (mis)conceptions of Australian foreign policy. More than ever Australian diplomatic activity will be seen through an unflattering prism of US patronage.

For the Pacific Islands, the Australian government is cast as a meddling neo-colonialist, pursing its economic and security agendas under the guise of aid effectiveness demands, unfair trade deals and conditional loans. Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Papua New Guinea’s Peter O’Neill can now become even more publicly sceptical about Australian security narratives on Melanesian state stability and efforts to counter Chinese state investment.

For the current Indonesian parliament, political class and press, historical suspicions about Australia’s position on West Papuan independence, disappointment over live cattle embargos and residual political angst at Australian intervention in East Timor have raised to the surface of Indonesian political discourse.

The parties were primed for this exact type of diplomatic conflict after the then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd referenced the 1962-66 Indonesian-Malaysian Confrontation, known as Konfrontasi (in which Australian troops fought as part of British forces in Borneo and West Malaysia against Indonesian-supported forces ), when discussing the Liberal Party’s border protection policy and its contravention of Indonesian sovereignty. Those that see the diplomatic spat as nothing more than theatre would argue these elevated suspicions are not that far from the latent, regional perceptions of Australia security and foreign policy.

Scott Hickie

" For the Pacific Islands, the Australian government is cast as a meddling neo-colonialist, pursing its economic and security agendas under the guise of aid effectiveness demands, unfair trade deals and conditional loans. Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Papua New Guinea’s Peter O’Neill can now become even more publicly sceptical about Australian security narratives on Melanesian state stability and efforts to counter Chinese state investment. "
Considering the status quo perceptions, the NSA revelations could be dismissed as having little substantive consequence – the inevitable price to be paid for a ‘regional sheriff’ keeping frail states and economically weak authoritarian regimes in check and supporting the Anglosphere.

However, the relative power balance across Southeast Asia and the Pacific has changed over the last 10 to 15 years. A notable proportion of fragile and developing states have emerged from negative growth and post conflict environments to improved security situations and increased political stability and have posted almost decade-long continued GDP growth alongside institutional reform.

These unfolding regional economic developments translate to growing political confidence and diplomatic clout for the rising ASEAN powers. The dynamic also underscores greater interdependency between Australia’s future trade interests and security posture – particularly critical on- and off-shore infrastructure in North West Australia.

This point is sometimes lost on Australia’s political class and public who harbour a decade old regional security understanding preoccupied with Australian proximity to fragile states and developing countries beset with political instability. A recent Lowy Institute poll on Australian perceptions of Indonesia shows an almost collective amnesia about any economic or political transformation post-Suharto.

Notwithstanding Australia’s considerable intelligence investment in Indonesia and the large-scale Bali terrorist attack in 2002, the security threats anticipated by the United States and Australia in early post-9/11 have not materialised to the magnitude anticipated and feared. Transboundary Islamic militancy and violent jihadist groups spreading a unified arc of insecurity across southern Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, primarily threatening Western interests, has not unfolded.

Provincial insurgencies, though in existence, have not toppled governments, triggered systemic, wide-scale human rights abuses demanding a regional/international Responsibility to Protect response or disrupted trade. Over the last decade, and in terms of wide-scale human devastation and insecurity, no event has surpassed the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that took the lives of 230,000 and left 1.69 million displaced. Yet, the call of the Anglosphere remains strong.

If the degree to which Australia plays the United States’ proxy regional security underwriter can be scaled back, diplomatic space may open for Australia to carve out a more independent regional international relations agenda. While there is significant consistency and similarity between US and Australian foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific, there remains nuanced but critical points of divergence around trade agreements, regional counter-terrorism initiatives, resolution of maritime boundary disputes, aid and human rights agendas in Southeast Asia. Most importantly, it is the emerging security interdependency at a regional scale that requires prioritisation.

One of the challenges for Australia tempering or better calibrating its regional interdependency with historical and so-called ‘civilisational’ allegiances is the optics and perception of Australia repositioning itself within some sort of Asian sphere of influence.

A US Asia-Pacific pivot and China’s increasing economic dominance and military modernisation lures existing and rising regional middle powers to the bipolar corners of the two global hegemons. Stronger Australian links with Indonesia and Malaysia could be miscalculated as Australia being one step away from falling into the Sino fold. Such a miscalculation fails to appreciate the nature of Indonesian/Malaysian and Chinese relations.

Furthermore, evolving security reconfigurations are resulting from some Southeast Asian countries establishing or augmenting security arrangements with the United States to counterbalance Chinese assertiveness around maritime claims. US efforts to build defence cooperation with Vietnam is a case in point. In one sense this may lead to a dilution of the perceived uniqueness of Australian and US defence ties within the region.

It is evident, now more than ever that Australian foreign policy needs to step out of the shadow of the Anglosphere and develop a deeper network of relations in Southeast Asia. This does not mean compromising US defence ties or being co-opted into a Sino sphere of influence. It means Australia can have greater flexibility to address critical regional trade, security and political imperatives with important neighbours.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

The New Battle for the Pacific: How the West Is Losing The South Pacific To China, The UAE, And Just About Everyone Else.

Far from being small island states, Pacific Island countries are showing themselves as large ocean states, with vast fisheries, potential seabed resources, and increasingly important geostrategic positioning - as the range of military bases dotted throughout the region can attest.

However, just as the region is showing its importance, Western influence is waning. When the larger Western powers pulled out of the region following the end of the Cold War (the United Kingdom, for example, closed three South Pacific High Commissions in 2006), they turned to Australia and New Zealand to "manage" the area for the West. Ms. Cleo Paskal discusses how and why this happened and what are the options for the West in this new battle for the Pacific.

Ms. Cleo Paskal is an Associate Fellow in the Energy, Environment and Resources department at Chatham House, London, and Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Geopolitics, Manipal University, India. 

Recorded at the East-West Center office in Washington, D.C., October 3, 2013

Thursday, July 11, 2013

X-Post: Islands Business - Foreign Policy Towards Fiji, Up For Debate

Source: Islands Business

(Audio -posted below) From RNZI

Fri 12 Jul 2013
OTAGO, New Zealand --- Foreign policy experts, students and diplomats have been mulling over how best to handle Fiji. The approaches discussed at Otago University’s annual Foreign Policy School ranged from crude horse-trading to long-term strategic planning.

As Radio New Zealand International Sally Round reports, there was no right answer, but plenty of debate.
Fiji’s first coup leader Sitiveni Rabuka used the military dictionary to describe contrasting foreign policy towards Fiji before and after the latest coup.

SITIVENI RABUKA: When you look at the actions of Australia and New Zealand and some other former friends we had and you look at what China is doing, who is being tactical,who is being strategic?
The Australian High Commissioner in New Zealand, Michael Potts, agreed Canberra, for one, has taken a tactical approach.

MICHAEL POTTS: Australian voters feel quite strongly about the events in Fiji over three decades. So our government naturally feels responsive, I think, to that view, as well. The Chinese, of course, have the advantage of not having general elections every five years. And so they can take a much longer, and in many ways, a much more sophisticated world view.
But Michael Potts says Australia has not turned its back on Fiji.

MICHAEL POTTS: It is very clear we have walked away from the Fiji military. But the notion that we’re walking away from the people of Fiji I think is misplaced. Despite the size of Chinese assistance, Australia is still the largest donor in Fiji. We run close to AUD$40 million a year.

But Sitiveni Rabuka described a strong defence relationship as essential.

SITIVENI RABUKA: Breaking the military link is the worst break because you have lost that contact between offices that you could fall back on when diplomacy fails.

Long-time Fiji-watcher Jon Fraenkel of Wellington’s Victoria University says much of the debate around foreign policy towards Fiji has centred on theories of crude tit-for-tat horse trading. He says other countries’ foreign policies are not the key driver of events in Fiji. But he suggests a foreign policy aimed at promoting democracy should be carefully calibrated. It is often the gradual and indirect approach, he says, which has more influence.

JON FRAENKEL: And often if you look at the experience in Africa, Asia and Latin America, what’s been important is not the sort of direct one-to-one diplomatic challenge, but rather a longer-term filtering upwards of ideas about the connection between legitimacy, popular control and democracy.

The Director of the Centre for Pacific Island Studies at the University of Hawaii, Terence Wesley-Smith, says many assumptions are made about China’s presence in and policy towards Fiji without a lot of research. He says he has yet to find back-up for assertions that China is somehow singling out Fiji for soft loans or bankrolling the regime leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

TERENCE WESLEY-SMITH: If there’s a sin associated with China in Fiji, it’s a sin of omission, meaning that they’re really not doing anything differently. They have continued their relationship with Fiji where others have pulled back from that relationship.

A China foreign policy scholar from Canterbury University, Anne-Marie Brady, had this report from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on its policy towards Fiji.

ANNE-MARIE BRADY: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said to me, ’China does not interfere in the politics of other countries. China’s support of the Bainimarama government is not interference. It’s up to the Fijian people to decide who leads them. If Fiji can maintain political stability it would be good for the region. China wants New Zealand and Australia to understand Fiji’s point of view’.

Anne-Marie Brady reported China does not want Australia and New Zealand to use extreme methods to criticise Fiji.

Ernest Bower of the Washington-based think-tank the Centre for Strategic and International Studies says the US could be more effective in Fiji, but it doesn’t know how.

ERNEST BOWER: I think the United States wants to get it right. They will always stand on the side of democracy, where there’s a coup or where there’s a clear violation of democratic values. There’s not question where the Americans stand on that. We want to see an election, a free and fair election. I think the question is more at a practical policy level - how can you be effective in encouraging that outcome?

Ernest Bower described US policy towards Fiji as a ’work in progress’.

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