Posts by Dominic Huntley

 
 

Pivotal arrogance in Western foreign policy

Dominic Huntley

Politics | Asia

 

For the first time in centuries the most powerful nation on Earth is going to be non-Western, and this has terrified policymakers from Canberra to Washington.
The almost existential panic which has characterised the response has combined an incredible capacity for self delusion with an almost impressive degree of arrogance that even our Colonial forbears would be staggered by.
Bit players like Australia have mindlessly “reaffirmed” support for the US alliance, as if it was ever in doubt, while the US itself has pursued a “Pivot to Asia” that has about as much substance as a stereotypical American meal.
Neither of these speech acts do anything to change the facts on the ground.

5 minute read

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Respect Timor, Leste ye be judged

Dominic Huntley

Politics | Southeast Asia

 

Australia's relationship with our newest neighbour has reached a critical juncture. Timor Leste has successfully forced Australia into a conciliation at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague over maritime boundary disputes, and now Australia will be required to justify to the world its maritime claims, and to itself the righteousness of bullying a nation it often claims to have liberated.
The specific delineation of maritime boundaries in the Timor Gap is nothing new. In 1989, during Indonesia's rule of Timor Leste, a treaty was signed which gave Australia expansive sovereignty over much of the sea, including the rich seabed resources that are valued at some US $10 billion.
Since Timor Leste's independence the treaty has been revised twice, in 2002 and 2006. The 2006 treaty included the stipulation that no renegotiation occur for 50 years. In 2012 however revelations of Australian spying during the treaty negotiations prompted Timor Leste to seek revisions to the treaty due to the feeling that it had been signed under unfair circumstances.
Australian perfidy has not been just limited to spying but has also included a cynical withdrawal from compulsory dispute resolution procedures under the UN conventions on the law of the sea (UNCLOS) a mere two months before Timor Leste became independent in 2002. Australia has also been highly reluctant to accept international arbitration, claiming that the Permanent Court of Arbitration has no jurisdiction.
The irony of holding such a position in the face of Australia's strong support for the recent ruling in the Hague on disputed territory in the South China Sea and Australia's strong support for it appears lost on the Australian government.

For Timor Leste this is just another challenge to be faced in gaining recognition as an independent nation. A nation that was colonised for four centuries and then occupied for two decades must once again prove itself worthy of its own existence. Ironically of its two neighbours it is former ruler Indonesia which has demonstrated a willingness to renegotiate boundaries.
For Australia however this issue is not just about maritime boundaries, or even Australia's role as an international actor. This sort of issue cuts right to the heart of that most domestic issue of national identity. What sort of country does Australia want to be? What does it mean to be Australian?
Australia, like all the Western settler societies, has a historic tension in its identity. The juxtaposition of Enlightenment values and the extraordinary racial and gendered hypocrisy has resonated throughout the last 228 years of European presence on this continent.
This has applied to Australia's approach to its neighbours just as much as its approach to people at home. Australia was a proud colonial power for some eight decades, and abducted tens of thousands of South Pacific Islanders to work in conditions reminiscent of the antebellum American South.
The transformation of Australian society since the 1960s has been perhaps the most extraordinary and valuable events in this nation's history. A nation that loudly proclaimed its 'whiteness' has become one that enshrines the rhetoric of cosmopolitanism, truly the greatest achievement of our society.
It is however a work far from complete. A short excursion to the Top End, or indeed, a short conversation with anyone not a middle-class, White Anglo-Saxon male will show that there are still enormous gaps in privilege and power between different segments of our society.
This is replicated in our government's approach to the maritime dispute. A rich and powerful country like Australia has the responsibility to support our much weaker, vastly poorer neighbors. Attempting to gain advantage at the expense of a country such as Timor Leste is more a hallmark of imperialism than of the modern society we purport to be.
For a country with a history like Australia, there are a thousand and one hurdles to cross before it can be absolved of past sins. Missing even one is unjustifiable, but this is surely one of the bigger ones.
Australia not only takes on the role of a regional leader in the development, but views itself as being the sort of country that does those things. This identity can never be justified so long as we treat our neighbors with the sort of arrogance and disrespect that we are showing Timor Leste and its people.
Australian leaders should also remember the legacies of their predecessors, and how those people are now viewed. How many today laud the achievements of Billy Hughes or Stanley Bruce? How many are nostalgic for the days of Australian colonialism in the Pacific?
The answer is about the same as how many will be proud of our actions in the Timor Gap when our children come to write the history books.

4 minute read

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Seeing the elephant

Economics | South Asia

 

“Seeing the elephant” is a 19th century American saying, meaning the gaining of world experience at a significant cost. It originated from travelling circuses, where curious people would pay exorbitant sums to literally, see the elephant.
Today there is an altogether different sort of elephant, one for which the cost is incurred when it is not seen. The identity of this pachyderm is, of course, India.

4 minute read

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Bear in the big blue dispute

Dominic Huntley

International relations | East Asia

 

Russia's policy of non-involvement in the South China Sea (SCS) is now uncertain after Moscow announced that it will participate in exercises with China in those hotly contested waters this September.
Taking place this September in a yet to be disclosed location, any joint exercises have the potential to alienate ASEAN for questionable gain, and undo Russia's fruitful Asian policy.
How ASEAN will interpret these exercises will depend on where they take place. If the exercises occur near Hainan or another part of the sea that is internationally recognised as Chinese, there should be no real risk. The exercises would simply be a bilateral affair occurring in Chinese territory.
If they were to occur in an area that is only claimed however, such as the Paracel Islands, ASEAN could interpret the exercises as an expression of Chinese claims, with Russian involvement getting them into hot water.

Until now Russia has avoided making firm statements on territorial disputes in the South China Sea, maintaining neutrality while other states have been drawn in. In the wake of the 12 July Hague Ruling on overlapping claims in the SCS between China and the Philippines, Russian Director of the Information and Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maria Zakharova, explicitly stated that Russia was not and had no desire to be involved in the dispute.
Russia has pursued good relations with both ASEAN and China. Russia and ASEAN recently signed the Sohi Deceleration in hopes of greatly increasing trade and other sorts of cooperation. Wide ranging in nature, the extent to which it will succeed is debatable but nevertheless represents an intention to build on present ties.
More concretely Russia also maintains a strong arms relationship with Vietnam despite the recent American intrusion. It is currently contracted to supply a number of vessels to the Vietnamese Navy, including the Kilo-class diesel-electric submarine, vessels which incidentally would be ideal for operations in the SCS.
Russo-Chinese relations are even stronger. The two have engaged in several major military and counter-terrorism exercises, in the Mediterranean, East China Seas, the Sea of Japan, and in the Arctic. They also have ongoing arms deals and joint development programs, such as in the development of 4+ and fifth generation fighter jets.

Most significant is their trade relationship, valued at several tens of billions (USD) is Russia's largest with a single country, and for China is a major source of raw materials including energy. The vast expanse of Siberia to the north of China is increasingly significant in their long-term resource security, and has seen rising Chinese investment in recent years.
The pursuit of good relations with both sides is only possible while Russia is on neither. It is possible that Russia has accepted this and chosen China over ASEAN.
Russia's material relationship with China far exceeds that with ASEAN, and China is fundamentally more important than ASEAN in strategic terms. If Russia needed to pay for greater Chinese support, ASEAN would be an affordable price.
However Russia has nothing to gain from siding with China on this issue. While the two nations often cooperate as a loose bloc, such as through the growing Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, this should not be confused with some NATO-style alliance, even putatively.
Russia has also so far managed to enjoy its relationship with China without needing to pay a high geopolitical price. Perhaps most importantly, Russia in recent years has had considerable success without support from any major power. The reacquisition of Crimea and the operations in Syria were entirely Russian successes. Why does Moscow suddenly need support from Beijing?
If Russia is allowing itself to be drawn onto one side of this dispute, implicitly or otherwise, it is sacrificing much for little gain. Russo-Chinese relations have been beneficial for both countries at little cost; the cost of sacrificing Russo-ASEAN relations will not be commensurate with the gain from China.
The exercises this September will reveal the extent of rationality in Russia's foreign policy in Asia, and whether in this Asian Century the Russian bear will sink or swim.

4 minute read

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