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70 years and several sea changes later, ANZUS Treaty serves a different world

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/09/2021 - 4:57am in



When the ANZUS Treaty was signed 70 years ago, Japan was considered a dangerous aggressor, and China was a friend.

Scott Morrison, speaking in the House of Representatives on the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty, said the treaty dealt with the world “honestly as it is, in the hope of it becoming more as we would like it to be”.

Nice thought. But ANZUS “honestly as it is” was a world where Japan was seen as a dangerous aggressor, and China was a friend.

ANZUS was a byproduct of the 1951 San Francisco talks for a peace treaty with Japan.

Australia was represented by its foreign minister, Sir Percy Spender. His generation had seen close up the fanaticism and duplicity of Japan’s 1937-45 wars against China and the Allies.

Any peace treaty with Japan should impose the strictest conditions to make sure the atrocities would never happen again, he argued, and with very strong Australian backing.

But at that time the US was already coming to see Japan as a potential Cold War partner. Convicted and indicted war criminals were being released from jail. Ultra-nationalists were demanding Japan should seek recovery of all territory lost through war.

The chief US negotiator, John Foster Dulles, wanted a “soft” peace treaty – one which did not greatly punish Japan for wartime misdeeds and would keep it on side. That ran directly against Australia’s hopes for a rock-solid, no-loophole treaty which would put an end to Japan’s seemingly inherent aggressiveness once and for all.

Sir Percy was especially concerned over the clauses governing disputed territories. Ownership was often left vague – Japan would renounce its wartime claims but would not say to whom. Korea’s Takeshima was promised to Japan, then South Korea and then back to Japan. And so on.

Spender feared that leaving territorial issues unresolved would, as with pre-war Nazi Germany, provide the excuses for future disputes and aggressions.

This left Dulles with a problem. The Australians had been key allies in the war against Japan. They could not be ignored in a peace treaty.

His solution was offer the US “soft” version of the peace treaty to Japan, and then offer the Australians (and New Zealanders) another treaty, ANZUS, that would guarantee them rock-solid US assurance against any attack from a rearmed Japan.

But ANZUS was soon to suffer some sea changes. For no sooner had the 1951 San Francisco treaty been signed when the moves began for the 1954 SEATO (South-East Asia Treaty Organisation) treaty to counter alleged Chinese, not Japanese, aggression in South-East Asia.

Sir Percy’s much later successor, Paul Hasluck, after a 1966 tour of South-East Asia, could warn us about “the determination of Communist China to establish hegemony throughout South-East Asia working in the first place through the agency of her North Vietnamese puppets.”

ANZUS was built firmly into the structure of Australia’s alliances against China, not Japan.

Meanwhile what was going on back in Japan? Exactly as Sir Percy Spender had feared.

Within three years Japan was in territorial dispute with ALL of its neighbours, friend or foe alike – with South Korea over Takeshima (Dokto, or East Island in Korean), with Moscow over the Southern Kuriles, and with China and Taiwan over the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu-tai in Chinese).

In each case Tokyo was insisting its claims to the territories were so correct as not even to be subject to negotiation. The territories were “inalienable” Japanese property.

Yet with regard to the Southern Kuriles, for example, the San Francisco peace treaty as signed by Tokyo and the Allies says unambiguously that “Japan renounces all right, title and claim to the Kurile Islands”. And for a brief period Tokyo seemed to accept this – that the word Kurile Islands meant the Kurile Islands, including the Southern Kuriles.

But around 1952-54 Tokyo began to say no – that the word Kuriles did not include the Southern Kuriles. The latter belonged to a separate and previously unheard of entity called the “Northern Territories”.

Worse, there could be no peace treaty with Moscow unless the “Northern Territories” were returned.

Tokyo also sought international backing for its claim. In communiques and statements the Western powers, including Australia, have lined up religiously ever since to support Japan’s claim to the Northern Territories, even though in 1951 they had all agreed that Japan should renounce “the Kurile Islands”.

Moderates in Japan trying to find some compromise – for example, give Russia one of the two main Southern Kuriles islands in dispute, plus Alpha – were denounced as traitors and suffered rightist attack. In the early 2000s two of them, including a good friend, were thrown into jail on dubious charges.

The former Russian ambassador who tried to help them left in disgust.

Russian diplomats and officials in Japan continue to suffer Soviet era movement and other restrictions long lifted against employees of all other countries.

Angry demonstrations against the Russian embassy in Tokyo are organised annually on February 7 – Northern Territories day.

At a Vladivostok conference last week President Vladimir Putin said it was “nonsense” that Russia and Japan have not yet concluded a peace treaty.

He was right. And so was Sir Percy.

But so long as the hawks remain in control the “nonsense” will continue, indefinitely it seems.

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Book Review: Resisting Disappearance: Military Occupation and Women’s Activism in Kashmir by Ather Zia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/09/2021 - 9:06pm in

In Resisting Disappearance: Military Occupation and Women’s Activism in KashmirAther Zia explores the everyday resistance of women activists in Kashmir who focus public attention on the Kashmiri men disappeared by government forces. Effectively capturing the agency, memorialisation and resistance of these activists, this poignant and evocative ethnography will be of interest to students and academics working in the fields of anthropology, sociology, gender studies and critical Kashmir studies, finds Aatina Nasir Malik

Resisting Disappearance: Military Occupation and Women’s Activism in Kashmir. Ather Zia. University of Washington Press. 2020.

Find this book (affiliate link): amazon-logo

Ather Zia’s ethnographic account of the life of Kashmiri women is poignant and evocative, foregrounding everyday life as a political process and agency as a capacity for action that is nuanced. Resisting Disappearance is based on an organisation called the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), which came into being in 1994 to fight the enforced disappearances of Kashmiri men by state forces. Tracing the history of disappearing men and women’s struggles in Kashmir, Zia exemplifies how the experience of Habbeh Khatoon – the fifteenth-century poet’s never-ending search for her husband and struggle against the Mughals who sent her husband, the then indigenous king of Kashmir, into exile – is now manifest in a group of Kashmiri women searching for their men.

The APDP activists are Muslim women from economically marginalised rural classes – half-widows, mothers and sisters of disappeared men who, Zia states, have renounced the gendered rituals of mourning. They mobilise demonstrations, collect documentation, pursue court cases, visit government offices, morgues and prisons alongside holding monthly sit-ins, which are now ritualistic acts of public mourning. It is through this activism – both archival and performative – that these women are making the disappeared appear, or, in other words, visibilising those invisibilised by the government. Here the affective politics and hypervisibility of these women becomes what the author, borrowing from Michel Foucault, refers to as the ‘countermemory’: an alternative to dominant state/official narratives.

This ethnographic work becomes further interesting due to the way Zia refers to her respondents as ethnographic partners or a community rather than as ‘collaborators’, ‘informants’ and ‘interlocuters’, as is the norm in Anthropology. These terms in Kashmir are burdened with politics and used to refer to people who are perceived as traitors who have aided the Indian rule in Kashmir. Secondly, the book is what the author refers to as an ‘intimate ethnography’ where her research community becomes ‘family like’ (19). She further offers her ethnographic poems at the outset of each chapter, crafted from both observation and affect, as what she calls evidence of ethical surfeit – where the ethnographer-poet bears the most honest evidence. This ethnography is therefore a work with dual lenses: one of the trained ethnographer and one of the ethnographer poet, both complementing one another.

Image Credit: Crop of ‘Women on Steps of Pedestrian Bridge – Srinagar – Jammu & Kashmir – India’ by Adam Jones licensed under CC BY 2.0

Resisting Disappearance is divided into seven chapters, each catering to a different theme. Chapter One talks about the work of mourning as the politics of resistance. It exemplifies how mundane objects like a door get established as a spectral space offering a threshold between life and death where the return of the dead is conjured repeatedly. The chapter further underscores the process of disappearing the disappearance from the official records and hence elucidates the subaltern power of affective law in relation to the sovereign law. Affective law here is the emotional work of mourning that these women do to keep alive the memory of their loved ones in opposition to sovereign law which impedes justice and memorialisation.

Chapter Two traces how elections allow for a ‘politics of democracy’ that extends India’s rule in Kashmir, thwarting the aspirations of Kashmiris. Here the construction of the Kashmiri ‘other’ via material and non-material markers is underscored as well as how such representations are furthered by the media, making the Kashmiri body, which is also the Muslim body, doubly killable under law.

Chapter Three is about spectacular protests and activism. It discusses the centrally located Pratap Park as a site of protest. Activists are allowed to protest, albeit in a controlled environment, but acknowledgment of their concerns and the delivery of justice hardly ever take place. This chapter builds on the life stories of Parveena (the head of the APDP whose son has disappeared) and Sadaf (whose husband has disappeared), where their performative activism through the notion of asal zanan (good woman) offers a counter-spectacle to the disappearances. For their activism these women deploy culturally ideal feminine acts, which helps them do ‘damage control’ to their hypervisibility in public. These women undergo a transformation where they are pushed from the private to the public domain; the justification for this is grounded in the ethics of an asal zanan and sometimes in the elevation of their status in being ‘just a woman’. This helps them sustain both the masculine military regime and the subaltern cultural patriarchy – representing what the author calls a triumph of subalterity within subalterity.

Chapter Four further talks about gendered resistance, establishing Kashmiri masculinity as the non-hegemonic one against the powerful military apparatus. The subservient status of Kashmiri men is reinforced through everyday rituals like showing identity cards to the authorities. Here, women are pushed to the forefront as visible partners in seeking redress. Under the atrocities, the conventions of gender seem to collapse; borrowing from Begoña Aretxaga, the author refers to this as the ‘inversion of tradition’.

Chapter Five concerns militarising humanitarianism, where humanitarian projects stand for warfare and not welfare. This combines with processes of stringent surveillance and the compiling of dossiers on everyone in Kashmir, establishing everyday life as a grey zone where Kashmiris are not left with much choice. Such interventions are to justify the military’s presence in people’s lives, with the author showing, for example, how the mode of ‘conversation’ between the forces and Shabir (who was detained under false charges of being a militant for 28 months) changes from ‘torture’ to ‘medical treatment’ – where he was earlier tortured and then offered so-called medical treatment by the forces.

Chapter Six establishes the papers and documents that APDP members curate over time – as a file, not only as the proof of disappearance, but also to offer a material reality to the disappeared. Such documents become both an affective and physical site where the disappeared are retrieved, and at the same time are made invincible and credible. In such cases where there is no grave, no jail, no First Information Report, an indefinite wait before the law and no proper closure for family members, these files or archives become important both as a countermemory of loss and as subaltern power. But at the same time, these documents become ‘useless’ as they fail to bring any relief or justice. The final chapter takes the example of a wedding and a protest as commemorative practices where a blurring of the boundaries between joy and grief takes place. In weddings and protests, songs about the disappeared turn them into funerals and celebrations respectively. Here too the work of memory is in contrast with the official accounts marked by silence.

Zia’s study effectively captures the everyday struggles of these women activists whose life is caught in a limbo, and yet this liminal space entails agency, memorialisation and resistance. The book has ‘women’s activism’ in its title, but it does not fall short in bringing to light the struggles and experiences of men as well. Apart from being ethnographically rich, I also appreciated it for being very readable despite being so affectively charged.  One might find the book replete with the themes of resistance and countermemory, which feature in each chapter, but that very well marks their inevitability in different spaces and performances for the APDP activists. The only thing that could have been done differently would have been to shift the discussion of the history of Kashmir and armed struggle from Chapter Two to the introduction, which would help readers get a better grounding to locate APDP and this rich ethnography from the very beginning. Nonetheless, this book is a useful read for graduates, postgraduates and academics working in the fields of anthropology, sociology, gender studies and critical Kashmir studies.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books. 


History repeats as Morrison provokes China hostility

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/09/2021 - 4:58am in


Asia, China

The official visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2014 was the high point in Sino-Australian relations. It has been all downhill ever since.

Within a few years prominent political leaders and bureaucrats were talking of war almost, it seemed, with relish. Public opinion swung in a similar direction. Australia had found a new enemy. It became popular to talk about “standing up to China”. Such a dramatic change takes some explaining given that China continued, all the while, to be our major trading partner by a long shot.

Many developments, both internal and external, played a part. But there is no doubt that there was a concerted, and indeed a coordinated campaign, to turn the ship of state about. Many hands helped – the defence and security establishment, the Murdoch press, right wing think tanks and no doubt willing American allies. But even the activists must have been surprised by the speed and the ease of the transformation. They had clearly tapped into deep ancestral currents of anti-Asian sentiment… either wittingly or not. That being the case it will be instructive to recall the events of a century ago when Australia was confronted with the rise of Japan which was even more spectacular and unexpected than the recent emergence of China as a great power.

It is well known that the Australian colonies were deeply concerned by the prospect of Chinese migration resulting in restrictive legislation in the 1880s followed by the adoption of the Immigration Restriction Act by the first federal parliament in 1901. But the fear was demographic and the attendant danger of what was openly called racial contamination. There was no concern about Chinese strategic power. The Australians had paid little attention to Japan’s victory over China in 1896 and the resulting annexation of Taiwan. But they were completely surprised in 1902 by the negotiation of a treaty between Britain and Japan and then deeply troubled by the spectacular victory of the Japanese forces over Russia in 1905 and particularly the destruction of the Russian fleet in the battle of Tsushima. This was hardly surprising. The Japanese victory was celebrated all over the non-European world as an epochal event. The great tides of history were shifting.
There was widespread discussion in both Europe and North America in the years before World War I about the likelihood of an impending race war. Such concern was greatly amplified in Australia. It dominated our thinking about the world. With race uppermost in the national psyche Australians came naturally to assume that Japan had hostile intentions towards them. On the other hand the idea of racial affinity, of the blood tie with Britain, fortified loyalty to the Empire. The fact that Australian leaders knew very little about Japan and had no diplomatic representation there – or anywhere else for that matter – helped perpetuate their inability to make pragmatic decisions about the world in which they lived.

Imperial government leaders knew how to exploit Australia’s widely known phobias. Their overwhelming ambition was to encourage the country to spend more on defence and above all to train an expeditionary force which would be ready for service overseas to augment Britain’s own small professional army. Given their alliance with Japan they found Australia’s fears jejune but useful. If they privately played the Japanese card Australia would willingly mobilise a force for Imperial service in Europe and the Middle East. And that was the way it turned out.

The irony of the Great War was that it was, above all else, a white man’s war. Japan fought with the allies, Turkey fought beside the Germans. Both France and Britain brought large numbers of Asians and Africans to Europe to assist the war effort. The Japanese believed that as a result they would now be accepted as equals among the great powers and humiliating racial prejudice would be left behind. Woodrow Wilson’s speeches about equality and self-determination were widely read in Japan and encouraged the hope that the projected League of Nations would enshrine the principal of racial equality. The question dominated domestic debate in Japan for months in late 1918 and early 1919.

The Japanese delegation arrived in Paris early in 1919 expecting to have their concern about racial equality recognised in the Covenant of the League of Nations. They received considerable support from assorted delegations and early encouragement from the Americans. The British delegation, having shown initial interest, moved dramatically in the opposite direction driven by the vociferous opposition of the white settler dominions – Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. For his part Wilson kept an anxious eye on opinion in California, Washington and Oregon which were politically important to him. The opposition of the white settler societies was sufficient to defeat the Japanese proposal. Wilson overrode the considerable body of support by declaring that such a significant innovation required a unanimous vote. The Japanese were devastated and there was a widespread sense of national humiliation. No one was more jubilant than Australian prime minister Billy Hughes, who had been the most outspoken and unrelenting opponent of racial equality. He came away from Paris convinced that he had, almost single-handedly, defeated the commitment to racial equality which he asserted “95 out of 100 Australians rejected”. But what was clear was that the British and other dominion leaders as well as the Americans were only too happy to let the swaggering Hughes carry the heavy responsibility for defeating a proposal with widespread support around the world.

Hughes stood up to Japan provoking hostility that hadn’t been there before. A hundred years later Scott Morrison has played the same card with China. Like Hughes he has had little diplomatic experience. His brash manner which works well at home can appear oafish off shore provoking needless offence. And in many parts of the world, whether justified or not, Australia still has to live down its notorious history of racism. Clearly no one would seriously suggest that 95 per cent of contemporary Australians were opposed to racial equality but habits of thought that once grew from racist roots have survived in modified form. Many people find it hard to come to terms with the great changes that are currently underway and the shift of power and wealth away from the Western Europe and North America, developments foreshadowed by the earlier rise of Japan. It seems to be very hard for Australians to believe that China is entitled to the respect accorded to great powers. Many clearly see the Chinese as upstarts.

These ideas manifest themselves in a variety of ways. Chinese investment whips up opposition from people who have never hitherto taken a stand against the massive foreign ownership of our resources. There was the ill-disguised hostility to the rapid growth of Chinese tourists and students in the years before the pandemic and there have been many reports of an increase in racial abuse and attacks in the streets and on public transport.

But of greater long term consequence is the sudden and rapid growth of the belief that China indeed has hostile intent and is a serious threat to our sovereignty and security. The echoes of our earlier obsession with assumed Japanese hostility are all too apparent. We have clearly not learnt that if you assume we have an enemy and act accordingly, that eventuality will come to pass. And as we did at Versailles 100 years ago we turn for security and reassurance to the white Anglo-Saxon members of the exclusive Five Eyes Club.

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The Singapore mouse that taught the China elephant

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/09/2021 - 4:52am in


Asia, China

Compare Singapore’s dextrous diplomacy with the clumsy manner in which the Australian government handles its relationship with China.

Napoleon Bonaparte, the French emperor and famous military leader was reputed to have said, “There lies a sleeping giant. Let him sleep! For when he wakes, he will shake the world.” 

During Napoleon’s lifetime, and for the next 13 decades, while China slept, she was savaged by the Western powers and Japan; had her ports forced open to imports of opium in exchange for her valuable tea and silk; and her coastal cities carved up into foreign “concessions”.  What was particularly galling to the Chinese people, in China and elsewhere, was the story circulating about a sign in a Shanghai park which stated: “No dogs or Chinese allowed”. While there were some stirrings and attempts at internal repair, and the salvaging of national pride (e.g. fighting the Americans and her allies to a stalemate near the 38th parallel in the Korean War) during the Mao era from 1949 to 1976, much of the period was a nightmare – e.g. Great Leap Forward, Hundred Flowers Movement, Cultural Revolution. In economic terms, she was still slumbering. Her dreams of creating a workers’ utopia based on the Russian model failed.

Nevertheless, wakeup she did in the mid-1980s under China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping who famously turned communism on its head telling the Chinese people, “Poverty is not socialism.  To be rich is glorious”! But how? How does a Rip Van Winkle learn the ways of modern capitalism without a good teacher? They went looking for a teacher and found her in Singapore, one of the tiniest of countries in the world with the then population size of 2.736 million people; and a land area of 728.6 square kilometres. Such a surprising choice was a logical one according to Bai (“Changing Tides”, Global Times, 2017):

“Beijing has long been obsessed with what it calls the Singapore model, praising the city state’s success in maintaining a single-party rule, a relatively uncorrupt government and a robust and inclusive economy … viewed Singapore as an example that Asian culture, especially Confucianism, can provide an alternative to Western democracy … been fascinated by Singapore’s success in achieving advanced economic industrialisation without undergoing substantial political reform.”

Deng Xiaoping visited Singapore in 1978 and was suitably impressed. The learning episode truly began when Singapore’s late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew visited the Chinese city of Suzhou in 1992 with his Deputy Ong Teng Cheong. Suzhou, the Venice of China, was in a state of dilapidation. He was approached by the Mayor of Suzhou, Zhang Xinsheng, with the proposition that Singapore invests 10 per cent of its US$50 billion in reserves to build an industrial city modelled after Singapore. After some political orchestrations on the Chinese side, the project was approved.

However, right from its inception, both sides were thinking on cross purposes. In Lee’s own words (From Third World to First: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew 2000. pp 719-724):

“At first Zhu thought my proposal was another money-making idea on behalf of our investors. I explained that my proposal was in response to many delegations that had come from China to study us in a piecemeal manner but would never understand how our system worked. With Singapore and Chinese managers working side by side, we could transfer our methods, systems and know-how.” (“Zhu” was Zhu Rong Ji, China’s Vice-Premier).

However, before the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) had a chance to succeed, the law of unintended consequences struck. Lee lamented, “Instead of giving SIP their full attention and cooperation as was promised, they used their association with Singapore to promote their own industrial estate, Suzhou New District (SND), undercutting SIP in land and infrastructure costs, which they controlled.” Nevertheless, LKY declared the SIP a “partial success”. The tutoring continued.

By 2017, some 50,000 Chinese officials had received training in Singapore. A special programme was created in Nanyang Technological University to cater specifically for Chinese officials. The outcome of the coaching was success beyond expectations. Brutally cracking down on corruption like LKY, Xi Jinping set China on a trajectory to become the third major power in the world, some would say poised to overtake the US economically and militarily. However, as China found its feet, the fascination with the Singapore model waned. Fractures started to show, not the least of which was Singapore’s support for The Hague’s ruling in 2016 in favour of the Philippines over a West Philippines Sea and Scarborough Shoal dispute; and the non-attendance by Singapore of the Road and Belt Initiative Forum in Beijing in 2017. The reasons are best summed up in the following analysis by Ruan Zhongze, vice president of the China Institute of International Studies:

“China’s relationship with Singapore is still better than many other bilateral ties. The ethnic and cultural bonds as well as economic ties between the two countries remain strong. But as China’s influence grows, Beijing expects to be treated accordingly, and Singapore is struggling to adapt to that change.”

The hard reality is that relationships and expectations change when the protégé supersedes the teacher. However, in testimony to tiny Singapore’s ability to manage differences with China, PM Lee Hsien Loong officially invited Chinese Premier Lee Keqiang to visit Singapore. This was preceded by Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan’s statement in an interview that Singapore was a strong supporter of China’s Road and Belt Initiative (Global Times, 2017). In a parallel manner Balakrishnan gave CNA an interview a couple of days prior to VP Kamala Harris’s visit, stating categorically that Singapore will not be anyone’s stalking horse. In that visit, she had an orchid named after her. Compare this dextrous diplomacy with the clumsy manner in which the Australian government handles its relationship with China. For the sake of rapprochement with China, will conservative LNP voters ever allow one of our native orchids to be named Vanda xijinping? It is probably easier to countenance a Vanda morrison or a Vanda dutton. 

China heeded Confucius’ advice about learning: “三人行, 必有我师” usually translated to mean, “Of three people walking, one will be my teacher.” Implicit in the saying is the exhortation to be humble. Contextually, such a quality is imperative in small countries striving to survive among giants.

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When politics fail: The folly in under-funding the ABC’s international services

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/09/2021 - 4:58am in


Asia, Media

The ABC is under such constant pressure and threats from government (as well as relentless attacks from hostile media and other organisations such as the IPA), it’s not surprising that public attention is almost exclusively on the domestic service. 

But legislation requires the national broadcaster to also fulfil an international role. The ABC Charter – enshrined in section 6 of the ABC Act – outlines responsibilities to provide broadcast and digital services in the areas of news, current affairs, entertainment and cultural enrichment to other countries in order to increase awareness and understanding of Australia and Australian attitudes on world affairs, and to enable Australians living or travelling overseas to remain abreast of Australian affairs.

An enlightened ABC long ago recognised that portraying Australia through a “colonial mindset”, as implied in the Act, was not enough. As the nation matured and took its place in the Asia-Pacific region, so too did the ABC evolve its approach to engaging respectfully with its international neighbours.

Over several decades the ABC’s international service has built an enviable reputation in Asia and the Pacific as a trusted provider of quality, independent public media. Radio Australia, launched in 1939 as “Australia Calling”, grew into a world-renowned institution, and an international TV service broadcasting to 50 countries was added in 1993, with online services following a few years later. Through its international development arm (ABCID), the ABC has also fostered enduring relationships, especially in the Pacific where it has been highly valued as the main provider of support for local public interest media, including the building of effective media infrastructure and the provision of emergency information services.

In 2013 this expertise was harnessed by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT). Concerned about growing political instability in the region, DFAT saw a value in media “soft power” as an effective strategy in influencing affairs in the region and awarded a $223 million, 10-year contract to the ABC to expand its broadcasting and online content service for Asia and the Pacific.

The decision was applauded by consumers, broadcasting professionals and heads of government, particularly in the Pacific.

Then inexplicably, less than a year later, the newly elected Abbott government decided the DFAT allocation was a waste of money. There was a view in the Coalition cabinet, reportedly, that there was no need for a strong Australian voice in the region and that if people wanted international coverage they could go to the BBC or CNN. Perhaps the cut was also motivated by an ideological preference for privatisation and, as many believe, by the fact that the previous Labor government had awarded the contract to the ABC over a rival Sky News bid, in controversial circumstances.

Whatever the reason, the lack of strategic vision is breathtaking. It’s ironically also out-of-kilter with that of Liberal Party founding father Robert Menzies, who well before the outbreak of World War II said, “I have become convinced that, in the Pacific, Australia must see herself as a principal, providing herself with her own information and maintaining her own diplomatic contact with foreign powers.”

Australia’s faltering voice

So it was, that with the stroke of a pen, the remaining $196.8 million of the DFAT contract with the ABC to operate the Australia Network television service into Asia and the Pacific was axed.

Some 80 broadcasters and correspondents posted throughout the region were made redundant (more than half the staff). To save at least some of its television service the ABC was forced to gut much of Radio Australia. Later, services in the Pacific nations were also closed down. In no small measure, this signalled to our Pacific neighbours that Australia was abandoning them.

Consequently, the way was opened for other nations to fill the gap, including those that hold very different views to our own on issues such as the importance of a free and independent media, open democracy and human rights. This is already being seen in both Asia and the Pacific region, where China took control of Radio Australia’s former shortwave frequencies and its Xinhua News Agency and other government-related entities are rapidly expanding and advocating their state-controlled media model with negative consequences for media freedom, as documented in the Reporters Without Borders’ Media Freedom Index.

As well, propaganda and misinformation are widespread through multiple means of mass and targeted communication via the many global social media and online outlets (including the FAANGs – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google).

Now – with quality media across Asia and the Pacific facing very serious challenges to their ability to play their “fourth estate” role – the counter-balance of a trusted, reliable and independent public media source of news, information, entertainment and specialist programming has never been more important to the security of both Australia and our near neighbours.

It is a credit to the ABC that, even within the constraints of insufficient funding, it has managed to maintain an innovative presence in the region (albeit reduced) through ABC Radio Australia, the ABC Australia television network and multimedia platforms, and that its development work has continued to be of high quality and includes considerable media and emergency broadcast training throughout the Pacific.

At present, the ABC spends $11 million per year of Commonwealth funds on its international services. For that modest sum it provides 24-hour-a-day television to 40 countries in the Indo-Pacific, 24-hour-a-day FM radio in Timor-Leste, PNG, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, and a host of digital-mobile and online services. Content of these services is of high quality and includes some programs made specifically for audiences in the Pacific as well as education and children’s programs. Programming on the ABC networks has for many years also showcased work from all parts of the Australian media industry. On ABC Australia, this encompasses programs from the commercial TV networks, independent producers, SBS and NITV (the national Indigenous network). Among programs currently in the ABC international schedule are Seven’s AFL coverage and Home and Away, Nine’s Outback Vet and Paramedics, and SBS-NITV’s travel series Going Places with Ernie Dingo. There are also commercial children’s programs such as the Nine Brain Buzz and Imagination Train. And negotiations are currently underway for additional prominent dramas series.

It’s exceptional value for money. But the ABC would like to do more, if it had the funds – a bespoke weekly pan-regional TV news and current affairs program, for example, to complement the existing three hours of regional news and current affairs coverage every weekday on Radio Australia.

Ideology and the wasted years

Belatedly, a few months after Scott Morrison rose to the prime ministership, the government came around to recognising the “soft power” importance of an Australian media voice in the region.

So, did the government do the sensible thing and refinance the one organisation with the requisite experience and expertise?

Well, no.

Instead, in January 2019 – five years after scrapping the ABC-DFAT contract – the federal government announced it would provide AU$17.1 million to Free TV Australia (the peak body representing commercial free-to-air broadcasters) to send 1000 hours per year of existing programs to Pacific broadcasters, for three years. This equates to less than six weeks of programming each year, and it specifically rules out content produced by the ABC, SBS or NITV as they are not members of Free TV.

The deal was pitched as building on the government’s Pacific Step-Up initiatives, “strengthening links between Australians and people across the Pacific”, and was a joint project across three ministries – Communications, Foreign Affairs, and International Development and the Pacific.

At this point the story drops into high farce.

Bridget Fair, chief executive of Free TV Australia, greeted the news with little if any enthusiasm, telling Guardian Australia’s Amanda Meade that the industry had been approached by the government, the funding wasn’t something they had “sought out”, and discussions were “embryonic”.

“I don’t think there’s any benefit to the industry in providing the content to the Pacific,” Fair told Meade. “No commercial networks are building partnerships in the Pacific. We’ve been approached by the PM and we are more than happy to help out.”

She also said the networks would have to survey the Pacific nations to find out what type of Australian content the local broadcasters would like, and they were waiting for the government to provide more detail before embarking on doing that.

Never mind that Pacific stakeholders and leaders had recently made submissions to an Australian government review of broadcasting services in Asia Pacific. Vanuatu’s Prime Minister Charlot Salwai Tabismas said what they wanted was public interest journalism (and Australian-run shortwave radio, especially for emergency services information in remote areas without access to modern digital media). The review’s report was not available till later in the year.

It was hardly surprising that it took more than a year for Free TV Australia to roll out its first catalogue, under the “PacificAus TV” banner. Like the ABC Australia service, the commercial operator offers programming free-of-charge.

The “soft power” value of setting up a new organisation to send commercial programs made for a comparatively wealthy, Australian audience to developing countries is hard to fathom, especially when the ABC service already incorporated such programs in its broader output and offers program blocks to other broadcasters.

While the government dilly-dallied, other groups were becoming concerned about Australia’s lack of appropriate media presence in the region.

Philanthropist Judith Neilson notably established the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas (JNI) in 2018, committing $100 million “to improve the quality of journalism that informs public debate”. A special focus on supporting more reporting from Asia and our region, as well as providing opportunities for Australian and Asian journalists to collaborate, was cited as a priority. Since then, JNI, run by former journalist, political adviser and corporate executive Mark Ryan, has supported excellent initiatives across a range of issues, both domestic and abroad including the Pacific.

Interestingly, Fair is a director on the JNI Board, so too are former ABC chair Jim Spigelman AC QC, former ABC director of news and head of Asia Pacific news Kate Torney and The Australian newspaper’s editor-at-large Paul Kelly.

So, can a government-funded Free TV Australia provide the nation’s strategic media needs in Asia and the Pacific? Could it do so with an informal or formal alliance with another organisation, such as JNI?

The simple answer is no. And not just because the national broadcaster is so obviously best equipped to serve the national strategic interest.

The fact is that current legislation decrees that the ABC is the only organisation that the Commonwealth can fund for the purpose of international broadcasting.

This directive is contained in section 31AA of the ABC Act, which clearly states that the ABC or prescribed companies (as defined in s25A) are to be: “the only providers of Commonwealth-funded international broadcasting services”.

Consequently, Free TV Australia’s PacificAus TV is not a broadcaster. It simply provides content to existing Pacific broadcasters, free-of-charge, for use in their schedules. And that raises the question of why this couldn’t simply have been done through the existing ABC International service?

In contrast to PacificAus TV, the public broadcaster’s ABC Australia is a full-schedule stand-alone TV channel that is downlinked by about 100 multi service operators – FTA (free-to-air), cable, satellite TV, and OTT (over-the-top, i.e. direct to viewers via the internet) across the Indo Pacific region. It also provides a content block service whereby a third-party channel can take two or more programs from ABC Australia to fit into their own schedule, free-of-charge.

In terms of promoting “brand Australia” and the nation’s relationships in the Pacific, ABC Australia as a defined network also has a strong advantage through station IDs, cross-promotions on the various programs it creates and through its strong digital reach. PacificAus TV, as only a program supplier (or distributor), is a step removed from audiences and has no such network or digital capacity to directly reach them.

So, even on this most commercial of criteria, ABC Australia provides more bang for buck.

A simple solution 

There now seems to be little or no argument that Australia must firmly re-establish its regional media voice, especially in the Pacific.

The challenges of doing this effectively are complex. Over the last few years, reviews and inquiries have been launched, reams of submissions and reports have been written. In the process, precious time is being lost.

It might be argued, too, that time and money have been wasted. As part of its agreement with the government, the Free TV Australia entity PacificAus TV has conducted a scoping study across seven of the 14 Pacific nations (and produced an “in confidence” report which, although funded by the taxpayer, is not publicly available).

But why start from scratch?

The ABC already has experience, expertise and a breadth of services (including news, education and development assistance) unmatched by any other media organisation. It has maintained a good relationship with DFAT. And it can scale up and do what’s needed now.

Moreover, it has long included the provision of programs from Australia’s commercial networks to the Pacific, both directly through its own ABC Australia TV network and in packages supplied to partner broadcasters – and still does. Expanding this aspect of program provision through the existing framework would surely be more cost-effective than setting up a whole new operation.

Questions have also been raised about the wisdom of outsourcing a large chunk of Australia’s “soft power” media efforts to a commercial entity at all.

The ABC is an obvious and simple solution for achieving our national strategic objectives in the Pacific in keeping with the principles suggested by the Australia Asia Pacific Media Initiative (AAPMI), a not-for-profit coalition of respected industry professionals with close ties throughout the region. AAPMI recommends a much more substantial multi-platform government-funded media presence in the region – one that harnesses partnerships with regional media, and with Australia’s own diaspora talent to ensure Australia is talking “with” and not “to” our neighbours, and bringing that conversation into Australian homes. Options proposed by AAPMI range from $35 million to $70 million per year, which is well under the spend of comparable OECD nations. Just how much the government is prepared to commit remains to be seen.

The great folly in all of this is that if the DFAT allocation to the ABC had not been cut in 2014, Australia would have already expanded rather than contracted its reach, influence and footprint in the Pacific. And there’d still be another couple of years to go on the contract!

With all nations in our region now facing complex geopolitical challenges (potentially as great as at any time since World War II), there’s no time to waste. A significant increase in federal government funding to the ABC to support its comprehensive international service is a national imperative.

This article was first published by

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Our two ministers just passing by in Indonesia – got a mo?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 13/09/2021 - 4:59am in


Asia, Politics

Marise Payne and Peter Dutton’s Jakarta visit was flagged as an ‘exclusive’ in an AFR curtain-raiser implying a renaissance in relations between Australia and Indonesia. That expectation came to naught.

Ahead of the ministers’ arrival, two Centre for Policy Development (CPD) authors on this website and The Jakarta Post offered the passengers some well-meaning though politically unrealistic ideas: “The time is right to invest more into the relationship”. Correct, but as in any successful marriage, the process has to be continuous.

“The stakes are high”. Correct if referring to decaying understandings on either side of the Arafura Sea. But apart from the universal plague and ceaseless South China Sea disputes, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Peter Dutton saw no pressing issues other than the usual STDs – security, trade and defence. Proof came with their reports.

A few legally unenforceable MOUs were updated during the one full-day visit, but nothing substantial apart from Dutton flying a test balloon about RI troops training in Australia. The idea could well pop when human rights supporters take aim. Many are alarmed at the military’s heavy suppression of separatists in West Papua, a province closed to Western journalists.

Whoever dropped the story to the AFR forgot to provide an agenda or add this was a rest-and-refuel while heading to New Delhi, Seoul, Washington and New York for the important stuff. Instead, it gushed claims of a “warm personal relationship” between Payne and her counterpart Retno Marsudi.

If the alleged link between the ladies is commonplace there’d be no need for any rah-rah about their meeting, or for Dutton to claim the bond is “first-rate”.  It’s not, as successive Lowy surveys disclose.

Almost 21 months have passed since the last Australian ministers were in Indonesia. Then it was Payne with Dutton’s predecessor Linda Reynolds, and the location was Bali, not Smog City. Indonesians haven’t taken to Zoom – they need to eyeball and judge close-up.

The promotion masked the embarrassing reality behind the hi-and-goodbye: The Australian government takes the people next door, the country with more Muslims than anywhere else and the world’s third-largest democracy for granted.

That’s not only insulting – particularly to the protocol-obsessed Javanese – it’s also foolish. Whatever goodwill may be in the joint account, history shows it could all be withdrawn with one misjudged action or crass comment.

Melbourne academics Tim Lindsey and Dave McRae have written: “There are no two neighbouring countries anywhere in the world that are more different than Indonesia and Australia. They differ hugely in religion, language, culture, history, geography, race, economics, worldview and population (Indonesia, 270 million, Australia less than 10 per cent of that).

“In fact, Indonesia and Australia have almost nothing in common other than the accident of geographic proximity. This makes their relationship turbulent, volatile and often unpredictable.”

If anyone in Canberra had noted this gritty assessment there’d be so many regular get-togethers we’d know Indonesians almost as well as Americans.

For all the misgivings it would be wrong not to recognise the importance of the Payne and Dutton visit. The AFR ran comments from experts welcoming the ministers’ “overdue” trip and noting a lack of confabs means “Australia risks declining strategic access, influence and relevance”.

The pandemic has been a useful excuse to keep ministers away from the Big Durian, but that hasn’t stopped VIPs visiting the US, Japan, the UK and other countries where Covid threatens as much as it does in the archipelago.

The CPD suggestion that Afghan refugees in Indonesia should be accepted by Australia is morally right – though doomed for base domestic reasons. Australia has banned asylum seekers registered in Indonesia after July 2014 from ever resettling Down Under.

Reversing this ignoble policy would be politically risky; there’ll be an election next year and the 20th anniversary of the Bali bombing to remind voters of extremism in Indonesia.

Indonesia isn’t party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees so leaves its 14,000 unwelcome guests to the UNHCR. Integration of the Afghans would take a leader of courage, but President Joko Widodo is no Angela Merkel. Nor is Scott Morrison.

In 2015 the German president defied doomsayers and pushed her country to keep its borders open. The Republic now leads the European Union in taking applications for asylum seekers.

The idea of Canberra and Jakarta working to tackle the Myanmar coup is also meritorious but looking to next year’s Bali Process meeting for solutions is a mite optimistic. The informal, non-binding forum has a poor record, as the CPD’s CEO Travers McLeod knows well. After hundreds of asylum seekers drowned in 2015, he co-authored a paper on the tragedy focusing on the agency’s ineffectiveness.

What might make the improvements the CPD seeks is to dilute the domestic anxieties which drive foreign policies. Surveys in both countries reveal public ignorance, indifference and distrust as neither bothers to seriously tackle the negative perceptions and superficial media.

ABC Australia, a television service which is supposed to be our showcase in Indonesia and elsewhere, is an under-funded, uncoordinated and embarrassing mishmash of parochialism. Al Jazeera is not threatened.

As widely reported, our universities have just about abandoned teaching Indonesian language and studies. This could be reversed if Payne pushed hard enough.

Sadly these serious concerns were not among her talking points. If her 40-minute online speech reflected the closed-door meetings, it wasn’t worth the hype. The opportunities and urgency seen by others were invisible to the minister.

The senator reminded all of Australia’s help in combating Covid – we gave 1 million doses to a nation of 273 million – but found no time to address the CPD’s submission, substituting an obfuscation of clichés. Playing fields – always level – got guernseys, but refugees were sidelined.

Indonesians wanting a road map to a real relationship will have to seek other ways. Useless waiting 21 months only to get another circular tour.

Australian journalist and author Duncan Graham writes from lockdown in East Java. 

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Bruce Haigh: We have been used again by America, this time in Indonesia.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 13/09/2021 - 4:57am in



Indonesians wonder why we fear China so much, when they don’t?

America, backed by Australian think tanks supporting and supported by the US, has Australia trying to sell stale pizza in Asia.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Peter Dutton were in Jakarta on September 9 touting security co-operation. Dutton justified the pitch on the basis of, “Indonesia and Australia must become anchors of co-operation in the Indo-Pacific region”. He described the region as “increasingly contested” and the Chinese as “coercive and harbouring a zero-sum mentality, aggressive and bellicose”. All of which might have come from an ASPI briefing to whom Prime Minister Scott Morrison is close. It was extraordinary anti-China rhetoric to be dishing up while a guest of the Indonesian Government and no doubt somewhat embarrassing for them. They probably felt the need to apologise along the lines that it the remarks were crude and off the cuff from someone not trained in the arts of diplomacy.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijam, said the remarks were “extremely dangerous and irresponsible”. He said Australia needed to stop hyping up the China threat and seeing China as the enemy Australia will shoot itself in the foot.

After Jakarta, Payne and Dutton will travel to India, South Korea and Washington for the annual AUSMIN talks. China is expected to be a major item on the agenda. Indonesia was aware that Australia came to the meeting wearing its regional US deputy sheriff hat. Indonesia knows how to conduct balanced diplomacy. For years during the Cold War, it played off the US and the Soviet Union, as a non-aligned state. It does not want to get Australia offside but it recognises the growing importance and influence of China in the region and unlike Australia it knows on which side its bread is buttered.

Payne and Dutton met with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Masudi and Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto. Agreements were signed covering counter-terrorism, cyber security and defence. The first two are already covered in other arrangements and nothing of substance was agreed with respect to defence. The two sides agreed that Indonesian troops “may (at some later stage) join Australian troops on training”. Naval co-operation already exists. The visit was a damp squib, no doubt undertaken at the urging of the US.

Co-operation between Indonesia and China is set to grow. It has entered into important Belt and Road initiatives with China, most notably the Global Maritime Fulcrum which aims to build 24 new Indonesian ports and the construction of a high-speed rail between Jakarta and Bandung. The Indonesian Foreign Minister, Masudi and the Minister for State Owned Enterprises, Erik Thohir visited China in August to discuss extending the BRI. Indonesia is aware that Morrison forced Victoria to tear up its BRI.

China has agreed to make Indonesia the hub for distribution of its Covid vaccines in the region. It has entered into a joint venture with Indonesia’s Bio Farma to produce the Sinovac vaccine and has given 160 million doses.

China is Indonesia’s second biggest source of foreign investment after Singapore. China was Indonesia’s biggest export market in 2019 and the largest source of imports. They have signed an agreement to promote the use of their currencies in trade deals, marginalising the US dollar. Indonesia has resisted pressure to increase defence ties with the US. It does not want to be drawn into the US anti-China campaign.

Defence ties with China are strengthening including the purchase of patrol vessels. The Chinese will raise the Indonesian submarine which recently sank in the Java Sea; an undertaking designed to enhance their standing in the Archipelago.

On the same day that Ministers were meeting in Jakarta, former Malaysian Prime Minister, the venerable Mahathir Mohamad, opined that Australia was needlessly risking its security with the stand off with China. He attacked the use of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue as a vehicle to confront China. He called it provocative and aggressive. He said Australia was responsible for the problems it had with China.

Mahathir said Australia was perceived in the region as an extension of the United States. ‘Americans think of Americans first. America is forever trying to help people but when the help is extended it’s not in the interests of the country concerned.’

Malaysia, like Singapore, has a sophisticated relationship with China. It has a major BRI project, the East Coast Rail Link. The Singapore Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, delivered the same message as Mahathir, to Morrison on a Singapore stop over on his way as an observer to the G7 in Cornwall. But it would seem it was in one ear and out the other.

Nothing has been achieved by Dutton and Payne from their visit to Indonesia. Offering stale Pizza was never going to cut the mustard and abusing China was an insult to Indonesia. It would only serve to bring the two closer together. Everyone in the region laughs at the crude barbarians from the south; we unify in the region in their derision.

For absolutely no advantage we have been used by America. Australia has not gone up in the estimation of the Indonesians, rather it has gone down. They fed us hollow words whilst despising our craven US presentation. Their relationship with China is nuanced and sophisticated. They wonder why we cravenly cling to the US, seeing a lack of self-respect and courage. They wonder why we fear China so much, when they don’t?

Bruce Haigh is a retired diplomat and political commentator.

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Payne and Dutton’s high-stakes Indonesia visit must accelerate relationship

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/09/2021 - 4:57am in


Asia, Politics

On Thursday, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Peter Dutton are due to meet their Indonesian counterparts in Jakarta for vital talks. The stakes are high.

No Australian minister has visited Indonesia since the pandemic began, while ministers have visited Jakarta in that time from many other nations.

As an Australian and an Indonesian, we believe our governments should grasp the opportunity of this rare in-person meeting to accelerate a new era in Australian-Indonesian relations. Our two countries signed a significant comprehensive partnership agreement in mid-2020, reflecting the importance of our economic and strategic relationship. The time is right to invest more into the relationship so that the two countries can nurture democracy together, much like former Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa has suggested, and help the region to navigate growing superpower rivalry between the US and China in South-East Asia.

Indonesia will be Australia’s closest and arguably most important bilateral relationship over the next 30 years, by which time Indonesia is projected to be the world’s fourth-largest economy. Indonesia is already a global leader, due to be chair of the G20 next year and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2023.

Here are some priorities we hope the governments will agree in their talks.

First, Indonesia is suffering enormously from COVID-19. As others have argued, Australia should considerably expand its Indonesian COVID-19 Development Response Plan to help Indonesia’s recovery. More broadly, Australia should work closely with Indonesia to build regional resilience on other challenges that loom large over the next 30 years, whether it be decarbonisation, shared prosperity, security or human displacement. All are linked – the less distance between the approaches taken by our countries the better.

We have watched with horror at the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Afghanistan. Of great concern to both Australia and Indonesia should be large-scale displacement of Afghans in the coming weeks and months. Australia’s role in the war in Afghanistan and subsequent Allied occupation elevates the duty Australia owes to those now fearing persecution. The Centre for Policy Development (CPD) has called for Australia to resettle 20,000 Afghan refugees, in addition to its normal humanitarian resettlement intake. Indonesia has many thousands of Afghan refugees. Given the very limited number of Afghan refugees Australia was able to evacuate form Kabul, one way Australia could help its neighbour, and fulfil its pledge to take Afghan refugees, would be to offer resettlement to some of them currently in Indonesia. These refugees have been stuck in limbo and are increasingly desperate.

Australia and Indonesia should also be worried about the possible terrorist resurgence in the region given the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. Indonesian police recently arrested around 50 suspected members of terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, amid reports they are training and recruiting new members in Afghanistan. JI were infamously responsible for Indonesia’s worst terrorist attack in Bali in 2002 that killed 88 Australians and 38 Indonesians. Support for this terrorist attack came from Afghanistan. Indonesia and Australia must work together to root out radicalisation and terrorism in the region, to prevent future terrorist attacks targeting our nations.

Sadly, Afghanistan is not the only crisis in our region forcing huge numbers of people to flee their homes. The continued post-coup crackdown in Myanmar and ongoing persecution of Rohingya are also causing mass displacement. 2020 was the deadliest year on record for refugee journeys in the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal. We hope Australia and Indonesia will agree a coordinated approach to apply more pressure both to the Myanmar junta and ASEAN to implement the agreed 5-point consensus for Myanmar. A political agreement is badly needed in Myanmar to stop the violence – greater advocacy and coordination from Indonesia and Australia can help to achieve that.

Our organisations co-convene the Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration (ADFM) with colleagues in Malaysia and Thailand. We have long warned the combination of events in Myanmar and Afghanistan, the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change risk a dire displacement crisis in the Indo-Pacific. Australia and Indonesia co-chair the main inter-governmental body dealing with forced migration – the Bali Process. We hope, at their meeting this week, the co-chairs will agree an urgent date for a Ministerial meeting of the Bali Process to discuss these crises – the last Ministerial meeting was in 2018. The 20th anniversary of the Bali Process next year is a big opportunity for the co-chairs to propose reforms to make the institution more effective and impactful in the wake of COVID.

Australia and Indonesia will need to have each other’s backs in the decades ahead. Now is the time to strengthen our partnership and work together on the unprecedented challenges facing the region.


( I have not been able to find any mention of this important meeting in mainstream Australian media or at least the four that I read. The above article was published in the Jakarta Post yesterday. We are saturated with US and UK news but scarcely a mention of relations with Indonesia, probably the most important country in the world for our future security. It is another example of the failure of our White Man’s Media.- John Menadue)

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Book Review: How China Escaped Shock Therapy: The Market Reform Debate by Isabella M. Weber

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/09/2021 - 8:54pm in

In How China Escaped Shock Therapy: The Market Reform DebateIsabella M. Weber explores the contestations behind China’s path to economic reform, showing how it committed to ‘experimental gradualism’ rather than the shock therapy of immediate market liberalisation. This meticulous and wide-reaching book sheds light on the history of marketisation reforms in China and the factors that led it to escape shock therapy, writes George Hong Jiang

How China Escaped Shock Therapy: The Market Reform Debate. Isabella M. Weber. Routledge. 2021.

Find this book (affiliate link): amazon-logo

China’s economic growth has been eye-catching. The story mostly began in the early 1980s, as the Chinese government introduced the ‘Reform and Opening Up’ policy to transform the socialist planned economy. China was neither the only nor the earliest state to launch marketisation reform, but it was the most successful among socialist nations. What led to this socialist ‘great divergence’ in which China refused big bang reform while other European socialist nations chose shock therapy and encountered continuous economic chaos and failure? This history deserves intense attention, but few have looked into it as meticulously as Isabella M. Weber. In her wide-reaching How China Escaped Shock Therapy, we find a map which sheds light on how the Chinese government decided on an ‘experimental gradualism’ (146) rather than shock therapy under the influence of Chinese traditional wisdom and contemporary intellectuals.

Part One of the book delves into Chinese classic lessons (mainly Guanzi), previous experience of price control and deregulation in Western countries and the concrete practices of communist cadres that aimed to manage the economy before the Communist Party of China gained national power. Chapter One explains why Chinese leaders refused shock therapy and were able to introduce the dual-track system in the 1980s, which played a fundamental role in China’s marketisation reform.

Shock therapy prescribes that price controls and the planned economy should be terminated through overnight price liberalisation and meteoric privatisation. Although in the short run there could be economic pain, including mass unemployment and inflation, liberal economists propose that this method will eventually lead to economic recovery, activated markets and prosperity. Shock therapy was once the prologue of the ‘Economic Miracle’ in West Germany (60), but its widespread practice in Russia and Eastern Europe resulted in economic disasters. Chinese leaders found it diametrically opposite to what they had inherited from ancient teaching.

Image Credit: Photo by zhang kaiyv on Unsplash

In Guanzi, a political textbook which was written 2000 years ago and preached diverse wisdom about how to conduct ‘politics’, it is taught that administrators should control what is ‘heavy’ (important and essential) for the sake of people’s lives and social stability, and let go of what is ‘light’ (unimportant and peripheral). Guanzi’s original aspiration was to elucidate how to strengthen the capacity for enlarging and wielding resources so that kings could overwhelm rivals in an era of warfare. Therefore, how to achieve ‘prosperity’ and the stable functioning of a society was central to Guanzi. Later, in imperial dynasties, abstract lessons were transformed into concrete practices, such as monopolies on salt and iron, the granary system used to flatten the price of grain, etc.

One important logic outlined in Guanzi is that political stability is prioritised even at the cost of economic freedom. For example, large fluctuations in prices would result in social disorder, which would in turn jeopardise political legitimacy. Wise politicians should try their best to avoid such embarrassing situations. This knowledge has become a kind of instinct guiding how both China’s ancient emperors and contemporary politicians make decisions. It is increasingly acknowledged that present-day China shares much continuity with its past with regards to societal structure and political ideology. The practices of communist cadres in the 1930s and 1940s were in fact influenced by classic wisdom too.

Like Eastern European socialist nations, China also established the Stalinist planned economy in which prices were tightly controlled by the government, and production and distribution were regulated through the commands of planning committees (Chapter Four). By the late 1970s, China had failed to improve people’s living standards or fulfil the promise of a glorious socialism.

After leader Mao Zedong died, politicians started to try possible deregulation and Western-oriented industrialisation. In the early 1980s, attention was drawn to price deregulation which was thought of as the core of marketisation reform. Nonetheless there was little consensus among politicians or economists about how to set the price mechanism free at the outset. Politicians adopted an experimental approach: ‘crossing a river by groping for stones’. The government cautiously and slowly acknowledged the existence of black markets and the small-scale circulation of commodities outside the planning mechanism (175). Markets mushroomed in margins, which became the foundation of the dual-track system.

Through the dual-track system, China gradually introduced price liberalisation. On the one hand, productive units, such as state-owned factories and rural households, had the obligation to fulfil compulsory production subject to the government’s extraction or taxation. On the other hand, after fulfilling compulsory production, those units could utilise their extra capacity to produce more commodities for free circulation in which the price mechanism predominated. Through this process, the price mechanism gradually expanded its scope.

Nevertheless, throughout the entire 1980s, while consensus was reached that reform was necessary, debates continued about which approach, a big bang reform or a gradualist one, would be better. Weber provides a detailed cognitive map in Part Two of those intellectual debates through which we can find clues of why China finally ‘escaped shock therapy’. In the early 1980s, economists from Eastern Europe and the West came to visit and gave lectures in China. But Chinese decision-makers did not take their advice, although some young Chinese intellectuals were proselytised by the package reform that foreign economists proposed.

Later, in 1986 and 1988, China ‘escaped shock therapy’ twice. In 1988, the Chinese government almost practised a wholesale liberalisation, but it led to hyperinflation, unprecedented in the history of the People’s Republic of China, and then social instability. Very soon liberalisation was terminated, and tight control was reintroduced.

Why was a gradualist approach always preferred? In the 1980s those who supported shock therapy were by no means minor or politically weak. The key to the answer to this question might lie in the fact that Chinese decision-makers recognised the possible risky result of a sea change, and they valued social stability above all. Proponents of the planning mechanism, such as Chen Yun, one of the most important ‘engineers’ of the planned economy in the 1950s, never lost their political influence in the 1980s. Surrounding Chen Yun were formed groups of stubborn conservatives who on every frontier opposed liberalisation. They had deep concerns about inflation and social instability which had been a lifelong nightmare for those communist veterans. Several times they succeeded in aborting the plans of those who wanted liberalisation to be faster. Under these circumstances, a compromise was figured out: with the precondition of social stability, a limited price mechanism was allowed to gradually step in. The government must control what was essential for people’s daily life so that social unrest could be avoided. This political logic stems from Chinese classic wisdom through which politicians prioritised social stability and emphasised pragmatic behaviours, as preached in Guanzi. Weber highlights this similarity in her Conclusion.

Thus, contingency and necessity are intertwined here. Debates in the 1980s did not convince Chinese decision-makers of the benefits of shock therapy but exposed the potential risks of such reform. The long-tested political logic also told them to avoid actions which could endanger stability. Out of the gradualist approach grew eventually a market mechanism in the 1990s and 2000s.

Max Weber once made a prediction in 1919: the Chinese would be excellent capitalists, once the obstacles of ethical rules were removed. In hindsight, it could be one of the best predictions ever made in the social sciences. If we speak of economic growth, undoubtedly China’s reform is successful. Behind that was the steerage which sought on the one hand economic prosperity under instructions of liberalist thought, and on the other hand, political stability subconsciously. John Maynard Keynes wrote that ‘practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist’. Weber’s book provides a vivid example of this through her history of Chinese marketisation reforms. To conclude, it was classic wisdom, extant lessons and contemporary debates that helped China to ‘escape shock therapy’.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books. 


China policy takes centre stage as Japan’s ruling party searches for new leader

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/09/2021 - 4:57am in



Elections to select a new leader for Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) could finally see some clarity over Tokyo’s policy towards China.

To date that policy has been muddled. The hawks under former prime minister, Shinzo Abe, are dominant in the party. And while their policy to China seems decided – the creation of a Japan-Taiwan-USA axis to confront Beijing over South China Sea territorial disputes, Hong Kong and Taiwan – they have yet to gain popular support for the policy.

Most Japanese do not want to be dragged into a war with China, it seems.

To date they have also been restrained by the pro-China LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai and the LDP’s coalition party in government, the Buddhist-based and pacifist Komeito.

Beijing makes no secret of its pro-Nikai feelings. But in today’s climate Beijing’s blessing is not quite the plus it used to be. Already the knives are out for Nikai who is required anyway to step down from his powerful party position. And while he has factional backing, it is unlikely the 82-year-old party veteran will want to continue his rather lonely battle with the party hawks.

But the hawks too have their problems. While they have some heavy-weights on their side – former prime minister and party activist Taro Aso to begin with and the very pro-Taiwan defence minister Nobuo Kishi in particular – they find it hard to come up with a firm candidate.

They seem to have settled on an Abe favourite – a very hawkish lady, Sanae Takaichi, who lacks her own faction but has previously served as Internal Affairs minister under Abe. She makes no secret of her nationalistic feelings, being a prominent visitor each year to the home of Japan’s lack of war guilt sentiments, the controversial Yasukuni Shrine.

That makes her a target for Beijing criticism – not the handicap now that it used to be. But on the other hand is a steady dose of nationalistic urgings and anti-Beijing vitriol quite the advantage she needs to overcome a lack of personal dynamism and traditional LDP misogyny?

Yoshihide Suga, the about-to-resign prime minister, will not be missed. His drop in the polls, from a high 70 per cent figure when taking office to around 30 per cent now (the accepted failing grade for anyone who wants to run the nation), is blamed on his dour personality and mishandling of the current COVID-19 crisis. The recent LDP loss in three local elections, including the important Yokohama electorate which Suga claims as his own, has not helped.

And there is no doubt Japan flubbed badly in its immediate response to the pandemic, with frequent policy changes and vaccination delays. It began with a henny-penny approach which said disaster is upon us and only doctors and trained health givers could give the jabs needed for safety. Now lagging behind most other advanced nations (a claimed 47 per cent vaccination rate) it accepts walk-in injections.

But Suga can also blame the television box for his troubles. For years he was a familiar face, appearing regularly as chief cabinet secretary reporting on the nation’s day-to-day policy decisions. When Abe suddenly resigned as prime minister in August 2020 claiming health problems (though some past scandals were also closing in on him at the time) Suga was a fairly easy choice as a fill-in candidate.

But he never had the policy instincts or backing to serve as national leader. His fall from grace was ordained from the start.

Meanwhile LDP moderates outside the Abe-Aso camp seem to be gravitating to current vaccination rolllout minister, the 58-year-old Taro Kono, as preferred candidate. Thanks to school and university study in the US he speaks good English – an international reputation is something Japan’s leaders usually lack. He also enjoys popularity at home, and is known for having donated part of his liver to rescue his father, the dovish and former leading LDP politician Yohei Kono.

His main declared opponent, the rather colourless Fumio Kishida, has foreign policy and pro-US credentials, but seems unlikely to pose a threat.

The prospects for that perennial seeker of LDP leadership, the 64-year-old Shigeru Ishiba, could improve now that he reportedly seeks support from the Nikai-controlled grouping in the party. He also enjoys support at the LDP grass-roots level for his criticisms of the LDP hierarchies.

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