Agencies dealing with the employment of foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong have rejected calls for flights from the Philippines to be banned, and said workers should be vaccinated against Covid-19 before entering the city.A debate over stopping flights has intensified after the number of confirmed coronavirus cases involving people arriving from the country grew over the past couple of weeks. Among the 56 imported infections recorded between last Thursday and Tuesday this week, 18 were from…
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Australia’s foreign interference laws will be tested in the High Court in Canberra today, when former Labor adviser John Zhang challenges the validity of warrants used to seize his passport, phones and computers.
Police are investigating whether former Labor adviser John Zhang was involved in an alleged foreign interference plot
Cash, phones, hard drives and other items were seized in searches Mr Zhang claims were not lawful
His case will be heard today in the High Court, in a test of the government’s foreign interference laws
Mr Zhang has not been charged with anything.
But Australian Federal Police (AFP) seized material from him during an investigation into an alleged Chinese plot to infiltrate the New South Wales Parliament through the office of Labor backbencher Shaoquett Moselmane.
Mr Zhang used to be an adviser to Mr Moselmane.
The AFP said it is investigating whether Mr Zhang and his accomplices used a chat group on the Chinese social media platform WeChat to encourage Mr Moselmane to support Chinese government interests, while concealing or failing to disclose to him they were collaborating with the Chinese state.
Mr Zhang has categorically denied the claim.
Submissions from his lawyers say the warrants were invalid on several fronts.
“In respect of the stated offence under [the law] the warrants did not identify the target with precision,” the submission reads.
Mr Zhang’s lawyers submitted that the foreign principal is identified only by implication as the Chinese government, the ministry of state security and the United Front Work Department.
Mr Zhang will also argue the laws interfere with the implied constitutional right to freedom of political communication.
But the government submissions say, even if that is the case, the laws are still valid.
“The purpose of the provisions — protecting Australia’s sovereignty by reducing the risk of foreign interference in Australia’s political or governmental processes — is not only legitimate, but serves to preserve and enhance the system of representative and responsible government,” the government’s submission reads.
“The provisions are reasonably appropriate and adapted to that significant purpose.”
Zhang seeks return or destruction of seized items
Another key battleground will be over what happens to the items and materials seized under the warrants.
Mr Zhang wants them returned or destroyed.
The phones, passport, hard drives and other personal items were collected by police during three searches, including at the NSW Parliament.
Government lawyers will argue that even if the warrants weren’t valid, police should get to keep the material, citing the recent judgement in the case of former News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst, where police were allowed to keep the material they gathered, even though the warrants were overturned.
In that case, the judges said:
“… It has long been accepted that the courts will refuse to exercise their discretion to grant equitable relief when to do so would prevent the disclosure of criminality which [would] be in the public interest to reveal.”
Mr Zhang’s case escalated tensions between Australia and China, with three Chinese journalists who were part of the WeChat group known as FD (Fair Dinkum) leaving in June last year shortly after being questioned by ASIO.
Another two scholars had their visas cancelled.
The diplomatic crisis also saw the ABC’s Bill Birtles and the Australian Financial Review’s Michael Smith evacuated from China.
The High Court hearing is expected to run for a day.
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Hezbollah is part of Lebanese society, and some of the group’s members are elected to Parliament, but easing polarization does not mean unity at all costs, ignoring injustices and crimes. This is why, amid talk of unity and coexistence with Trump voters, those who rioted on January 6 are facing charges and will stand trial, and Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, an ardent Trump supporter who has voiced backing for violence against Democrats, was stripped of her committee assignments and may even face expulsion from Congress.
In dealing with heads of states or regimes in the anti-American camp, the Democrats’ approach can also be concerning. In 2007, Pelosi traveled to Damascus to meet with Assad, who had been subjected to sanctions and ostracized by the Bush administration for his regime’s alleged role in Hariri’s assassination. Syrian troops still occupied Lebanon at the time of the killing and were guilty of egregious abuses. Syria itself remained a dictatorship. But Pelosi dismissed George W. Bush’s criticism of her trip and, alongside her Democratic colleagues, insisted that increasing dialogue with Syria on issues such as Hezbollah, the insurgency in Iraq, and peace with Israel was a way to improve stability in the region.
Engagement is necessary in diplomacy, but engagement without pressure or concessions undermines the foundation of stability. Pursuing stability without justice achieves neither—the 10-year civil war in Syria is a devastating testament to that.
Conversely, in the aftermath of the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, Pelosi was adamant that accountability must be sought. “If we decide commercial interests override the statements we make and the actions we take,” she said, “then we must admit we have lost all moral authority.” Both Republicans and Democrats pushed the Trump administration to hold Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accountable, standards that Pelosi did not apply to Assad.
Washington’s allies and partners should be held to higher standards than autocrats the U.S. doesn’t support, but accountability must apply to both. The Biden administration has now released a declassified report on the Khashoggi murder and imposed sanctions and a travel ban on Saudi officials. Although the report named the crown prince, no sanctions were imposed on him—the need for stability prevailed. Riyadh remains an important partner in the Middle East and the Biden administration needs to keep the Saudis close as it engages Iran. But if full accountability is not attainable, can injustices ever be redeemed?
American values and American interests will never fully align, and the U.S. will always be accused of hypocrisy as it upholds human rights. But after the events of January 6, Americans must, more than ever, understand that unearned forgiveness and a lack of accountability can perpetuate the rot in the system, erode norms, and undermine long-term stability and governance, at home and abroad.
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has arrived in Brussels for his first in-person talks with NATO allies on Tuesday after four years of tension under former President Donald Trump.
The State Department said Blinken would focus on concerns over Afghanistan, China, Iran and Russia, climate change, cybersecurity, terrorism and energy security.
“The meetings in Brussels reaffirm the United States’ commitment to our allies and European partners on our shared agenda,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
Blinken’s trip is centred on the annual spring meeting of NATO foreign ministers but will also include talks with top EU and Belgian officials.
The Biden administration has placed great emphasis on repairing relations with European allies, strained by Trump’s demands ranging from increasing defence spending to trade rows.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday said “all options remain open” on Afghanistan, as Europe waits for Washington to decide on a looming withdrawal deadline.
Trump struck a deal with the Taliban to withdraw troops by May 1.
Current US President Joe Biden is reviewing the agreement. He said last week it would be “tough” for Washington to meet that deadline.
The comment angered the Taliban, who warned that the US would be “responsible for the consequences.”
NATO allies have said they are willing to stay in Afghanistan longer, if Washington decides to remain as well.
NATO has been in Afghanistan for almost 20 years but has reduced its presence from 130,000 troops to 9,600, including 2,500 Americans, responsible for training Afghan forces.
Russia and China
How to move forward with Russia and China relations will also be high on the meeting’s agenda.
“NATO has done a good job with its forces in eastern Europe, blocking the Russian conventional threat,” Jamie Shea, a former NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary-General, told Euronews.
“But the key issue is what do we do about Russia’s below the radar screen activities, election interference, cyber attacks?” The US is talking about a retaliatory cyberattack against Russia,” Shea went on.
China is a “big issue” for NATO, Shea said. “And I think it’s going to take a bit more time. Does NATO go to Asia or does it basically deal with the Chinese challenge within Europe, particularly, for example, 5G networks and investments?”
‘No concrete decisions’ expected yet
Shea told Euronews that “no concrete decisions” were expected at Tuesday’s meeting, considering the Biden administration was still “carrying out a lot of foreign policy reviews”.
Talks intend to lay the ground for Joe Biden’s first NATO summit, which may take place in June if the coronavirus situation permits.
“I think it’s the NATO summit later this year, particularly in launching a new NATO strategic concept, which will decide about the Alliance’s future,” Shea said.
“But it’s important to get the discussion on these very tricky topics underway and give NATO adequate time to come up with really sound policies.”
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A BBC journalist held in Myanmar has been freed, the broadcaster said on Monday, as demonstrators took to the streets for fresh anti-coup protests against the military.
Myanmar’s junta has unleashed deadly violence on protesters who have risen against the military’s ousting of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi last month.
More than 2,600 people have been arrested and 250 killed, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a local monitoring group that has warned fatalities could be even higher.
Aung Thura, a journalist with the BBC’s Burmese service, was detained by men in plain clothes while reporting outside a court in the capital Naypyidaw on Friday.
The broadcaster confirmed on Monday in a news story on its website that he had been freed but gave no further details.
What did BBC journalist Aung Thura do to deserve to get arrested? Nothing, other than report on the Myanmar junta’s crackdown. But instead of silencing, the junta has turned his arrest into an illustration of its repression. https://t.co/uCgKeWzW4spic.twitter.com/7Gr8rZmuOv
Scores of people, including teachers, marched on Monday through the pre-dawn streets of Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city, some carrying placards calling for UN intervention in the crisis.
Mandalay has seen some of the worst violence of the crackdown and recorded eight more deaths on Sunday, a medical source told AFP, adding that as many as 50 people were injured.
Machine guns rang out late into the night across the city of 1.7 million.
“People were really scared and felt insecure the whole night,” a doctor told AFP by phone.
To protest the brutality of the crackdown, a group of doctors in Mandalay staged a “placard only” demonstration by lining up signs in the street, Voice of Myanmar reported.
A group of monks staged a similar “monkless” protest.
There were also early morning protests in parts of Yangon, the commercial capital and largest city, where drivers honked their horns in support of the anti-coup movement.
Residents in Yangon’s Hlaing township released hundreds of red helium balloons with posters calling for a UN intervention to stop atrocities, according to local media.
One man was also killed during daytime clashes with security forces in the central city of Monywa Sunday and hundreds turned out to protest a day later, local media reported.
Protests against the coup continue in cities and town across the country, including Mandalay and Yangon.
International concern has been growing over the junta’s brutal approach as the death toll climbs, with a senior UN expert warning the military is likely committing “crimes against humanity”.
But so far the generals have shown little sign of heeding calls for restraint as they struggle to quell the unrest.
In a fresh bid to step up pressure, the European Union is expected on Monday to hit 11 junta cadres with sanctions — in the form of travel bans and asset freezes.
The United States and Britain have already taken similar steps.
Myanmar’s regional neighbours have also weighed in, with Indonesia and Malaysia calling for an emergency summit of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations to discuss the crisis.
Following the call, Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan embarked on a whistle-stop diplomatic tour including meetings in Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia.
On the commercial front, French energy giant EDF announced that a $US1.5 billion ($A1.9 billion) hydropower dam project in Myanmar had been suspended in response to the coup.
Australia and Canada have confirmed they are providing consular assistance to two business consultants detained in Myanmar.
It is understood that Matthew O’Kane and Christa Avery, a dual Canadian-Australian citizen, are under house arrest after trying to leave the country on a relief flight Friday.
The couple run a consultancy business in Yangon.
The Canadian and Australian foreign ministries have refused to comment further on the case.
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Sally Sara is one of the ABC’s most distinguished journalists and currently the host of radio current affairs program The World Today.
The multi-award-winning journalist has reported from more than 40 countries, including some of the world’s most dangerous hotspots, and was the first female correspondent to be appointed to the ABC’s Johannesburg, New Delhi and Kabul bureaus.
But covering conflict and people’s suffering took a toll.
Sara sought professional counselling after returning from war-torn Afghanistan and now she’s written a semi-autobiographical play, Stop Girl, exploring the challenges faced by foreign correspondents adjusting to normal life at home.
How did your play Stop Girl come about?
I’ve had a love of theatre, since I was a kid.
Growing up in rural South Australia, going to the theatre was a 350-kilometre round trip.
It was a big deal, very exciting.
I was always captivated by the magic moment when the lights go down just before the start of a show, that moment is so full of possibility.
I’ve always wanted to write the story that comes next, I’ve always wanted to fill that space.
I did some radio and TV scriptwriting subjects at university, along with some drama.
I was very interested in becoming a scriptwriter, but I was also desperate to see the world.
So, I was drawn to journalism.
But I always thought that when the time was right, and I knew I had a story to tell, I would write.
It felt like the only way to tell the story.
It has taken five-and-a-half years to get the play to the stage.
I spent the first year trying to teach myself how to write plays.
I was unable to do a formal playwriting course, because I was travelling overseas frequently for the ABC.
So I read, watched and listened to everything I could get my hands on.
I also contacted several playwrights, who were kind enough to answer my questions.
I wrote the first draft at the end of 2016 and sent it to nine different theatre companies.
Some were interested, some weren’t.
Some answered my emails, some didn’t.
The play was selected for development by Playwriting Australia (PWA) at the end of 2017.
PWA teamed with up with playwright and actor Kate Mulvany, who provided feedback and encouragement as I continued to re-draft the script.
What impact did reporting in Afghanistan have on you?
I always found sad stories much more difficult than scary stories.
The scary stories seem to happen so quickly, but the sad stories have stayed with me for a long time.
Any stories involving children being injured or killed were the hardest of all.
How did you deal with the emotional impact?
I did my best as a correspondent to look after myself, talk to my friends and family and download any distressing experiences with counsellors.
I dealt fairly well while I was in the field, but it hit me later when I got home.
The assignments I did as a solo video-journalist seemed to have a much bigger emotional impact later on.
Being alone on the road can make stories much more difficult.
The assignments where I was working with a camera operator were easier to deal with because there was a chance to talk about what we’d witnessed.
How did the process of writing a play compare to journalism?
Being a journalist has certainly helped me write the play.
I interviewed all the real life people who inspired the characters — that gave a me a foundation for the script.
All of that has been invaluable in writing the play. The big difference as a playwright is that I can change the dialogue.
Some of the story structure discussions we’ve had with the play feel very similar to script meetings at Foreign Correspondent.
It’s all about being able to shift blocks of the story to where they need to go.
As a journo, I’m also used to meeting deadlines.
I can organise my time and do the best I can in the time available.
The play has been an absolute lifeline. It’s given me a new focus, a big challenge.
It takes a lot of thinking time to solve problems in the script, so it means I’m not ruminating about other things.
Only a handful of family and friends knew I was writing it, I did it quietly, in case it didn’t happen.
It was just something lovely to have in my mind and my life.
One of the other joys of the play, is the humour.
Given the nature of my journalism job, I’m not often able to use much humour in public.
But parts of the play are great fun.
It’s such a relief to be free with the dialogue and let the characters really talk. I’ve loved that.
The way journalists speak on-camera and off-camera are very different.
Has it been a cathartic experience?
The rehearsal process is quite demanding.
I don’t think it would be possible to come into that process with a lot of unfinished emotional business.
It would be too difficult.
I have worked really hard with a psychologist, to resolve any ongoing issues.
That has given me the stability and insight to be able to push forward with the play.
But I think it’s important to speak up and tell the story.
Many of my colleagues have also been affected by what they have witnessed.
I hope the play can give a voice to the unspoken side of journalism, the cost of what we do.
Belvoir St Theatre Company has been so respectful, supportive and committed to the play.
Every promise they have made, they have kept.
It is a dream come true to bring the story to the stage.
It’s really hard to break into theatre from the outside.
I’ve spent years going to every play I can.
I observe very carefully and take it all in. I love it.
I read and listen and watch everything I can get my hands on.
There is huge competition to get a play on stage, so many writers are working hard and taking risks. I don’t take it for granted.
I’ve given it everything I have.
I’m nervous as we move closer to opening night.
It’s all such an unknown experience for me.
As the writer, I hope I’ve written it well.
As the person who has lived some of the experiences of the story, I hope I can handle it.
Stop Girl is being performed at the Belvoir St Theatre in Sydney from March 20 to April 25
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Colombo, March 20: Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has indicated that her country will support Sri Lanka in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) where it is going to face a hostile resolution on its human rights record, next week.
According to Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Adm.Prof. Jayanath Colombage, Shiekh Hasina told the visiting Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa: “ Bangladesh will always be with Sri Lanka. It will continue, I assure you.”
Hasina then went on to say that Bangladesh “will never take the side of terrorists and will always be with the victims of terror.”
Touching upon the need to think of the region rather than confine oneself to narrow national interests, Hasina said: “Do not think about your own country. Think of the region.”
Commenting on it, Adm.Prof. Colombage said: “These are powerful words from an Asian leader. We Sri Lankans are very happy.”
Sources in Dhaka said that India is also likely to support Sri Lanka in the UNHRC. Earlier, Lankan Foreign Secretary Colombage had said that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had told the Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in a phone conversation: “India will not do any injustice to Sri Lanka.”
This is interpreted by some in Colombo as a sign support, though India is still to reveal its definitive stand. However, the general expectation has been that India will abstain.
Sources said that given the near-certainty of the resolution being carried, it does not matter if India supports or opposes Sri Lanka and that abstention may be a safe way out of a sticky situation.
Earlier, India had mildly criticized Sri Lanka in the UNHRC. Its envoy Indra Mani Pandey had said that India is committed to the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka as well as ensuring justice to the Tamils and that it would not do to fulfil one to the exclusion of the other. He said that the Tamil question can be solved through devolution of power to the provinces as per the 13 th.Amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution (which stemmed from the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987) and sought its implementation. Since Sri Lanka was believed to be toying with the idea of doing away with the 13A, the speculation was that India would remain neutral by abstaining from voting in the UNHRC.
The Bangladeshi envoy had chosen not to speak, giving the impression that Dhaka might follow New Delhi and abstain.
The Joint Communique issued at the end of the visit of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to Bangladesh on Saturday, speaks mainly of economic cooperation and the need to implement MoUs expeditiously. But it also says that Prime Minister Rajapaksa sought Bangladesh’s support in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) where Sri Lanka is to face a hostile resolution next week.
Prime Minister Rajapaksa thanked Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the Government of Bangladesh for their steadfast support in combating terrorism in Sri Lanka, and in this context, for extending support to Sri Lanka at international fora, including the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and other United Nations bodies and international organizations.
Rajapaksa expressed the hope that Bangladesh will continue to stand in solidarity with Sri Lanka at the ongoing 46th Session of the UNHRC in Geneva, the Joint Communique said.
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TOKYO — Defense and foreign ministers from the United States and Japan are meeting Tuesday to discuss their shared worry over China’s growing territorial ambitions in the East and South China seas as the Biden administration tries to reassure key regional allies.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken held separate talks with their Japanese counterparts, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, ahead of their so-called “two plus two” security talks on Tuesday. The U.S. ministers arrived in Tokyo late Monday.
President Joe Biden’s decision to send key ministers to Japan as their first overseas visit — rather than hosting Japanese officials in Washington — means a lot for Japan, which considers its alliance with the United States the cornerstone of its diplomatic and security policies.
Blinken, in his opening remarks, said “it is no accident that we chose Japan for the first Cabinet level overseas travel” of the Biden administration, and that he and Austin are “here to reaffirm our commitment to the alliance and to build on it.”
He said the United States and its allies are working on together on climate change, cyber security and health security “in support of our shared values.”
“We believe in democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” but they are under threat in the region, “whether it’s Burma or China,” Blinken said. He said the United States will work with its allies to help achieve “a shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
Motegi said he hoped to discuss China’s growing activity in the East and South China seas and how the allies can bolster their deterrence and response capability in reply.
Japan is in a delicate diplomatic situation because its economy, like those of other countries in the region, heavily depends on China.
But Tokyo considers China’s escalating maritime activity in the region a security threat. Beijing has built militarized manmade islands in the South China Sea and is pressing its claim to virtually all of the sea’s key fisheries and waterways. Japan is concerned about China’s claim to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, called Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea and its increased activity in the disputed area.
China has denied it is expansionist and said it is only defending its territorial rights.
On the Biden administration’s first Cabinet-level trip abroad, Blinken and Austin were expected to discuss the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, as well as the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and the situation in Myanmar after its military coup.
Blinken also said that the United States and Japan are expected to reaffirm the importance of their three-way partnership with South Korea and may touch on the strained relations between Tokyo and Seoul over wartime compensation issues.
Later Tuesday, the officials will talk with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is expected to visit Washington sometime in the first half of April to meet with Biden in person — becoming the first foreign leader to do so since Biden became president in January.
In a move meant to signal his intention for the United States to more strongly engage with the Asia-Pacific region, Biden on Friday held a first virtual summit of the leaders from Australia, Japan, India and the United States known as the “Quad” and emphasized Washington’s commitment to the region.
Blinken and Austin on Wednesday will head to South Korea, another key regional ally. North Korea and its nuclear ambitions will be a focus of those talks.
Blinken will meet senior Chinese officials in Anchorage, Alaska, on their way back to Washington. Austin will go from Seoul to New Delhi for meetings with Indian leaders.
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On his first phone call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping after taking office, U.S. President Joe Biden stressed that “preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific” was one of his top priorities. He made a similar point to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, promising to “promote a free and open Indo-Pacific,” and to South Korean leader Moon Jae-in, calling the U.S.–South Korean alliance a “lynchpin of the security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific.” On a call between Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, both leaders affirmed the importance of the U.S.-Japanese alliance as a “cornerstone of peace and prosperity in a free and open Indo-Pacific,” according to a White House readout of the conversation.
Only a decade ago, the phrase “Indo-Pacific” would have left most foreign policy experts scratching their heads. Today, it is not just stock language in Washington but a widely accepted reconceptualization of Asia that is rearranging U.S. foreign policy. In the early days of his administration, Biden appointed Kurt Campbell—one ofthe architects of President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia—as his “Indo-Pacific Coordinator,” a newly created position on the National Security Council. Soon after, Admiral Phil Davidson—head of what just a few years ago was the Pacific Command but is now the Indo-Pacific Command—announced that the Pentagon was shifting away from its historic focus on Northeast Asia and Guam toward “revising our Indo-Pacific force laydown . . . to account for China’s rapid modernization.” And ahead of Biden’s meeting this week with the leaders of the Quad—a loose coalition among Australia, India, Japan, and the United States that seeks to counter China—White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the president’s decision to make the summit one of his earliest multilateral engagements “speaks to the importance we’ve placed on close cooperation with our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific.”
The Indo-Pacific’s evolution from unfamiliar term to foreign policy cliché is not the product of rigorous policy debates or careful consideration. Rather, Washington’s national security establishment has unthinkingly internalized a Trump-era turn of phrase that is rife with unrealistic expectations and unvetted assumptions. The goal of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” may sound noble, but pursuing it will lead the United States astray.
The concept of an Indo-Pacific expands what is meant by Asia to include the Indian Ocean region, an area of debatable interest to the United States that many now see as vital for countering China. Widening the regional aperture in this manner encourages military overstretch by positioning the United States for commitments that will be difficult to defend and distracts policymaker attention from other parts of Asia, where decades of hard-won peace hinge much more directly on American words and deeds. East Asia and the Pacific are not just subsets of a greater Indo-Pacific—they are the core geography of U.S. power and influence in Asia. Forsaking them for the latest geopolitical buzzword is an epic blunder in the making.
ORIGINS OF THE INDO-PACIFIC
The modern concept of the Indo-Pacific dates back to 2007, when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe observed in a speech in India that “the Pacific and the Indian Oceans are now bringing about a dynamic coupling as seas of freedom and of prosperity. A ‘broader Asia’ that broke away geographical boundaries is now beginning to take on a distinct form.” After the speech, the Indo-Pacific became a recurring referent in Japanese, Indian, and eventually Australian foreign policy circles. The Indian Ocean had always mattered to these countries; Australia and India front it, and since the dawn of the twenty-first century, Japanese strategists had quietly promoted the idea of partnering with India there in order to dilute China’s strength in East Asia. Reframing Asia as the Indo-Pacific served the interests of all three of these nations.
The Pentagon’s competition-obsessed Office of Net Assessment started pushing the idea of expanding American influence in the Indian Ocean as part of a broader reorientation of U.S. statecraft toward Asia as early as 2002. References to the Indo-Pacific then began to proliferate during Barack Obama’s presidency, as defense strategists in particular started thinking of the Indian Ocean region as a place to balance a rising China at relatively low cost. But the broader idea of an Indo-Pacific really became lodged in the imagination of U.S. policymakers only after the publication in 2010 of Robert Kaplan’s geopolitical travelogue Monsoon, which popularized the idea that the Indian Ocean would take center stage in the twenty-first-century strategy games of great powers.
Kaplan’s prophecy was self-fulfilling—only after the book became a bestseller did the Indo-Pacific become a Washington obsession—but he did not pull it from thin air. Kaplan identified real patterns crisscrossing the Pacific and Indian Oceans: energy corridors, shipping containers filled with Gucci bags and iPhones, migration, terrorism, and subdued Sino-Indian competition for influence among smaller states that long predated the current all-consuming rivalry between China and the United States. The Indo-Pacific, in other words, was a thing, and it merited attention.
Indo-Pacific and the Indian Ocean region became shibboleths during the Trump era, ways for insiders to identify who among them was working in service of a larger project of zero-sum competition with China.
But the idea quickly leapt from novelty to cliché, ultimately stifling rather than improving debates about Asia policy. In Washington, the Indo-Pacific, as a substitution for Asia, came to matter only as a balancing game against China: it and the Indian Ocean region became shibboleths during the Trump era, ways for insiders to identify who among them was working in service of a larger project of zero-sum competition with China. By 2019, using the term “Asia” rather than “Indo-Pacific” suggested either that one wasn’t in the know or that one wasn’t sufficiently committed to kneecapping Xi.
The Trump administration endorsed this more expansive way of talking about Asia because it symbolized and facilitated an additional front of pressure against Beijing. Enamored with the search for new ways to cause problems for China in the Indian Ocean region, Trump officials believed they could draw Beijing’s attention and resources away from other areas of competition. So far, the Biden administration appears to have imported this thinking wholesale. Unfortunately, neither administration gave much thought to the implications and risks of expanding the field of play in this “great game” with China.
ERASING THE ASIAN PEACE
Analytically, the biggest problem with an aggregate Indo-Pacific is that it subsumes an East Asia in which no wars have erupted since 1979. This “Asian peace” is the product of a number of factors, including U.S. forward military presence and alliances, Sino-U.S. détente, economic interdependence, regional norms and multilateral architecture, and the spread of democracy in some quarters. Peace and its causes in East Asia and the Pacific should be the focal points of U.S. policy toward the region, particularly as most of these historical sources of stability have eroded in recent years. What could be more important than preventing war in the world’s wealthiest, most militarized, and most populous region?
By grouping South Asia with East Asia, though, the Indo-Pacific obscures the Asian peace. India and Pakistan have come into conflict repeatedly over the last half century, indicating that the politics of South Asia are out of step with those of East Asia.They are different games. Washington risks losing that insight—and the ability to calibrate policies accordingly—when it views everything through the lens of a single mega-region with a single, albeit implied, mega-purpose. U.S. statecraft cannot address what it cannot see, and the Indo-Pacific formulation turns the Asian peace into a dangerous blind spot.
But a neglected Asian peace is not the only risk Washington runs with its expanded conceptualization of Asia. The United States risks overextending its power in the Indian Ocean region. Washington enjoys many advantages and retains many interests in East Asia and the Pacific: these regions contain five U.S. treaty allies, not to mention Hawaii, where the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is headquartered, and the U.S. territory of Guam. Through the Compact of Free Association, the United States maintains exclusive control over the security of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau in exchange for basing and port access. These alliances and commitments, underpinned by more than 80,000 U.S. troops and dozens of military installations in East Asia alone, give the United States considerable influence in East Asia and the Pacific. But the United States has no comparable alliances, responsibilities, or interests in the Indian Ocean region.
The United States faces a credibility problem in the Indian Ocean region, should it wish to fight a war or engage in coercive diplomacy there.
The United States therefore faces a credibility problem in the Indian Ocean region, should it wish to fight a war or engage in coercive diplomacy there. Without allies or territories in the region, and with scarcer access to bases and ports than in other parts of Asia, U.S. forces would find it harder and riskier to project military power in the Indian Ocean than pretty much anywhere other than the Taiwan Strait. As a result, U.S. threats and commitments in the Indian Ocean region do not carry as much weight as they do elsewhere.
The Pentagon usually expects to overcome disadvantages such as these with more weapons and more funding, rather than with better strategy. But the United States’ thin military presence in the Indian Ocean region is not a gap that needs filling. It is proportional to U.S. interests in the region compared with those in other parts of Asia. Expanding the navy’s presence in the Indian Ocean could make sense if the United States needed to be prepared for the sudden outbreak of war there. But China’s main conflict is on land in the Himalayas—against India, a dispute that does not concern U.S. interests. And China will not remain passive as it perceives the U.S. military further encircling it. The surest path to preventing war in the Indian Ocean is restraint, not more troops in defense of a nonexistent redline. Greater militarization of this part of the world benefits nobody and costs the American taxpayer all the while.
There is also the risk that by trying to cleverly distract and disadvantage China in the Indian Ocean, the United States will distract and disadvantage itself. If the Biden administration had inherited healthy alliances and an uncontested regional order in Asia, perhaps it could have made the case for going even farther abroad in search of new places to stabilize. But the past four years have caused many U.S. allies to question Washington’s reliability, and the list of pressing regional issues has only gotten longer—from intensifying Chinese pressure on Taiwan to North Korea’s runaway nuclear capabilities. Recent polling also indicates that most Southeast Asian nations do not care about great-power competition nearly as much as they do about climate change, economic inequality, and societal recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic—the inverse of U.S. foreign policy priorities of late. Biden, in other words, has plenty of repair work to do in East Asia and the Pacific before he should worry about expanding the United States’ sphere of interest.
BALANCING ON THE CHEAP
None of the above is an argument for neglecting the Indian Ocean. But given the region’s relative unimportance to the United States, and Washington’s comparative advantages elsewhere, only low-cost and low-risk initiatives make sense there. The Quad arguably qualifies as such an initiative, as long as expectations are kept in line with reality. The same is true of the United States’ decision to furnish India with intelligence during its recent skirmish with China in the Himalayas—a sensible move, assuming U.S. officials had reason to believe that better information was going to discourage violence. The United States is also right to welcome Canadian, French, and British involvement in the region, since it costs Washington nothing and has the potential to amplify Washington’s voice while moderating its overzealous competitive impulse through democratic multilateralism.
What these initiatives have in common is not just that they constitute a kind of balancing on the cheap but that they encourage other countries to assume greater responsibility for regional security. The United States should be looking for ways to contribute in the Indian Ocean that offer complementarity without commitment—not ways to command the commons, lead the “free world,” or carry the burden for frontline states whose fates are more directly affected by the shape of Indian Ocean politics. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said that “every element of what we do in our foreign policy and national security ultimately has to be measured by the impact it has on working families.” Further militarizing the Indian Ocean and distracting from Asia does not meet that standard.
The Indo-Pacific is, at times, a valid analytic construct. Some things do traverse the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and the Indian Ocean is of geographic importance to U.S. allies such as Japan and Australia. But an ally’s geography is not the United States’ geography. Washington must not allow hubris, fear, or groupthink to distort its perception of threats, interests, and capabilities. What one calls a thing might be trivial, but how one imagines a thing can carry great importance. In the case of the Indo-Pacific, an imagined sphere of U.S. interest that puts the Indian Ocean on a par with East Asia could lead to disaster.
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The Morrison government has renewed its concerns with China over delays clearing dozens of ships carrying Australian coal, amid wider uncertainty over import quotas that will apply this year.
About 40 ships carrying coal of Australian origin were still awaiting clearance at Chinese ports as of 8 March – fewer than the more than 60 ships that were waiting in November – amid the protracted standoff.
Most of the coal is believed to be metallurgical, the kind used in steelmaking.
It comes as changes to China’s environmental laws threaten sales of iron ore, which have continued at record pace despite the trade dispute.
Analysis of UN trade figures by Guardian Australia shows the immense rise in exports to China, driven mostly by the iron ore boom but also fuelled by a growing desire for goods such as wine and travel by the country’s increasingly large middle class.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the government remained “concerned about delays affecting vessels carrying coal, including from Australia”.
“We have raised our concerns with Chinese authorities on multiple occasions and continue to do so,” a Dfat spokesperson told Guardian Australia.
“We continue to monitor the situation closely.”
Labor’s trade spokesperson, Madeleine King, said her primary concern was “for the seafarers who are stuck off the coast with no clear plan for how they are able to unload their cargoes and get about their lives and potentially get home”.
She also called on the Australian government to step up efforts to diversify trade links, while noting China would continue to be an important economic partner because “there is no alternative market of the magnitude of the Chinese market”.
Guardian Australia understands the Australian government most recently raised concerns about barriers to coal exports on 2 March, which followed concerns about the vessels and the impact on crew welfare on 8 February.
Guardian Australia understands Canberra is yet to receive any official information about coal import quotas that China will apply to Australian coal in 2021.
Meanwhile, some of the coal that had been awaiting clearance has since been on-sold to Vietnam and India.
The Dfat spokesperson said the current impasse involved private commercial arrangements and that Australia urged all parties to reach a resolution as soon as possible.
“A quick resolution will allow vessels to unload in a timely manner to satisfy Chinese buyers and consumer needs and ensure the wellbeing of crew aboard these vessels,” the spokesperson said.
While China can buy coal elsewhere, it is heavily dependent on ore from Australia because it is one of the world’s biggest producers and closer and therefore cheaper to ship from than iron from other producing countries in Africa and South America.
Australia has also economically benefited from the collapse in 2019 of a dam at Brumadinho in Brazil, which killed 270 people. The mine’s operator, Vale, has been unable to restore production to previous levels.
This, together with surging demand from China’s construction industry, which is going through a post-Covid building boom, has created a shortage of iron ore in China, driving the price to as much as US$175 a tonne.
However, in a note to clients this week Marius van Straaten, a mining analyst at investment bank Morgan Stanley, said new emissions controls on steel mills could cut production by as much as 2.3% this year.
This could result in a “balanced or even over-supplied market on a full-year basis”, putting “significant downward pressure on the 62% Fe benchmark price”, he said.
Relations between China and Australia have been deteriorating for the past few years, with Beijing objecting to Canberra’s increasingly tight foreign investment rules, its ban on Chinese telco Huawei in the 5G network, and new foreign interference laws.
But the relationship sank to new lows last year after Beijing felt it was the target of Canberra’s early public calls for an independent investigation into the origins and handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Chinese authorities subsequently rolled out actions targeting a range of Australian export sectors including coal, barley and wine.
Beijing has also taken umbrage at the Australian government’s statements criticising the crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong and the repression of the Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang – with China describing such comments as meddling in its “internal affairs”.
In a sign of the ongoing tensions between the two countries, China in a statement to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Friday said it was “deeply concerned” by Australia’s operation of offshore detention centres and called for them to be closed immediately.
Earlier in the week China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, specifically raised Australia’s record on Indigenous people when brushing off claims that China was engaged in a campaign of genocide in Xinjiang.
“Speaking of genocide, many people would have in their minds the native Americans of the 16th century, African slaves of the 19th century, the Jewish people of the 20th century, and the Aboriginal Australians who are still struggling even today,” Wang said at a press event on Monday.
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