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Favourites of 2019: When They See Us

As 2019 winds up, Lowy Institute staff and Interpreter contributors offer their favourite books, articles, films, or TV programs this year. I moved into an apartment near New York’s Central Park in 1989 at the height of the hysteria over what became known as the Central Park jogger case, or more

Moon Jae-in’s foreign policy reorientation

South Korean President Moon Jae-in is changing South Korean foreign policy. He has allowed Seoul’s relationship with the United States and Japan to deteriorate while betting heavily that North Korea would embrace his détente effort. This risks isolating South Korea, and the conservative pushback

Time with Trump: Australia and Southeast Asia compared

Over the last two years, US President Donald Trump has made two trips to Southeast Asia and none to Australia. Despite this, according to White House media notifications, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, each engaged more with Trump than the ten leaders of

China-US trade war: For all the bark, not much bite

It is now nearly 17 months since the Trump administration began collecting 25% tariffs on the first tranche of Chinese imports to the US – time enough to evaluate the economic impact the trade war so far. That impact? Surprisingly little. It is certainly true that comparing the first nine

Book review: China, the US, and the big break

Book review: Paul Blustein: Schism: China, America, and the Fracturing of the Global Trading System (CIGI Press, 2019) Paul Blustein has produced an enviable bookshelf of behind-the-scenes reportage on international economic institutions, both as a journalist (for The Washington Post and The

Trade war: From a phase one deal to perpetual peace

After a roller-coaster ride spanning 18 months, the trade war between the United States and China is finally showing signs of abatement, with the two sides confirming that they are close to the conclusion of a phase-one deal. While the signing of the deal, which was originally scheduled to take

Autocrats Anonymous

The filmmaker Martin Scorsese recently got into trouble for an off-the-cuff remark he made about the differences between Marvel superhero movies and cinema as an art form. Scorsese’s follow-up explanation of these differences provides some insight into why the Trump administration, as political

Connecting the dots on the Blue Dot Network

The US, Australia, and Japan have joined together to establish a trilateral “Blue Dot Network” to help develop infrastructure “in the Indo-Pacific and around the world”. The plan was announced on the sidelines of the 35th ASEAN summit in Thailand last week. This sounds impressive. The Indo

North Korea’s deadline logic

Ever since Chairman Kim Jong-un issued the end-of-year deadline in April for nuclear negotiations, North Korea has displayed a stubborn attitude. From launching a series of new short and medium-range missiles, dragging its feet at the working-level talks, to showing no signs of compromise at

Signs of a deal between US and China, and a rethink

It is not yet agreed, may yet fail, and is anyway unlikely to settle matters, but the impending “phase one” trade deal could be a useful ceasefire in the US economic war with China. Two years on from the US initiation of penalty tariffs on China, it is also a convenient moment to point to a few

Chart of the week: Trump and the US-Australia alliance

Donald Trump is about to be the third US President in history to be impeached. Australians won’t be surprised – he’s never been popular here. But Australia’s alliance with the United States is another story. No matter who is sitting in the Oval Office, be it George W. Bush or Barack Obama

China’s slam dunk of the NBA is a game changer

The US trade war against China launched by President Donald Trump has hitherto lacked a clear moral dimension. There are economic arguments – that China insists on tilting the playing field by blocking certain foreign companies, forced local partnerships for foreign firms, or intellectual property

Film review: Torture, lies, and videotape

The Report, directed by Scott Z. Burns. Opens 14 November in Australia. More than a century ago, the US invasion of the Philippines turned from a supposed act of liberation into a war of insurgency and operational confusion. Desperate to uncover plots, the Americans took to extreme measures.

Towards a peaceful and inclusive Asia

Small states are states too. They have their own agency, their own interests, and their own preferences, and it is important they do not see the world through the perspectives offered by the US-China binary. This was the main point of the speech I gave this month in Beijing as Malaysia’s Deputy

Finally, some plain talk on the Quad

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a foreign policy speech to the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday. Australia’s foreign policy analysts can be very grateful for these candid remarks, because they should prompt Canberra to rethink its policy stance on the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the “

Diplomatic immunity: Time to change the rules

The current diplomatic spat between the United Kingdom and the United States, following a fatal road accident involving the wife of a US “diplomat”, draws attention, yet again, to diplomatic immunity and its potential abuse. The facts, as reported by the UK media and based on witness accounts

Why does North Korea keep dragging its feet?

The long-awaited US–North Korea working-level talks collapsed last week, as Washington and Pyongyang could not agree on the definition of “denuclearisation” and mutual concessions. This followed the recent test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) by North Korea and insistence on

The sharp shift on Syria

Just last week, much of Washington seemed to reach consensus on the direction of US policy in Syria. The Syria Study Group, a bipartisan committee convened by Congress to examine policy options released a final report, laying out a way forward. The committee concluded that sharp shifts and reversals

US shift on Syria puts Canberra in a bind

President Donald Trump’s style of on-the-run Syria policy has once again reared its head, although this time it has been done via press release rather than Twitter. The Twitter announcement of a US military pull-out that he made in December 2018 was gradually walked back after his

The decline of US global leadership: Power without authority

The US House of Representatives’ inquiry into grounds for impeaching Donald Trump is yet another indication of the massive erosion of the President’s domestic authority. His authority as an international leader has similarly declined, not as a result of challenges by other international leaders

Democrats and impeachment: A leap of faith

For 20 months, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi resisted calls for the impeachment of the President. The House Democratic leadership and many of its members adopted a defensive posture, anticipating that the impeachment inquiry itself, and the likely failure to reach a conviction in the Senate, would

Poles apart: The long shadow of US-China competition

From trade to cyber, from the South China Sea to outer space, strategic rivalry between the United States and China is shaping the international order. The polar regions seem no exception. At the recent Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council held in Rovaniemi, Finland, US Secretary of State

Impeachment will stabilise US foreign policy

US President Donald Trump’s greatest impact will inevitably be felt in American domestic politics. He has dramatically changed the Republican Party and similarly radically changed expectations for the behaviour of the president. It is unclear if an impeachment effort can roll that back. Trump has

An educated idealist is still a believer

Book review: The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir, by Samantha Power (Harper Collins 2019) Samantha Power, an Irish immigrant whose tenacity and intellect earned her a place at Yale and Harvard and led her to become a war correspondent in the Balkans, rose to prominence when her 2002 book, A

Raising the stakes in the Gulf’s game of reprisals

The weekend’s attack on the Saudi oil facility at Abqaiq is the most dramatic escalation of the Persian Gulf tensions since the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018. At the time of writing, the weapons used have allegedly been traced to Iran, while the Yemeni Houthi movement has

The last of the White House neocons

The Tuesday firing (or resignation) of president Donald Trump’s third national security advisor, John Bolton, was hardly a surprise. The rift between the two men had been the subject of news pieces and commentary for several months. From Bolton being effectively quarantined in Mongolia while Trump

Not such a great game

Staying true to his reputation for unpredictability, US President Donald Trump suddenly called off the Afghanistan peace negotiations with the Taliban last Saturday – a major policy decision announced, predictably, in a tweet. Trump cited continued Taliban attacks on US personnel as the reason for

A light amid the gloom of the US-China trade war

Despite an optimistic bounce in global financial markets Friday, the relentless trade war between the US and China resumed Sunday. Threatened 15% tariffs by the US on another $250 billion of China imports went into effect Sunday morning, as did new China tariffs on US crude oil, soybeans and

Australia sails into muddy waters in the Gulf

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was at pains last week to emphasise the “modest and time-limited” nature of Australia’s contribution to the new US-led maritime security mission in the Strait of Hormuz known as the International Maritime Security Construct’ (IMSC). He batted away suggestions

Macron tries to put the spark back into the G7

Never one to shy from lofty goals, French President Emmanuel Macron used the G7 summit in the French seaside town of Biarritz to make tenuous first steps in rejuvenating the West as the world’s most powerful political alliance. The summit ended yesterday amid improbable displays of goodwill and

Australia in the Gulf: Will we make a difference?

Australia’s commitment to the US-led coalition to provide maritime security for the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf will be one maritime surveillance aircraft, to start operations later this year, and one frigate from early 2020. Military personnel will also help staff a coalition

Australia in the Gulf: The order-based rules

Back in December, Scott Morrison went halfway in following Donald Trump’s change to the diplomatic recognition of Israel, deciding to leave Australia’s embassy in Tel Aviv while formally acknowledging “West Jerusalem” as the capital. But at the same time, Morrison decided not to follow Trump

The reluctant coalition

The Australian government’s announcement today that it will contribute assets to a maritime coalition force in the Persian Gulf comes as no surprise, given the very public way the US request was delivered in Sydney at the recent AUSMIN meeting. Washington doesn’t make those type of requests

Houses divided

Many of The Interpreter’s readers are experts on the theory and conduct of international relations. So, quite reasonably, they look at armed conflict through the lens of inter-state relations, where one state resorts to the use (or the threat of use) of armed force to prevail over another. For

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