start with an apology for the HUGE amount of time
that has passed since my last post. However given what has happened
over the past six months, and everything that took place before then,
then the somewhat tardy nature of my posts can in part be explained.
In many ways, 2016 was a very, very unusual year. It was a year that
was marked, for better or worse, by demonstrations of both the power
of democracy and its obvious weaknesses.
In terms of the relationship between Australia and Japan, what could have
potentially been a momentous year instead turned into a fizzle. Apart from the
disappointment of the future submarine announcement, a series of events
during the year - a general election in Australia, the onset of the
diplomatic silly season (September to November), and illness, all
conspired to both derail a potential bilateral leaders' meeting, and
led to the cancellation/postponement of the annual 2+2 foreign and
defence ministers' meeting.
Hence for both sides, restoring a degree of normalcy to the relationship
and reinforcing its importance will be priorities in the new year. And
this goes for all nation states. While the bureaucracies of states are
already well versed in inter-state ties and would (I suspect) prefer to
keep the involvement of the political class in such relations to a bare
minimum, it is the political class that is ultimately responsible for
the success or failure of such ties. So it is imperative that this
class acts in a manner that reinforces and defends the standing protocols
between states rather than seek to undermine them.
To paraphrase Henry Kissinger, the stakes are too high for the political class
to be involved in petty squabbles and retaliation for perceived insults.
Just a glance at this region reveals a myriad of issues that could potentially
destabilize the global order and lead to not only recessions but the outbreak
of open warfare. The most pressing of these is obviously the situation in the
South China Sea, where competing economic and security interests have combined
to create one almightly doozy of a diplomatic problem, and where any unilateral
action by one state can trigger hostile reactions from one or more rival states.
While the potential for conflict is very real in that area, so is the potential
for cooperation, which will become more important as the natural resources of the
region continue to be depleted.
That, in fact, might be what pushes both ASEAN and China to restart their negotiations towards a Code of Conduct, which has been much discussed but never resolved. Ever since I attended a lecture on the subject at the Australian Institute for International Affairs back in 2011, I have been curious as to these effect that sudden and catastrophic depletion of fishing stocks in the South China Sea will have on state relations in that area. With stocks already near extinction, those states wishing to provide a food source for their population and a livelihood for their fisheries industries will be forced to send their fleets further and further into international waters outside of the South China Sea, and will therefore create sources of conflict between states that until now have had amicable relations.
This is assuming, of course, that the states involved don't first reach an agreement between one another to preserve and protect what fish stocks are left, but given the history of both ASEAN and its relationship with China, that is a very low possibility. So in this state of affairs, and with no alternatives currently in sight, expect to see many more fishing vessels from Southeast Asian states and China turning up in the territorial waters of Australia, New Zealand, Pacific Island
nations, Japan, South Korea, Peru, Chile, Mexico, Central America, Canada, India, Sri Lanka, if not as far as the east coast of Africa and potentially the Hawaiian Islands.
The other issue is of course US China relations. Already this has seen US president elect Donald Trump indicate his support for the pro-independence Tsai government in Taiwan, thus both catching Beijing off guard in its reaction to such news and infuriating the CCP through its brazen contempt for China'd core interests.
Just over the past two days, President Tsai has gone on a visit to the US and Central America, a visit not formally recognized by the US but which will certainly involve some form of discussions with members or affiliates of the Trump administration. Beijing is of course watching this very closely for any sign of
greater affinity between the Tsai and Trump camps, and there is speculation that perhaps Trump will use Taiwan as a bargaining chip to gain more concessions from China over trade.
So once January 20 rolls around and we end up facing the reality of a Trump presidency (which, by the way, might be one of the most closely scrutinized in US political history, particularly given the damning report from US intelligence agencies on the direct involvement by Russian cyber spies in hacking the DNC, stealing emails related to Hillary Clinton, and then using this to damage Clinton's campaign and assist Donald Trump in winning the White House), we could indeed be in for some interesting times ahead, but very much in spirit of the Chinese use of the term.