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Damien Kingsbury's blog

Xenonphobia? No, but keep a close eye on Malaysian elections

Although it is a minor diplomatic affront to Australia, it was unsurprising that Senator Nick Xenophon was deported from Malaysia yesterday. Most regional governments rarely tolerate criticism of how they exercise political power. Being kicked out of a regional country -- or, worse, facing court -- has been, for some regional critics, a relatively common experience.

Xenophon was detained and deported as a "security risk" under the Immigration Act and this status follows the sweeping logic of Malaysia’s Internal Security Act (ISA). The ISA is a grab-all law, introduced by the colonial British to repress any form of dissent.

Xenophon’s identification as a "security risk" reflects the high degree of concern that Malaysia’s ruling Barisan Nasional (BN -- National Front) government has over the coming Malaysian elections. The elections are scheduled to be held by June 27.

Woodside gas deal could redraw Australia-East Timor borders

Australia's relationship with East Timor is at risk as the deadline looms on a hotly disputed and lucrative liquid natural gas project -- with no resolution in sight.

West Australian-based Woodside Petroleum has until February 23 to reach an agreement with the government of East Timor over the site of processing LNG or else the arrangement between the two is likely to be stopped. This would then trigger the cancellation of Australia’s sea boundary agreements with East Timor.

At this late stage it's unlikely Woodside will change its long-held position and accede to East Timor's demand that the LNG be processed on East Timor’s south coast. Woodside's preferred option is a floating processing platform at the Greater Sunrise LNG field in the Timor Sea.

Planned French withdrawal from Mali premature?

It probably felt satisfying, being French President Francois Hollonde, during his almost George W. Bush-like ‘mission accomplished’ moment in Timbuktu recently. French forces spear-headed a quick campaign in Mali to defeat Islamist insurgents, saving the country’s fragile, government from collapse and the preventing the establishment of a new home for Islamist global terrorism.

But the 3,500 French troops – around a third of the anti-Islamist forces in Mali - are now preparing to leave. What they are leaving is displaced and desperate Islamist forces holed up in the inhospitable Ifoghas Mountains in northern Mali’s border with Algeria.

Like Cambodia, Syria is increasingly turning into a proxy war

It had elements from the outset, but the war in Syria is looking more like a war by proxy between outside interests. It may be that it can now only be resolved from outside.

Most wars are proxies to some extent, perhaps the most notorious recent war being the three-cornered contest in Cambodia between 1978 and 1992. Syria is now starting to look like such a multi-faceted contest, but perhaps with even greater potential for complication.

The air attack last week by Israel against a Syrian military target raised the spectre of a wider conflagration. Initial reports said the target was a convoy that was presumed to be carrying guided surface-to-air missiles to Syria's Hezbollah allies in Lebanon. However, reports now indicate the target was a military research centre at Jamraya, north-west of Damascus about 15 kilometres from the Lebanese border.

It's just not cricket that Sri Lanka keeps playing

The government of Sri Lanka has been embarrassed over its human rights record by a call for a boycott campaign being run by respected Australian sports writer Trevor Grant. Grant has been using the Sri Lanka cricket team’s current tour of Australia to highlight what the UN believes were war crimes committed in Sri Lanka in 2009 and a subsequent campaign of human rights abuse against the country’s Tamil minority.

The campaign is the first politically driven proposed boycott of sports in Australia since the anti-apartheid boycotts of South African sporting teams in the 1970s and '80s.

While touring Australia, the Sri Lankan cricket team, self-proclaimed ambassadors for their country, have been touting a holiday resort on their country's north-east coast. Grant says the military built-and-run resort is situated at the site where some 40,000 Tamil non-combatant men, women and children died at the hands of the Sri Lanka military.

Cameron's 'a la carte' EU idea just national chauvinism?

The English have always been ambiguous towards "the continent". It is, as any self-respecting English person will tell you, full of foreigners. And England's Conservatives, particularly their more reactionary, chauvinistic rump, have always been anti-European Union.

So, as the EU contemplates moving towards greater integration, it was not entirely surprising UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced overnight he would hold a referendum on whether the UK would remain within the EU and, if so, on what terms. There was some ambiguity in Cameron’s speech, with some viewing it as a bet each way on the future of the UK’s relationship with Europe.

The Conservatives had already introduced a "referendum lock" on acceding further powers to the EU, which means further pro-EU changes have to go to a ballot. But Cameron is now looking to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the EU on those areas previously agreed to.

Is Hillary really going?

It may be that the process is so unruffled that many people won’t notice, but the woman who has presided over a major shift in US foreign policy – Hillary Clinton – has left her job. Not only has she left her position as US Secretary of State, she has also left with a stunning personal approval rating of 69 per cent.

Such a remarkable personal approval rating begs what will be her next career move. Having had one tilt at the US presidency and been beaten by the incumbent, Ms Clinton says she is no longer interested in that job. That, however, may be a ploy to have her drafted into the candidacy, seemingly acceding to the demands of the thronging crowd.

Kevin Rudd's plan for Syria: moral high ground or political grand-standing

When Kevin Rudd started his run in foreign affairs, when Labor was still in opposition and Labor’s foreign affairs spokesman was Laurie Brereton, he did so by being a back-bencher all over the media on international issues. Rudd’s new statement on Syria, war crimes and support of the anti-Assad forces recalls his pre-power prognostications, as well as raising a big question about how the international community should engage on Syria.

Rudd’s plan is to support Syria’s rebels to speed up the overthrow of the Assad regime. His grounds for wanting to do so are that the Assad regime has been committing crimes against humanity. This, Rudd says, invokes the morally imperative doctrine of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P).

India-Pakistan tensions escalate over Kashmir

Tensions between India and Pakistan are escalating as troops from each country have again clashed across the Kashmir Line of Control, with two Indian soldiers being killed. India claims Pakistani soldiers took advantage of misty conditions yesterday to cross the 1949 Line of Control dividing Kashmir into Indian and Pakistan controlled areas about 220 kilometres north of the city of Jammu.

The clash was the sixth in the past week and followed 75 incidents along the Line of Control in 2012. Pakistan lodged a protest against India just days ago, after one of its own soldiers was killed in what it claimed was an Indian incursion across the Line of Control.

Relations between India and Pakistan had been slowly improving following attacks by Pakistani militants against the Indian parliament in 2001 and in Mumbai in 2008. The Pakistani cricket team is currently touring in India, indicating a degree of bilateral normalisation.

Australia's strategic reorientation

Australia enters 2013 reconsidering its place in a strategically shifting world. Issues close to home have stabilised and, increasingly, considerations further from Australia are being written off as a lost cause.

Australia’s peace-keeping commitment to East Timor has ended, with that country now charting an independent and, for the medium future at least, stable course. East Timor’s relations with its giant and once problematic neighbour, Indonesia, are now so positive that it has been mooted that East Timor’s defence forces might start training with Indonesia’s army.

Australia’s peace-keeping commitment to the Solomon Islands will also end this year, bringing to a close engagement in what was once referred to as the ‘arc of instability’.

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