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’.
The crushing victory by Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party in the weekend’s elections has signalled that Japanese voters are worried, disillusioned and impatient for change. With Japan’s economy still in the doldrums, China’s influence growing and the country still reeling from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, many Japanese want a return to when the country was an economic powerhouse and its regional and domestic security was assured.
Although ignominiously defeated just three years ago, the recycled former prime minister Shinzo Abe has led the LDP back to power on a platform of getting the economy moving, standing up to China and re-starting the country’s nuclear power program. Despite around 80 per cent of Japanese voters wanting to see a phase-out of nuclear power following the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster, Abe’s pro-nuclear LDP sees nuclear power as central to the economy’s revival.
The recently concluded East Asia Forum (EAF) has highlighted the contentious role of a growing China in regional affairs. For an event that was intended primarily to lay the foundation for a huge Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the EAF has been at least as notable for a profound, perhaps fatal, rift in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The proposed East Asia Free Trade Area (FTA), including around a third of the world’s global economy, is intended to capitalise on this region’s current and projected economic strength. While there are many thorny details to be resolved, not least trade advantages flowing from China’s artificially low currency, there is a general sense that the FTA process will continue to be developed.
From a sleepy backwater, the South Pacific has been catapulted into the diplomatic limelight, with the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in the Cook Islands playing host not just to Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, but to US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and a large delegation from China. All of a sudden, the Pacific island states – a mere scattering of specks in a vast blue ocean – are at centre stage.
'The digital and physical are increasingly meshed [they] dialectically co-construct each other...This is opposed to the notion that the Internet is like the Matrix, where there is a “real” (Zion) that you leave when you enter the virtual space (the Matrix) - an outdated perspective as Facebook is increasingly real and our physical world increasingly digital' (Social Media commentator Nathan Jurgenson).
When Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, part of its justification was that the then ruling Fretilin intended to allow the country to become a regional base for China. Fretilin had recently assumed power, having defeated the conservative UDT’s attempted coup in August of that year. But Fretilin’s victory was viewed in Indonesia as establishing a communist base in the middle of its archipelago at a time when the Cold War was running hot and communism in the region seemed in the ascendency. At that time, Indonesia was vehemently anti-communist, having destroyed its own communist party less than a decade before and broken off diplomatic relations with China as part of the purge. The idea of China having a base, or at least a friendly country, in its midst was intolerable to Indonesia’s generals. Whether or not Fretilin intended to establish close relations with China is a moot point.
There is a quickly developing sense that Burma, long an outcast in the international community, has begun a serious process of reform. It is as though the Burmese opposition, and the world behind it, are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, where a hostage comes to love the hostage taker following a small sign of kindness.
Burma’s human rights record over the past five decades has consistently been among the worst in the world. It is also one of the world’s biggest international drug suppliers.
To counter the damaging opprobrium this brings, the Burmese military-derived government has now released hundreds of political prisoners, signed a ceasefire with the country’s largest ethnic rebel group and has allowed the opposition National League for Democracy to re-form. The NLD has announced that it will challenge 23 of 48 vacant seats in by-elections to be held on 1 April.
Fluorescent tomato sauce for the pies sold at the SCG this week would have been a great promotion for both Heinz and the Jane McGrath Foundation.
However, in mid year when the sauce for my McDondald’s fries was fluro pink - it was cause for real concern. On inspection, the packaging on the faulty product read “Heinz, manufactured in Qingdao”. You may remember Qingdao as the coastal city engulfed in fluro green seaweed prior to the China Olympic Yachting events.
I have visited Qingdao several times as my brother teaches at a Qingdao University. Whilst the area is less polluted than other areas of China, the tomato farms are small and fragmented compared to their Australian counterparts. As such, quality control of herbicides, pesticides and fertiliser would be almost impossible. Whilst Qingdao factories, although not old, operate without the environmental, labour and consumer protection laws that exist in Australia.