Briefing MONTHLY #66 | September 2023
Rising India | Summit rivalry | Rethinking Indonesia | Missing ministers | ASEAN business | Sister cities | NZ votes
Animation by Rocco Fazzari.
India has been on a roll for the past few months as the world’s largest democracy became the world’s most populous country and then targeted becoming the third biggest economy before the end of this decade.
But as the proverb forecasts, when elephants rumble the grass is crushed. And this month has seen India, under strongman Prime Minister Narendra Modi, flex its growing muscles in more telling ways.
How the showdown with Canada over the murder of a Sikh activist plays out remains to be seen with competing explanations for why Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau went public with the allegation of posible Indian government involvement. But it has certainly provided a contrary narrative to the yoga diplomacy Modi had been offering the world on his many overseas trips.
India has previously urged Australia to also rein in Sikh independence supporters underlining how the Albanese government is squeezed between its emerging security and economic partner in the four country Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and its old Five Eyes intelligence sharing ally. And the different reactions from Australia’s top foreign policymakers shows how unsettling a rising India may be. See DIPLOMATICALLY SPEAKING.
Modi racked up a diplomatic triumph hosting the Group of 20 big economies summit this month by getting an agreed statement - but at the cost of watering down criticism of Russia, India’s longstanding weapons and oil supplier. He burnished his putative global statesman image ahead of the national election next year by securing a seat at the table for African countries and imposing more aid demands on rich countries over climate change. See: NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH.
But with all the predictable hubris of a global summit host he played domestic politics by burnishing the case for abolishing the colonial nomenclature of India in favour of the older, but more Hindu nationalist, name Bharat. The disparate opposition forces can hardly complain: they had already embraced the acronym INDIA (Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance) to disguise their own fractious coalition. Standby for a contentious national election next year.
Meanwhile, the poll battle in the world’s third biggest democracy in Indonesia is becoming remarkably one dimensional for such a diverse country. The three potential new presidents and around half a dozen vice-presidents seem to face one main character test from the outgoing incumbent: do they support President Joko Widodo’s plan for a legacy with an expensive new capital city in Kalimantan called Nusantara? We report on the discussion at the world’s biggest conference on Indonesia outside the country.
Briefing MONTHLY editor
Saturday: China signs agreement with Timor Leste
Sunday: Pacific leaders visit US Coastguard base
Monday: US recognises Cook Islands and Niue
Tuesday: Chinese navy ship docks in Port Moresby
Playing whack-a-mole in the Pacific became a daily activity this week as the influence peddling by the US and China reached a new level of one-upmanship.
While the Biden Administration may have taken the more substantive action with two more diplomatic outposts and a promise of US$200 million more aid, China’s comprehensive strategic partnership with Timor will be more significant for Australia.
President Joe Biden met Pacific Island Forum leaders for a second White House summit in just over a year after pulling out of a planned summit in Papua New Guinea earlier in the month when he cancelled a trip to Asia. The promised new aid comes on top of US$800 million over ten years promised last year as part of a major new presence in the region, although much of that funding is still tied up in the Congress.
Meanwhile China’s surprise agreement with Timor has underlined how it keeps managing to pick off individual countries amid declarations of unity by the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) as a group.
For example, the Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare did not attend Biden’s summit despite much outreach from the US, including a visit by US ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy. Vanuatu Prime Minister Sato Kilman also did not attend two weeks after he ousted Ishmael Kalsakau, who lost a no-confidence vote partly for signing a security pact with Australia. And Kiribati plans to upgrade a former World War Two airstrip with Chinese funding.
Former PIF secretary general Meg Taylor warns in a new Asia Society Policy Institute report that Pacific priorities are being usurped by great power rivalry. It specifically notes that some Australian aid spending reflects the interests of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy and says the Pacific countries should not compromise their own vision due to pressure from "the United States, China, Australia and others".
The China-Timor agreement will increase pressure on the Albanese government to find a way to process gas from the shared Timor Sea Greater Sunrise project on shore in Timor despite this being generally seen as the higher cost option than processing in Darwin. But China may also come under pressure to deliver on the project when it is pulling back from some big offshore projects due to economic problems at home.
Nevertheless, the rivalry in the Pacific came as China released a much broader approach to relations with developing countries which now buy more Chinese exports than the industrialised world. The A Global Community of Shared Future white paper reiterates the role of the Belt and Road Initiative and rebuts claims that it is causing environmental damage.
ASEAN/EAS: With the leaders of the US, China and Russia all absent, the East Asia Summit week in Jakarta was more marked by traditional Southeast Asian fence sitting over China rather than big power conflict.
The chairman’s statement from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit did note “concerns of some ASEAN member states on the land reclamations, activities, serious incidents in the area including actions that put the safety of persons at risk” in the South China Sea.
But the statement from the larger EAS did not mention the South China Sea by name and made only low-key reference to the group’s shared commitment to peace and stability, international law, freedom of navigation and the non-use of force or threat to use force against another state.
There was also no significant action towards implementing the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus on in Myanmar agreed two years ago with a statement saying the leaders were “gravely concerned by the lack of substantial progress on the implementation by the authority in Myanmar.”
A new Indonesian pioneered platform on the side of the summit pitched 93 regional projects valued at US$38 billion to outside investors as part of the group’s efforts to make itself a world growth center.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese used the summits to launch the government’s Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040 (See ASIAN NATION), focus on food security at a meeting with ASEAN leaders, and launch the second round of the $200 million Australia-Indonesia Climate and Infrastructure Partnership focused on infrastructure derisking. He met Chinese Premier Li Qiang in a substitute for a planned meeting with President Xi Jinping and also the leaders of Timor-Leste, Canada, Laos and Malaysia.
Group of 20: The world’s leading economies struggled to keep their annual forum relevant in New Delhi amid geo-political fracturing with China’s president absent for the first time.
But Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi managed to raise his international stature ahead of an election next year by securing an unexpected joint statement at the cost of toning down criticism of India’ long-time partner Russia. And he used the meeting to enhance India’s claim to be a leader of the Global South by winning a regular seat at the G20 table for the African Union and increase pressure on rich countries for more climate change aid to poorer countries.
While the G20 statement doesn’t use the term Global South due to differences over its meaning and membership, the sequential G20 leadership by Indonesia last year, India this year and next Brazil has tilted the group rhetoric towards the developing world.
Modi also drew together the domestic and international politics of the Summit by using the older pre-colonial name Bharat for India playing to a nationalist, more Hindu audience at home when the rival coalition he will face at next year’s election has usurped the acronym INDIA as its new name.
Albanese used the G20 gathering to also meet the leaders of the MIKTA (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkiye and Australia) group once promoted by former foreign minister Julie Bishop and also Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida where he discussed the tensions over energy transition issues. Albanese also attempted to exaggerate the extent of the Summit statement on Russia in an apparent sensitivity to the domestic criticism of his extensive international travel.
BRICS: Indonesia might like to sing the same tune as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) group but President Joko Widodo appears to have rejected overtures to join them. The five-member group stepped up its efforts to fashion an alternative to the newly re-assertive and expansionary Group of Seven rich countries but without reaching into the most dynamic part of the developing world in East Asia.
Despite the bilateral tensions between China and India, the BRICS Summit in South Africa invited Argentina, Egypt, Iran, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to become new members.
Widodo attended the South Africa summit as a guest sparking speculation he would lend Indonesia’s weight to the planned expansion of the group after reportedly being wooed for some years by BRICS members. But he said he had attended only to boost solidarity amongst developing nations declaring in a speech “we must continue championing equal and inclusive cooperation. BRICS can be on the frontline fighting for just development and reform to build a just world order.”
Indonesian officials reportedly think Indonesia would not benefit from joining the internally divided group which is becoming more anti-western and would potentially breach its non-aligned status when it is focused on seeking more foreign investment.
But in an interesting move for the de facto leader of the ASEAN group, Indonesia instead is pursuing membership of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, which is normally seen as a group of industrialised economies. And Australia has offered its support.
A much anticipated ministry reshuffle has done little to boost Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s desired image as a new look conservative with a remarkable complete absence of women in a new team of 54 vice-ministers.
A decade after the late former prime minister Shinzo Abe coined the term womenomics to exhort better workplace conditions for women to boost both population and economic growth, Kishida appointed five women in a new ministry of 19. That equalled the number of women in previous ministries under Abe and Junichiro Koizumi and included Japan’s first female foreign minister Yoko Kamikawa in a tilt towards gender diversity.
But two days later the confirmation that 26 new senior vice ministers and 28 parliamentary vice ministers would all be men deflated Kishida’s attempt to craft a new image. Support for the government has scarcely shifted since the substantial ministry changes amid suggestions Kamikawa’s appointment was designed to give Kishida, a former foreign minister, more control of foreign affairs.
“The foreign minister and defense minister do play significant roles in diplomacy, but at the same time, leader-level diplomacy carries considerable weight. I would like to lead foreign policy," Kishida said when asked why he had replaced outgoing foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi. Curiously, Harvard-educated Hayashi is seen as a potential future Liberal Democratic Party and prime minister along with Kishida’s two other successors as foreign minister Taro Kono and Toshimitsu Motegi.
CHINA: minus 2
While Japan has yet again turned over its key international relations ministers China’s are simply disappearing, raising new questions about where President Xi Jinping is getting advice on dealing with international issues.
China’s Defence Minister Li Shangfu has not been seen in public since August 29 only weeks after he appeared to be at the frontline of so-called wolf warrior diplomacy by failing to meet formally his US counterpart at the Singapore ShangriLa Dialogue. Li was only appointed to the Central Military Commission in October last year and became defence minister in March.
His hardline position at the Singapore gathering of regional defence officials reflected Chinese discontent that he had been sanctioned by the US in 2018 as a senior general over Chinese weapons deals with Russia and the Biden Administration would not relent after he became a minister.
Li’s disappearance follows the mysterious downfall of former foreign minister Qin Gang, who had been rapidly promoted as an apparent Xi favourite, and the firing of a senior official from the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force. However, China’s defence minister is more of a diplomatic official than in some countries because the country’s Central Military Commission is headed by Xi himself with two other deputies.
Mostly US sources appeared to fuel media speculation that Li’s departure is due to a corruption scandal over military purchases, although Japan ambassador Rahm Emanuel, a high-profile Democrat, has gone as far as to suggest there is a leadership split in Beijing. Meanwhile the Financial Times has confirmed that Qin’s disappearance is at least partly related to a relationship with a Chinese television presenter in the US where he was posted as ambassador.
Legacy time … Joko Widodo at the Nusantara site
Australia’s new economic strategy for Southeast Asia identifies urbanisation as a business opportunity and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is the latest Australian leader to claim a personal relationship with an Indonesian counterpart. The Australia National University’s Indonesia Update – the largest annual gathering of Indonesianists outside the country – has just finished with a special focus on governing the country’s cities. Here are some key takeaways.
Democracy: Twenty-five years after the end of the Soeharto regime the clarion call of “reformasi” as the driving force of the world’s third largest democracy is over. Murdoch University’s Jacqui Baker says “democracy is not dead” but it is “no longer driven by a coalition supporting the ideals of reformasi”. She cites election stalling, the criminalisation of politics, recentralisation of government, decline of social movements, and an end to judicial activism as new features of Indonesian political life.
Election: Next February’s election of a replacement for President Joko Widodo is veering towards being a race between two-time candidate, defence minister and former general Prabowo Subianto and two-term Central Java governor Ganjar Pranowo, from the same party as Widodo. Both candidates are primarily concerned about winning the support of the 10-20 per cent of voters who remain devoted to the departing president, who is leaving office with the strongest support level since the reformasi era began at about 80 per cent. ANU’s Liam Gannon says Widodo is shifting towards Prabowo, but his base still favours Ganjar. He says Prabowo would embrace Widodo’s anti-democratic opportunism as a president but be harder to predict in a crisis. The third ranked candidate Anies Baswedan is in the awkward position of presenting himself as the opposition alternative to Team Jokowi but nevertheless choosing a vice-presidential running mate from the National Awakening Party which supports Widodo.
Economy: Covid had less than half the impact on Indonesia as the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis and the country is now in the unusually good position of having only mild inflation compared with many other countries. ANU economist Arianto Patunru characterises current economic policy as a mix of “pragmatism, ambivalence and nationalism” which means the country is less integrated with global supply chains than it needs to be to obtain its targeted economic growth. Indonesian finance ministry special adviser Masyita Crystallin says the embrace of “downstreaming” to require minerals processing in the country has helped balance its external accounts. Arianto says it has benefitted Chinese investors and put Indonesia offside with the US.
Cities: Surabaya emerged as the urban governance pacesetter in Indonesia’s highly devolved three-tiered democracy with speakers citing its approach to citizen participation, corruption, traffic congestion, and flood protection. The Asia Foundation’s Mochamed Mustafa said Surabaya’s success reflected both the work of long serving former mayor Tri Rismaharini, who is now a national minister, but also a traditionally strong civil society. He said there had been very mixed outcomes from radical decentralisation in Indonesia, but it was “the expression of strong civil society that makes things sustained.” Delivering the keynote speech, Bogor Mayor Bima Arya Sugiarto said he had been inspired by Widodo’s rise from Solo mayor to president but was dismayed by the current moves to wind back local democracy. “The direct election system has really paved the way for the election of local champions,” he argued.
Nusantara: Widodo’s legacy project of a new national capital called Nusantara in Kalimantan came in for some criticism as a waste of money and a divergence from the way regional autonomy had allowed some communities to better manage their existing living conditions. York University urban change professor Abidin Kusno characterised Nusantara as an attempt to transcend Indonesia’s urban problems by building a new city rather than dealing with them. “Will the ghosts of Jakarta just follow Jokowi to Nusantara?” he asked. He said the push for Nusantara reflected a sense that it was ok to let old Jakarta sink as long as the nation’s identity was safe in a new capital.
Special envoy to Southeast Asia Nicholas Moore says Australia is in a better position to do business in the ASEAN region than it has previously been with the bigger economies of China and Japan. And he has played down the political and currency risks that have discouraged many Australian companies from investing there.
Speaking after the release of the latest Australian government study of deeper economic links with the country’s closest Asian neighbours, Moore, the former Macquarie Group chief executive, said: “Every Australian business leader who goes to the region who hasn’t been there for 10 years, or so, is surprised by the amount of growth that has taken place.”
He told the ABC that in contrast to the economic and political turmoil in the region in the late 1990s “the economies have been very stable and have been growing strongly and politics in the region has also been very stable over that period of time.”
And he argued that Australia had much stronger people to people contacts with Southeast Asia in terms of the local diaspora and the student alumni base compared with Japan and China in the past. This meant it was better placed to benefit economically from industrialisation, urbanisation and export growth in those countries compared with Japan and China.
Invested: Australia’s Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040 says this area “has been one of the fastest-growing global regions, and all its settings – demographics, economic openness, political stability, and ambition – mean it will drive global economic growth through to 2040 and beyond.”
The 75 recommendations are complex and repeat some common ground from predecessors such as the 2021 Business Council of Australia/Asia Society Australia A Second Chance study. But they are organised in a matrix format of short and long-term priorities, and then again in core themes of raising awareness, removing blockages, building capacity, and finally deepening investment. Then they are re-organised across sectors and countries, which is critical in such a diverse region of 11 nations.
In the government’s initial $95 million response over four years to the recommendations:
- Investment Deal Teams will work to identify and facilitate investment opportunities.
- A Southeast Asia Business Exchange will support Australian exporters.
- A young professionals placements and internships program will aim to build enduring links.
The report takes the increasingly all-embracing concept of statecraft favoured by the Albanese government to a new commercial high with a recommendation that the government underwrite political risk insurance for investment by Australian businesses in what is forecast to be the fourth largest economic zone in the world. This would be a fundamental shift in Australian external economic policy towards the corporatist approaches seen in countries such as Singapore and Japan.
THE CHINA FACTOR
Australia’s top financial regulators have joined Treasurer Jim Chalmers in elevating the once booming Chinese economy to now posing one of the key risks to domestic and international financial stability.
The latest quarterly report from the Council of Financial Regulators says: “There is increased uncertainty around the outlook for the Chinese economy due to stresses in the property sector interacting with longer-term financial vulnerabilities. Council members noted that a sharp slowdown in China, were it to materialise, would principally transmit to Australia through trade channels and through an increase in risk aversion in global financial markets.”
The view from the broader group of regulators echoes the minutes of the September Reserve Bank of Australia board meeting which noted that China’s property sector “faced significant challenges” from stress among developers, and further defaults posed a risk to economic activity. “A sharper deterioration in China’s economic growth posed a downside risk to the outlook for services exports and would also be expected to reduce the prices received for Australia’s commodity exports,” the Board said.
The increasingly pessimistic focus on the economic outlook for Australia’s biggest trading partner from the regulators follows the warning from European Chamber of Commerce in China president emeritus Joerg Wuttke durng a visit to Australia that China was “now heading for a scenario of punching below its potential”.
Wuttke, a three-decade veteran of observing China’s engagement with the international economy told an Asia Society Australia event that the mood in the Chinese business community was captured by the way that the lights in one third of the houses in his wealthy residential neighbourhood were now off at night time because the residents had moved on to other things presumably in other countries.
He said the outlook could be captured in three demographic changes: the older generation was running down its savings, the younger generation didn’t care about saving and the future, and women were seeking divorce with declining interest in having children.
- China's post-pandemic challenges are examined in this new China Executive Briefing from China Policy.
Japanese cities are slightly less satisfied with their sister city relationship partners in Australia compared with the attitude of the Australian cities towards their own connections in Japan.
But a new study of the sister city relationships which blossomed in the 1980s doesn’t provide much clear information on the origin of Japanese dissatisfaction, beyond noting taxpayer and council member discontent. On the other hand, the Australian criticism of sister city relationships comes more from media criticism, local communities and then council members.
The study of local government collaboration between the two countries, which began in 1963 with Lismore and Yamatotakada amid post-war reconciliation, examines the experience and outlook for 100 plus such relationships that now exist. Australian municipalities have a total of more than 500 relationships with foreign cities.
The Japanese cities only have one relationship with an Australian city but 24 per cent of the Australian respondents to a survey had more than one sister city relationship in Japan.
The Australia-Japan Local Government Collaboration report says: “They are important grassroots, people-to-people platforms that continue to play a pivotal role in strengthening and enriching relationships between local governments and communities in both Australia and Japan. Overall, we suggest that the relative performance of Australian local councils (from the perspective of Japanese local councils) is lower, when compared with sister-city relationships with other countries.”
The study finds that cultural and education exchanges are active and popular in both countries with valuable outcomes for participants and broader communities such as developing cultural and language understanding.
It suggests that collaborative environment protection initiatives including best practice animal and environment conservation programs could be a new growth area given the different expertise in the respective countries. Likewise, tourism was also seen as an emerging area of future collaboration.
But business exchange remained a challenging area with evidence of limited interest and opportunity to use the sister city connection to promote business activity, although there were examples of connections between local businesses. Local government structures were identified as inhibiting business between sister cities.
DEALS AND DOLLARS
Western Australia has renewed a sister state relationship with Indonesia’s East Java Province as part of a bid to put itself at the heart of a new clean energy economic relationship between the two countries.
Premier Roger Cook talked up his first overseas trip as premier as a “mega mission” with three ministers in tow and more than 100 other businesspeople and officials. While the trip ranged across diverse sectors from tourism to vocational training, it also marked a new effort by WA to reduce its dependence on China as a resources export market. And so, Cook declared Indonesia’s plans to pursue large-scale battery manufacturing to be his most urgent priority as a market for WA’s lithium, which now mostly goes to China.
“Perth is closer to Jakarta than to Canberra, that’s why we are doing everything we can to take advantage of the huge opportunities our relationship with Indonesia can deliver for the West Australian economy,” Cook said in an interview for a trip that came just ahead of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s own visit for the East Asian Summit.
And just as the Federal government has released its Southeast Asia economic strategy, Cook observed of Indonesia: “I don’t think it’s been overlooked. I think people have found it a difficult market to access because it has its own idiosyncrasies.”
SINGAPORE BOUND AGAIN
Technology entrepreneur Mike Cannon-Brookes has reiterated his plans to export renewable electricity to Singapore via Indonesia after untangling his partnership with Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue Future Industries.
His Grok Ventures has taken control of the Sun Cable (or AAPowerLink) project with new plans aimed at firming up relationships with Singapore, Indonesia and in Australia after Forrest pushed to use the planned Northern Territory solar power to make green hydrogen rather than for export.
The Sun Cable project could underpin a major new clean energy based economic connection between Australia and Southeast Asia is successful but appear to be in need of deeper connections in Singapore and Indonesia.
But Cannon-Brookes says the project “has all the component parts to make the next great Australian infrastructure initiative possible … there’s huge upside for both Australia and our neighbours, Singapore and Indonesia. We look forward to working with our partners across Asia to drive this.”
He says it will now seek a Singapore energy import licence consistent with the country’s plan to import 4GW from low- carbon sources by 2035. It would also engage with the Indonesian government to obtain a licence to lay cable through its waters with Australian government support. And it would establish a cable manufacturing and testing facility in Australia to supply the project.
NIPPON CLEANS UP
Chemicals giant Nippon Paints will take control of some of Australia’s best known cleaning products in another example of large Japanese manufacturers pursuing growth in Australia.
Melbourne-based Pental Ltd has sold laundry and cleaning brands White King, Lux, Country Life, and Velvet to Nippon for $60 million, along with a manufacturing plant in the Victorian town of Shepparton. Nippon Paints bought the then publicly listed Dulux paint business for $3.8bn in 2019 and already owns the Selley’s brand, which will now also house the cleaning products.
Japanese companies have been expanding into food and other consumer products in Australia in a diversification from resources extraction since the early 2000s sometimes using Australia as a test bed or offshore expansion.
TAIWAN'S GAS SWITCH
Taiwan plans to buy more liquefied natural gas from Australia in an effort to improve its energy security against any attack from China, according to it new chief representative to Australia, Douglas Yu-tien Hsu.
He said in an interview with The Australian that LNG was a less vulnerable source of energy than wind farms and nuclear energy because it could be more easily stored in more secure places.
“We currently have three nuclear plants that are going to be gradually phased out. The cross-strait relations right now has made my government think about contingencies and one way is to address energy resilience,” he said. Australia is already the biggest supplier of LNG to Taiwan with exports valued at more than $11 billion a year.
"The involvement of any foreign government in the murder of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty. India needs to take this matter with the utmost seriousness. We are doing that, we are not looking to provoke or escalate."
- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (September 18)
"Allegations of Government of India's involvement in any act of violence in Canada are absurd. We are a democratic polity with a strong commitment to rule of law."
- Indian foreign ministry (September 19)
"These are serious allegations, and they are deeply concerning for all of us, I would note investigations are still underway so obviously the Australian government wishes to await those investigations being finalised."
- Foreign Minister Penny Wong (September 19)
"Seriously, you should chill out a bit. You know, we’re at a venue where Bruce Springsteen played the last time I was there and I made the point that the reception he (Narendra Modi) got from the community, which was a very broad-based community, were there from the Indian diaspora, welcomed him very strongly. It’s as simple as that. So, I welcomed Prime Minister Modi to Australia."
- Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (September 19)
"We said if you have something specific and if you have something relevant, let us know. We are open to looking at it ... The picture is not complete without the context in a way."
- Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar in New York (September 26)
Source: Financial Times/Counterpoint Research
Apple has been one of the most resilient foreign companies in China amid the bilateral tensions with the US. It is the tech giant’s largest manufacturing hub and non-US market. But what chief executive Tim Cook calls a “symbiotic relationship” may now be under pressure as Huawei offers a competitor for the new iPhone 15 and China restricts the use of the Apple phone in some government departments.
ON THE HORIZON
Source: 1News Varian
New Zealand’s government may be set to change on October 14 but not its policies towards its biggest trading partner China.
Indeed, in a sharp contrast with the China-focused election campaign in Australia last year, New Zealand’s competing future leaders used their first leaders’ debate to adopt a virtual unity ticket on avoiding tensions over China.
Opinion polls suggest a close election result which will require a likely coalition government of some sort with the conservative National more likely to emerge from opposition as the winner in alliance with the more right-wing ACT New Zealand party.
Asked in the debate about the potential for a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins would only say that “every diplomatic effort” would be used to prevent such a situation. Opposition leader Christopher Luxon responded: “I’m with Chris … Our relationships with key partners have actually been very consistent between governments.”
But in a second debate this week Luxon indicted more support for eventually joining the second technology sharing phase of the AUKUS submarine project than Hipkins was prepared to do.
Amongst the international relations issues to watch in any change of government may be the more sceptical view of engagement with China within the ACT Party and the possible return to power by the outspoken populist former foreign minister Winston Peters, who leads the small New Zealand First Party.
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Briefing MONTHLY is a public update with news and original analysis on Asia and Australia-Asia relations. As Australia debates its future in Asia, and the Australian media footprint in Asia continues to shrink, it is an opportune time to offer Australians at the forefront of Australia’s engagement with Asia a professionally edited, succinct and authoritative curation of the most relevant content on Asia and Australia-Asia relations. Focused on business, geopolitics, education and culture, Briefing MONTHLY is distinctly Australian and internationalist, highlighting trends, deals, visits, stories and events in our region that matter.