ASPI suggests

The world

On Tuesday, The Strategist revealed that Australian helicopter pilots had been targeted by lasers while participating in this year’s Indo-Pacific Endeavour in the South China Sea. Euan Graham, who broke the story, contextualised the episode against the more recent history of interactions between the Australian and Chinese navies in the South China Sea. ASPI’s Michael Shoebridge underlined the importance of calling out aggressive Chinese actions when they occur. Of course, Beijing denies any wrongdoing. The Washington Post provides a more longitudinal view of what China’s increasingly aggressive posture in the South China Sea portends in terms of its global ambitions.

The US–China trade war is expanding and might be morphing into a conflict based on technology. In a series of special reports, The Economist has examined a number of facets of the conflict, explaining why trade itself can no longer be the basis for the relationship between the two countries. The series looks at the problem with laying ever more tariffs on Chinese goods and why Xi Jinping’s favourite part of America is Iowa—his connections there run deeper than you might think. Also revealing is this piece on the growing contempt for the ‘sore loser and … dangerous spoiler’ that many in China see the US to be.

And it’s not just China coming in for US attention on the trade front. Trump announced—via Twitter, naturally—that goods imported from Mexico will be subject to a 5% tariff that could ramp up to 25% if illegal migration from Mexico into the US doesn’t stop. The move has already been described as ‘mindbogglingly stupid’ and could put a stick through the spokes of the yet-to-be-ratified replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In the wake of the sumo- and golf-infused meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US President Donald Trump in Tokyo, a number of analysts have asked what Japan’s leader is trying to achieve with his flattery of the president. Is it a mystery, given that previous attempts seem to have achieved little to Japan’s benefit? Or is it all about maintaining the alliance?

And if you’re still scratching your head about the real significance of 5G, this explainer from Vox gives a good overview of where the technology is at, what it might bring about and why it’s become the source of so much geopolitical tension.

Elections are now done and dusted for Australia, Indonesia and India, although for some the dust has taken a while to settle. Jakarta grappled with Prabowo Subianto’s challenge to Joko Widodo’s win, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent the week finalising his new cabinet and rolling out his vision for the next five years. Constantino Xavier argues in The Print that India’s invitation to BIMSTEC leaders for Modi’s swearing-in ceremony shows that India refuses to let its cold relations with Pakistan impede its outreach to its other neighbours. Pradeep Mehta opines in Live Mint that ‘Modi 2.0’ needs to live up to his promise of inclusive development.

In Australia, Scott Morrison has gotten onto the front foot where foreign policy’s concerned. Putting meat on the bones of his signature Pacific ‘step-up’, the prime minister is scheduled to make Solomon Islands his first foreign destination in his new innings. Grant Wyeth’s piece in The Diplomat nicely lays out the significance of the visit in the context of Australia’s growing worries about Chinese presence in the Pacific islands. Mark Kenny, writing in The Conversation, makes the point that the islands are looking for substantive actions, not empty words, from Australia on climate change. As Michael Shoebridge argues in his Strategist post, Australia’s leaders ‘need to show they are listening to and acting on this voice from the Pacific to have credibility in building on the Pacific step-up’.

But just in case you didn’t get enough election-related reading done, we’ve got another one coming in the form of an unplanned vote. Israelis are going back to the polls after Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to form a governing coalition. See the New York Times for the reasons behind the snap poll, which is set for 17 September.

Getting a little bit meta for a minute, The Economist asks whether think tanks can survive in a world in which people have ‘had enough of experts’.

Tech geek

Robert Zubrin, a vocal space advocate and author of The case for Mars, in which he proposed his ‘Mars Direct’ plan for rapid missions to the red planet, has a new book, The case for space. This time he’s arguing that the US should pursue military space supremacy by deploying anti-satellite weapons and ‘fighter satellites’.

There’s an interesting article in The Daily Beast which looks at disturbing reports of a eugenics program as the centrepiece of emerging Russian ideology, as well as Russian genetically engineered bioweapons. Meanwhile, China is genetically engineering monkeys to be more like humans. This follows the country’s announcement of genetically engineered babies last year.

Not quite tech, but certainly geeky, Chatham House has released a great interactive infographic on the resource trade. And with trade tensions intensifying, China is hinting that it may use its dominance of the world’s ‘rare earth’ resources as a weapon against the US.

The Washington Post has come up with an interesting scenario in that shows how current tensions between the US and Iran could spiral into open military conflict.

There’s intensifying controversy over whether Russia is conducting low-level nuclear tests that would violate the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the US intelligence community thinks that China may double its nuclear arsenal over the next decade.

There’s a good article in War on the Rocks on hypersonic weapons, which urges readers not to over-hype their impact on future warfare. And with the INF Treaty due to expire in August, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments has analysed the US’s options for new intermediate-range weapons.

The week in history

Spanning this week and leading into the first week of June in 1989 were what’s become known in the West as the Tiananmen Square protests. This Bloomberg article runs through the genesis of the protests—which began in April and spread to hundreds of cities across China—and looks at the impact the events of 1989 had on China as a whole.


War on the Rocks podcast Jaw-Jaw talks to ASPI distinguished fellow Peter Mattis about the real intentions of the Chinese Communist Party. [45:42]

The National Security Podcast talks all things Quad ahead of the next meeting of what some see as a ‘minilateralist myth’. [44:13]

China in the World by the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center looks at China–India relations one year on from the supposed ‘reset’ at the Wuhan summit. [36:27]


India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, died 55 years ago this week. Here’s what he said about Pakistan in an interview with an American journalist, weeks before he passed away. [3:09]

This Al Jazeera documentary depicts the story of a nomadic tribe in Lebanon that has been rendered stateless and now finds itself vulnerable. [45:05]


Canberra, 3 June, 5.30–7 pm, Australian National University, ‘Data for the planet: driving solutions for resilient cities, disaster risk reduction and infectious disease’. Register here.

Perth, 4 June, 6–7.30 pm, Australian Institute of International Affairs (Western Australia), ‘David Irvine on cyber security and cyber conflict’. Register here.