ASPI suggests


The world

This week, the summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong‑un overwhelmingly captured the world’s attention. The two leaders signed a joint statement, President Trump followed with a lengthy press conference and The White House produced a bizarre Hollywood-style video for Kim. The summit prompted an avalanche of analysis.

So where to start? There are plenty of negative views on the summit. See these pieces by top Asia hands in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, Michael Green and Danny Russel. For a more positive view, see ASPI’s own Rod Lyon. The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart argues that ‘Trump has the chance to be like Ronald Reagan’, and Bret Stephens explains why that’s unlikely. The Wall Street Journal shows how Pyongyang reported and spun the summit. While war is much less likely in the short term, it’s still possible in the long term. With that in mind, IISS has a new report on the conventional military balance on the Korean peninsula.

The friendly feel to the Trump–Kim summit contrasted sharply to the atmosphere earlier at the G7 summit in Canada. Before departing Washington, Trump called for Russia’s readmission, which the other members swiftly rejected. In Canada, Trump told G7 leaders that Crimea is Russian, arrived late to a women’s empowerment meeting, threatened to escalate a trade war with friends and allies, launched an extraordinary Twitter attack on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and refused to endorse the summit communique.

Notably, a promise to promote the ‘rules-based international order’ was included in the communique despite American objections. Strobe Talbott reviews Russia’s involvement in the G8 in Politico. Susan Glaser and Thomas Wright take a closer look at Trump’s rift with European allies. Perhaps the acrimony can be explained by the Trump Doctrine?

In Singapore’s shadow, the US quietly unveiled a new US$255 million facility for a ‘de facto embassy’ in Taiwan. Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing‑wen, and her predecessor were both in attendance with the US envoy Marie Royce, the assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs. The New York Times noted that the ‘lack of cabinet-level visitors from Washington displayed the Trump administration’s unwillingness to upset China’.

One wonders why the US bothered trying to minimise the fallout given that on Friday, President Trump approved tariffs on about US$50 billion of Chinese goods, according to the Wall Street Journal. Beijing has said that it intends to assess tariffs on a corresponding amount of US products—no doubt targeting goods produced in Republican states.

Shares in the Chinese telecoms equipment maker ZTE plunged this week after reports that US Senators are pushing to keep sanctions on the company despite President Trump’s decision to reconsider penalties against the company as a ‘favour’ to Chinese President Xi Jinping. Writing in the New York Times, Li Yuan argues that the near-collapse of ZTE may be China’s ‘Sputnik moment’.

In Hong Kong, activist Edward Leung was sentenced to six years in jail for ‘rioting’ during the Mong Kok protests of February 2016. In early 2017, the same court sparked outrage after it sentenced police who had beaten up a protester to only two years in jail. One in three pro-democracy legislators has been prosecuted by the government since the Umbrella Movement of 2014. Ironically, Leung was sentenced using colonial laws that Britain tried to repeal and Beijing fought to keep. Writing in the Financial Times, former British diplomat and former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, argues that Britain has an obligation to denounce the abuse of colonial laws in Hong Kong and other former British colonies.

In the Middle East, the war in Yemen enters a decisive phase making an already dire humanitarian situation worse. Charlie Winter and Haid Haid have a new report on jihadist insurgent communications in Syria. On the topic of jihadists, New America takes a look at the demographics of homegrown terrorism in America.

Matteo Salvini, Italy’s new anti-migrant deputy prime minister and interior minister, refused permission for a rescue vessel carrying more than 600 people to dock in Italian ports earlier this week, prompting an international outcry. French President Emmanuel Macron said Rome had acted with ‘cynicism and irresponsibility’ in turning away the rescue ship, setting off a bitter diplomatic spat between the two countries. Italy’s other deputy prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, said he’s still waiting for an apology from Macron.

The two Italian deputy prime ministers hail from two populist parties, Lega and the Five Star Movement. Writing in Foreign Policy earlier this month, Erik Jones argued that the legislative agendas of the coalition partners will inevitably compete for the same limited fiscal resources, but that ultimately the Italian government will last only so long as Matteo Salvini of Lega has his way.

Here in Australia, we’re well-versed on the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) influence operations on our own soil, but what about across the ditch? The Croaking Cassandra blog, written by former NZ Treasury official Michael Reddell, has been running a series of posts recently about Chinese interference in the land of the long white cloud. The latest update provides a neat dot-point summary of all the instances of CCP infiltration of New Zealand society.

Tech geek

ASPI’s annual conference this week is on ‘Building Australia’s strategy for space’, so a space theme seems appropriate for this week’s ‘tech geek’.

Space 2.0 is a key theme of the conference, and a key objective of Space 2.0 is innovation and cost reduction in space launch, with reusable rockets and airborne launch currently dominating efforts. But the most ambitious approach is a space elevator. Literally an elevator from earth into space, it would be a revolutionary transformation for humanity. A new article examines the feasibility of such a mega-project.

There’s a debate occurring in the US over the future of the International Space Station (ISS) which will be defunded by the US government by the mid-2020s. Meanwhile, China is set to launch its first true space station around 2020. If an agreement can’t be reached to transfer the ISS to commercial operators, then it’s likely it would be de-orbited, leaving China with the only space station in orbit.

One of the reasons that the US is defunding the ISS is to shift attention to the return to the moon, starting with a lunar orbit space station known as the ‘Deep Space Gateway’. Here’s an interesting article on the debate about how that should take place in the 2020s.

Most interesting, though, is how quickly the commercial space sector will outpace NASA’s efforts in this regard, with Jeff Bezos’s Blue Moon vehicle to support a ‘moon village’ and SpaceX determined to establish a foothold on the lunar surface.


For more on the Trump–Kim summit, listen to Jeffrey Lewis and Aaron Stein at Arms Control Wonk [50:47] and Mira Rapp-Hooper and Stephen Haggard at The Lawfare Podcast [42:07].

ANU’s National Security College has a new fortnightly podcast series looking at Australian and regional security challenges. The first episode features Rory Medcalf discussing the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept. [29:57]


Sydney, 19 June, 6–7.30 pm, The University of Sydney, Sydney Ideas and China Studies Centre, ‘Peace on the peninsula? The origins and implications of North Korea’s diplomatic offensive’. Register here.

Canberra, 19 June, 6–7 pm, Australian Institute of International Affairs (ACT Branch), ‘Reflections upon the Trump–Kim summit’. Register here.

Melbourne, 21 June, 6–7.30 pm, Australian Institute of International Affairs (Victoria Branch), ‘ASEAN’s regional role’, presented by HE Ms Jane Duke, Australian Ambassador to ASEAN. Register here.

Sydney, 26 June, 6–8 pm, United States Studies Centre, ‘Populism, authoritarianism and gender in Trump’s America’. Register here.