Trump’s sudden announcement that the US intends to “immediately withdraw” troops from Syria (and much reduced troops for Afghanistan) has caused much confusion as to US defence policy and, following the resignation of Mattis as Defence Secretary, Trump has found it difficult to get a replacement. While consistent with his election manifesto, Trump appears to have recognised that he was being too hasty and it appears he has accepted the view of National Security adviser, John Bolton, that the withdrawal be extended over a longer period and that it should first involve the elimination of IS (which Trump initially claimed had been achieved). Even so, policy uncertainty remains.
My last Commentary (4 November) was headed “How Much Longer Can Morrison Last” and suggested that he must quickly address major policy issues and stop announcing handouts mainly designed to demonstrate that he is an “active” PM. But his decision to establish a electoral promotion bus to travel around parts of Queensland has so far not produced major policy statements. Of some interest is that senior Queensland Liberal Steve Ciobo (who voted for Dutton in the leadership spill) “refused to say yesterday whether the leadership switch to Mr Morrison would help improve the government’s stocks in the state”: ‘I don’t think it serves anyone’s purpose and I also don’t think, frankly, that Queenslanders or indeed Australians more generally, care about what’s happened,’ Mr Ciobo told Sky News (see Morrison Qld Bus Tour).
Last night my wife and I attended an AIIA function to hear Rowan Callick speak about China under Xi. His analysis was truly alarming (see Callick on China). It seems that China is now run by the Communist Party even more than it was under Mao. I asked C what influence the military has on policy. He said that the previous military heads had been sacked and were replaced by those who were educated in the Communist line and this applies more or less across the board, including in the media. Just about every important organisation has been “communised”. At universities there are watchers who report on any dissidents and, at a recent discussion attended by students, seven cameras had been installed.
Although the ABC and SBS continue to convey concerns about Trump, the realisation that he seems to be on the right track is spreading, including by Turnbull. Of particular importance are the signs that he may have done a deal with China involving the putting of pressure on NK to change its missile threat policy. The article in today’s Australian by its first rate China correspondent, Rowan Callick, suggests that Trump may have persuaded XI to threaten Kim with a reduction in oil supply and in imports from NK (where about 80% of NK exports go). Callick also quotes a Chinese academic as saying publicly that “the fundamental interests of China and North Korea are now conflicting”. Such a statement would not be made in China unless the hint of a basic change had got around (see attached Chinese Policy on NK).
I have previously mentioned the report that, following his agreement with Chinese President XI on controlling emissions, Obama had claimed that the US has ratified the Paris Agreement. The latest weekly letter from the US sceptic group (Science & Environmental Project) reports that a White House adviser has claimed that it need not go to the US Senate for ratification by two-thirds of the Senate. He asserts that “With respect to the legal form of the agreement, the United States has a long and well-established process for approving executive agreements, that is, a legal form which is distinct from treaties, which are approved through the advice and consent process in the Senate.” My inquiry of SEPP as to the possibility of this being taken to court produced the response that, while this is likely to happen, the stacking of courts by Obama is likely to mean it would take several years before any review by the US Supreme Court. SEPP notes that Obama boasts that the Paris Agreement is the most ambitious climate agreement in history.
Can there be any question that the G20 meeting in China was not “a success”? The length of the communiqué (7000 words!) and the policies approved might seem to establish it was (see G20 Communiqué). Indeed, it is difficult to find anything missing from the endorsed policies. But one wonders how the discussion of them by 20 leaders could possibly have been covered in the two days and whether any of those endorsed policies will replace those currently being implemented at home. All the more so given that there were numerous important bilaterals on the sidelines.