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War transforms once more: The rise of a new type of warfare in the pacific

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Klaouzevits, had warned us almost two centuries ago, war is a chameleon, it changes its form constantly, hiding his phase and transforming from one type to another.

The latest transformation in the naval warfare took place in the World War II and introduced itself with an infamous act. The Japanese attack, in Pearl Harbor. The Japanese navy tried to win the war by sinking the entire US Pacific fleet, using not the big guns of its battleships, but the airplanes of its carriers. So, it was in the Pacific, where sea warfare as we understand it in the last 70 years, developed and formulated. Big carriers, loaded with airplanes, were seeking the enemy in the vast Pacific Ocean and they were launching them, to destroy him. In that war, enemy sailormen never saw each other. The carriers were launching their planes hundreds of miles away from the enemy forces. The battles were fought in the skies near and above the carriers. The actual fighting was taking place between enemy pilots who were trying to shoot down each other and between bomber pilots and the air defense capabilities of the carries and the other ships. In stark contrast the sea battles in the Atlantic were more of a traditional type and the last great battles between warships had taken place there, like the hunt and sinking of battleship Bismark.

The importance and the invincibility of the combined maritime and air power proved its value many times over during the cold war. USA carrier groups with the ability to project power everywhere in the world, the monstrous firepower and flexibility of their airplanes, secured the sea lines of communications, protected American interests all over the world and contributed to a great degree to the final victory over the USSR. Those magnificent and marvelous ships seems that they are about to meet an able opponent. The new weapon system that are promising to change once again the phase of sea warfare actually is a combination of an already existing technology and of one that is developing fast. The first technology, is the missile technology already mature and easy to master. The second technology is about flying at extremely high speed (hypersonic speed- that is in excess of mach 5 and up to mach 20). Flying a controllable vehicle in that speed sets a series of technical problems that are not solved yet. Probably the major problem is to create a jet engine that could work in that conditions.

To be accurate, supersonic antiship missiles are in service for many decades now with the once Soviet Navy and now its successor Russian Navy. Their development and adoption is due to qualitative and numerical inferiority of the Soviet naval forces in the cold war. USSR had to find a credible, cheap and easy way to negate the American threat, of course not globally but in the littoral areas of the Soviet empire. The soviet engineers came up with the use of supersonic missiles launched from a variety of platforms (planes, ships, land launchers). The first Russian cruise missile AS-1 was actually a modified MIG-15 in an antiship role. The development, production and use of supersonic missiles remains a vital and central Russian strategy today with the latest 3M82 / Kh-41 Moskit / SS-N-22 Sunburn and P-800 / 3M55 / Kh-61 Yakhont / Brahmos / SS-N-26 Stallion missiles.

Additionally, Russia became a major supplier of supersonic missiles both to China and India and the main partner of both countries in developing their own systems, providing the necessary technology and knowhow.China adopted and copied Russian supersonic missiles for much the same reason that made them indispensable to the Soviet war machine. PLA for decades lacked the appropriate naval power to defend and control its nearby seas. The latest member in the countries that built and operate supersonic missile is India which produces in cooperation with Russia the Brahmos missile. The Brahmos use a combination of a conventional missile for the first stage of its flight and a ramjet engine for the final approach to target. It has a cruising speed of Mach 2.8 (3,400 km/h) and a 290 km range and it can it can fly from an altitude of 15 km to mere meters above the waves.In contrast, and in full compliance with the paradoxal logic of strategy, as Luttwak another strategist claims, US and NATO choose to develop an efficient and capable air defense and not to engage in a competition in developing supersonic missiles of its own. Recognizing the grave danger to the fleet and especially to the most valued ships of all, the carriers, hurried up to beef up the air defenses especially in the antimissile field.The most prominent example is the combination of the F-14 Tomcat, a billion dollar airframe and the Phoenix missile, solely designed and built to engage and kill air breathing threats long before they reach the American flattops. The above combination is not the only defensive measure but one of many. Other systems including CIWS Phalanx, antimissile missiles, electronic counter measures etc., were developed in a more or less expected effort to protect Americas most valuable asset. Therefore West even at this time hasn’t got any supersonic missile equivalent to the Russian ones.

Eventually the cold war ended, leaving US as the only superpower in the world. Alas, new threats emerged like terrorism and new rivals appeared in the horizon like China. In response to the new security environment, new ideas about new weapons and the different use of old ones came up. The common theme and the main idea behind the new concepts, was one physical element, essential in warfare, namely speed. Speed regarded by American agencies as the new stealth, providing the necessary superiority to friendly forces. Superfast missiles compress the time defenders have to react to an attack and to successfully engage it and if used in large numbers can saturate the air Defence systems and defeat at low cost even an expensive and powerful carrier battle group.Among the first ideas, was the retrofitting of old nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles and arming them with conventional war heads. That way, they could be used against an array of targets without provoking a nuclear response. The idea quickly abandoned because of the obvious disadvantages. Once a ballistic missile is launched the enemy has no way of knowing what kind of warhead is carrying, thus a nuclear war may start due to an ambiguous act. Moreover a ballistic missile launched to strike a terrorist cave in Afghanistan, or Africa would follow the same ballistic path that could be used to target Chinese or Russian cities, provoking a nuclear response. US Congress taken into account these ambiguities and uncertainties stopped the development of the project, despite the many attempts by military planners to obtain approval of their plans and adequate funding.The plan was part of a program—in slow development since the 1990s, and now quickly coalescing in military circles—called Prompt Global Strike.On the other side of Pacific Ocean though, such qualms never appeared. China’s PLA probably copying the American concept developed the very same weapon that US Congress banned. China converted an intermediate nuclear ballistic missile into an antiship missile named Dong Feng 21D. This ballistic missile is launched toward space and arcing back to earth at speeds of about Mach 10 with a reported range of about 1,500 km. China, developed this missile as a “carrier killer”, an easy, effective and cheap way to challenge Americas naval supremacy in the Pacific Ocean, denying access to East China Sea to American vessels and ultimately leaving Chinese forces unopposed to secure the capitulation of the other Asian states and eventually regional hegemony.

So far, we have talked about already existing technologies, albeit in a new role. All the weapons are either modified ballistic missiles with conventional warheads or supersonic cruise missiles with speeds up to 3 or 4 Mach’s, nothing exotic and nothing new.The really interesting, revolutionary, new and game changing technology is hypersonic flight that enables vehicles to fly at speeds in excess of Mach 5 and up to Mach 20. These hypersonic vehicles are not missiles. Missiles carry their own fuel and oxidizer, a feature that permits them to operate in thin air upper atmosphere and outer space, but limits their flight profile and uses. In contrast, hypersonic vehicles are airbreathing vehicles that are using atmosphere’s oxygen just like turbofan and turbojet engines. Such vehicles,could travel at missile speed but will have the maneuverability and agility of an aircraft, making easier to avoid defenses, to change course en route to target and all that in a more economical way.

Where is the catch? Those wonderful capabilities demand the development of a new kind of engine that can operate reliably in those high speeds. Existing turbojet and turbofans engines can operate at speeds of about Mach2. Ramjets (jet engines without spinning blades like turbofan or turbojets but with specially designed inlets capable of slowing and compressing the airstream), can operate in higher speeds of about 3 to 4 Mach’s. Hypersonic vehicles operating at speeds above Mach5 require the development of scramjets (supersonic combustion ramjets) engines, capable of igniting and maintain combustion in a stream of supersonic air. Technology hasn’t provide a credible answer yet to this challenge. To make matter worse ramjets and scramjets cannot start flying on their own; they must be accelerated by a carrier aircraft or a first stage missile.The first successful flight test of a scramjet vehicle took place in the 1990’s by a group of Russian, French and American scientists, though it’s not quite clear if supersonic combustion was achieved in those tests. More recently, Russia and India are reportedly working together to produce a scramjet version of Brahmos missile. As for China beyond the DF-21D project that we have already mentioned, there are reports that is testing its own hypersonic vehicle. The Qian Xuesen National Engineering Science Experiment Base is one the centers that research and development about hypersonic technology take place. Recently, according to American and Chinese media, China tested an hypersonic vehicle that reached Mach 10 speed, above its territory. American media designated it as WU-14.Despite all that China, India and even Russia are still far away of their target to build a credible, reliable, operational ready, hypersonic vehicle.

Interestingly enough – or maybe not- the country that has the most advanced and more numerous such programs is USA. To begin with there is the X-51A Waverider, that was tested last summer, over the Pacific Ocean and is produced by a consortium composed of USAF, Boeing, DARPA, NASA, Pratt and Whitney, Rocketdyne and the USAF Research Laboratory’s Propulsion Directorate. The test ended after a malfunction resulted in the destruction of the vehicle. Of course the X-51A, it’s not the only program developed under the prompt global strike iniative, the Pentagon supports and funds DARPA’s Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 and Army’s Advanced Hypersonic Weapon. And we’re not finished yet; another promising project is based on one of the Cold War legends, the famous SR-71 “Blackbird” spy plane. SR-71 had a revolutionary combo machine “J-58” consisted of a turbojet mounted inside a ramjet. That combination enables the SR-71 to start flying on its own and to go supersonic in high altitude. This project named SR-72 potentially would fly at Mach 5 and besides reconnaissance missions it would be capable of carrying and deliver air to ground munitions. Those munitions will have their own hypersonic features and Lockheed’s Skunk Work laboratories which are responsible for those hypersonic programs are calling them “High Speed Strike Weapon”, essentially an hypersonic missile that would be suitable for use by future bombers and fighter aircrafts. Lockheed believes that in the future “speed will be the new stealth”, meaning that if you’ re flying extremely fast the enemy will not have the time to detect you and shoot you down.

Furthermore DARPA recently announced the launch of yet another one hypersonic experimental program. It is called Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) and according to DARPA its purpose is to develop a reusable unmanned vehicle with costs, operation and reliability similar to a traditional aircraft yet capable to ascend to suborbital altitudes to deploy satellites into Low Earth Orbit. Despite the many advantages that hypersonic systems would have in future battle space we should not get too excited. The needed technology is still in its infancy and we’re probably many years away from their operational deployment. Furthermore the paradoxal logic of strategy is working even before those systems became operational, producing the antidotes that will provide the necessary means, mainly for a carrier battle group to counter a swarm attack by supersonic missiles.

Those technologies in contrast to supersonic missiles are for the most part already developed and ready to be tested in operational deployments. Among them the most promising is the laser guns that would be used to counter asymmetrical threats such as drones, speed boats,missiles and so on. The laser guns with their ability to fire fast, accurate and continuously without the fear of running out of ammunition are already installed in US navy ships. Other systems include electromagnetic rail guns and revolving missile launchers. Those weapons are also being developed but the US armed forces, an astounding fact that exemplifies their resolve not only to hold but to expand their superiority over their potential competitors.To conclude, Pacific Ocean once more is becoming the workshop of a new type of warfare. Warriors of both sides will never see each other in those wars but will depend on systems fast, lethal and accurate to destroy the enemy in mere minutes or even seconds. Additionally despite the strengthening of potential competitors, USA still is the most powerful, sophisticated and intelligent actor in the area. Furthermore, although anti access and area denial capabilities are an important element of maritime strategy, still the real and paramount ability of a navy, the only one that will ensure victory is to confront the enemy navy in the sea and defeat it.

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A brief history of Sino-Australian political relations from 1949 to 2020

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Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and Mr Xi met for a bilateral talk during the G20 Forum in Hangzhou.(Supplied: Twitter)

To understand what is happening now requires an understanding of history. The recent Sino-Australian relations have been like a roller coaster ride, which needs to date back to history at least from 1949.

There are several characteristics worth mentioning in Sino-Australian relations. First, there have been diplomatic ups-and-downs between the two governments due to the divergence of the two countries’ political systems and ideology. Second, by comparison, bilateral ties have generally been improving for decades due to the reciprocal economic complementarities and cooperation despite the recent trade disputes. Third, Sino-Australian relations “has become more unequal with the passage of time” due to China’s rise. Fourth, the influence of the US on the foreign policy of Australia cannot be underestimated. In terms of structure, this part will be divided into four periods, posited on the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1972, the outbreak of Tiananmen Incident in 1989 and the recent decline of bilateral relations starting from 2015 with additional illustration of the influence of the US in Australian foreign policy.

The Pre-recognition politicial relations from 1949 to 1971

Graeme Dobell argues, “China has always loomed in the Australian consciousness”, possibly because Australia is geographically located in the Asia Pacific and surrounded by Asian countries with a significant number of ethnic Chinese. Historically, China was viewed in Australia as a threat, namely, “Yellow Peril”. The notion is a color-metaphor, full of racism. East Asians, especially the ethnic Chinese, are an existential hazard to other countries as immigrants.  Professor Gina Marchetti argues that

the rooted in medieval fears of Genghis Khan and Mongolian invasions of Europe, the yellow peril combines racist terrors of alien cultures, sexual anxieties, and the belief that the West will be overpowered and enveloped by the irresistible, dark, occult forces of the east.

In Australia, as a Western country located away from the West,  its Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, infamous as the White Australia Policy, was designed to prohibit Chinese settlers. “Fear of China and hostility to the Chinese immigrants were factors” that supported the Federation of Australia, and both factors existed for decades. The federating of Australia was the process by which the sixBritish colonies consented to unite and become the Commonwealth of Australia. Liberal Prime Minister Harold Holt formally abolished the White Australia Policy in 1966 with the introduction of the Migration Act 1966. By legislating legal equality among European and non-European migrants, this new Act has opened a new immigration history era. It has been the most crucial step in forminga multicultural society in Australia.

However, Australia’s unique geographic location and huge disparity of population between Australia and China have decided that the natural insecurity of Australia as a nation, for that linguistically, historically and intellectually, Australian ancestry originates from Europe, and its vital economic partner and most crucial military ally is the United States, both far away from Australia. Furthermore, Gyngell argues there is always “fear of abandonment” in Australian foreign policy. Likewise, former Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Gareth Evans and former Australian diplomat Bruce Grant confirm that

the evolution of Australian foreign policy needs to be assessed against a background in Australian politics of persistent anxiety about a threat from Asia: sometimes vague and undifferentiated, sometimes specific, but always there.

In this period, China was viewed in Australia as a threat, namely, the aforementioned “Yellow Peril” and “Red Menace”. Arguably, the Red Menace has always existed in the Australian society and the government until now,which is a term applied during the Cold War for describing a nation that faces the increasing authoritarian threat of communism. This term was used to refer to the Soviet Union, while nowadays, it has been employed to mean Communist China. Besides, the difference of scare only reflects the extent to which the Australian government fears the Chinese Communist Party. From 1949 to 1972, especially when Australian and Chinese troops participated in the Korean War as rivals and later the Cultural Revolution was launched in China, Sino-Australian relations were hostile to each other due to the fact they were both subordinated to different political and ideological camps: USSR-led communism and the United Stated-led capitalism.

The steady development of Sino-Australian political relations from 1972 to 1989

During this period, Sino-Australian relations encountered the most drastic ups and downs the bilateral ties have ever experienced. In 1972, the Whitlam Labor government’s election marked the most radical turning point in Sino-Australian history by establishing diplomatic relations with China in December of the same year. Despite the endeavor, Whitlam made, this new chapter of the bilateral relations is mainly dependent on the change of  China Policy from the strongest ally of Australia, the United States. More concretely, in the early 1970s, the American army was withdrawn from Vietnam, indirectly ending the military collisions with the People’s Liberation Army.At the beginning of 1972, Nixon has his dramatic visit to Beijing and Shanghai.

From 1972 to 1989, the bilateral relations were at the stage of steady development. Partly, the positive Sino-Australian relations can be attributed to the same view of opposing the Soviet threat, which facilitated the Sino-Australian cooperation. More specifically, in July 1973, the first Sino-Australian trade agreement was signed by the Chinese government and the Whitlam government. The visit of Whitlam to Beijing in late 1973 culminated in a joint communique, concurring with the promotion of views exchanges among the Sino-Australian officials. In 1976, during the period of the Coalition-led Fraser government, “the Australian Parliament even stood in silence in the honor” of Mao Zedong, when Mao passed away. In 1978, the Australia-China Council was built by the Coalition-led Fraser government to facilitate bilateral relations.

Furthermore, in the 1980s, with the economic reform of Deng Xiaoping and the incrementally frequent visits of Sino-Australian senior leaders, the Australian government saw the economic opportunities China may bring, and the Chinese government also realized the Chinese modernization might benefit from the support of Australia. Mackerras argues that “the mid-1980s saw the relationship reach a peak”. In 1984, the ALP-led Hawke government launched the China Action Plan, “an overall economic program towards China”, aiming to deepen bilateral economic cooperation. In 1985, Hawke told the Australian parliament that a ‘special relationship’ between the two countries was forming.

The realistic Sino-Australian political relations from 1990 to 2015

The outbreak of the Tiananmen Incident in 1989 was a devastating turnaround in Sino-Australian relations, bringing the vigorous relations to a sudden stop. To some extent, Deng’s economic reform gave Australia and the Western world an illusion that China tried to become more Western. Contrariwise, the Incident shattered misapprehension of the special relationship between the two countries and has pushed human rights to one of the central issues that needs to be addressed in the bilateral agenda until now. It is noteworthy that the negative influence of the Tiananmen Incident was in all domains. Antagonized by the Australian broadcasting of violence in Beijing, the Australian people, including politicians, business people, scholars and religious figures, unanimously condemned Beijing. All aspects of Sino-Australian relations were affected at varying levels.

Arguably, after the Tiananmen Incident, the attitudes of the Australian government has changed to be more pragmatic and national-interest-driven. Wang argues that  the reassessment of Sino-Australian relations “did not lead to a fundamental policy shift” in Canberra “and human rights were not emphasized to the detriment of Australia’s economic interests”. In 1993, as the first Australian Prime Minister after the Incident, Keating visited China, breaking the diplomatic ice, partly because he needed to push wool exports to China.

Noticeably, from 1989 to 2015, China and the comparison of world powers experienced earthshaking changes. The hazards of the Asian Financial Crisis in 1998 and the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 lead to the economic meltdown of some Southeastern countries and the relative decline of the West. Bearing the two Crises, China has benefited enormously, even the most, from joining the WTO and other regional and global economic organizations as a member of economic globalization. At the end of 2010, China surpassed Japan and has become the second-biggest global economy, indicating that the global economic center has gradually transferred to East Asia. During this period, Hong Kong and Macao were subsequently handed over to China, enhancing China’s confidence. There is no doubt that bilateral relations have been increasingly asymmetrical during this time, leading to the concept of equal partners less possible.

From 1989 to 2015, facing China’s economic rise, on the one hand, the Australian government and business took advantage of the historical opportunities and have been more engaged in the Chinese economy. For instance, the Coalition-led Howard government was a firm“ supporter for China’s accession to the WTO” to share better Chinese economic growth. In 2014, the Coalition-led Abbott government and the Chinese government started to portray the bilateral relations as a “comprehensive strategic partnership” due to the incremental and robust trade relations and more frequent communication between top leaders of the two sides. On the other hand, due to the different political ideologies and systems, and the gradually widening disparity of the two countries, there have been strong concerns in the Australian government that China may leverage trade over Australia. Foot  indicates the sense of uncertainty and insecurity in Canberra that

Has Beijing worked to support the dominant norms of the international order, or has it striven to overturn them? Has it ever deserved to be called “responsible power”, a term defined by the dominant states, or has it acted irresponsibly? To place these questions more explicitly within an international relations framework, has China shown itself since 1949, and more especially during the period of reform and opening since 1979, as capable of be socialized into supporting global norms? Or, as realists would predict, have there been signs that its rising power over the past two decades has generated new tensions in the international system? Looking more to the future, what kind challenge does its enhanced capabilities pose to the status quo?

Despite the dilemma that the Australian government has to face and the political ups and downs between the two countries during this period, “the growing sense of independence in formulating Australia’s policy towards China, as well as the increasing saliency of trade considerations in implementing such policy, has transcended political and inter-administration divides”. Thus, to some extent, although there were still ups and downs during this period from the ALP-led Hawke government to the Coalition-led Abbott government in 2015, the bilateral relations “appears to have become less uncertain” and matured. Arguably, the Australian government started to view China either without unjustified fear as they had before 1972, or super optimism as they had before 1989.

In fact, the differences may only exist in the style of how different administrations approach China. For instance, the first Mandarin-speaking Prime Minister Kevin Rudd introduced a concept called “Zhengyou in Chinese that means to voice different opinions to benefit the Chinese leadership. By comparison, another Prime Minister John Howard preferred to deal with China on more practical issues.

The increasingly strained bilateral political relations from 2016 to 2020

Bilateral relations have deteriorated since the exacerbation of territorial disputes in the South China Sea in 2016. The Australian government criticized China for not abiding by the South China Sea Arbitration, a joint statement with Japan and the US. In response, the Chinese government expressed its strong displeasure through its state-owned media the Global Times, denouncing Australia as a “paper cat”. Currently, the Australian government is concerned that Chinese activity in the South China Sea may threaten Asia pacific security, thus influencing Australian sovereignty and security.

More importantly, Australia’s closest and strongest ally, the US, initiated a trade war with China at the beginning of 2018.  Since Australia often follows American foreign policy, the increasingly intense Sino-American relations have negatively affected Sino-Australian relations. In the same year, Sino-Australian ties soured further when Australia became the first country to officially ban China’s Huawei from its 5G network. A similar prohibition on Huawei was later executed in the US in 2019.

In terms of domestic politics, there are continuously more negative speeches about China.Australian politician Andrew Hastie urges urged the Australian government and public to realistically recognize the unprecedented democratic conviction and security threat from China. He even goes “as far as to compare the Western tolerance of China’s rise with the appeasement of Nazi Germany”. Hamilton argues Chinese infiltration in Australia is a “silent invasion”. The Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton, one of most senior officers in the Liberal-Coalition-led Morrison administration, condemned China’s interference and cyber hacks in Australia and claimed that the policies of the CCP are incompatible with Australian values.

2020 may have been the most turbulent year for Sino-Australian relations so far. Facing the once-a-century Covid-19 pandemic, Beijing has taken trade actions against a series of Australian goods such as barley, cattle, wine, cotton and coal after the Morrison administration advocated an independent Covid-19 inquiry without consulting Beijing first.

The tension also extended to people-to-people exchange. Canberra has warned its residents against arbitrary arrest in China. In contrast, Beijing has cautioned against studying and visiting Australia due to purportedly increasing racism and discrimination against people of Chinese and Asian descent. At the end of 2020, Morrison reacted furiously and demanded an apology from Beijing to an image tweeted by a Chinese diplomat showing an Australian soldier holding a knife to an Afghan child’s throat, which has further shadowed current and future relations.

Meanwhile, despite the global pandemic, there is increasing scrutiny in Australian media, including of the Hong Kong anti-extradition bill, the Xinjiang re-education camp, and China’s political donation to Australian political parties, Chinese spy students, the fight between Hong Kong and Chinese students in Australia, the defection of Wang Liqiang, Huawei backdoor suspicion and the detention of Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun. According to the Lowy Institute poll in 2019, Australians’s trust in China to ‘act responsibly’ has dropped to 32 %, a 20-point decline from 2018. In 2020, trust in China has deteriorated to 23%, the lowest point in the Poll’s history.

Whatever, if any, evidence underpins these narratives or not, they seem to point out one reality: the plummeting state of Sino-Australian relations. Geoff Raby, former Australian Ambassador to China, even argues that Sino-Australian relations are at their lowest ebb since 1972.It may be controversial to argue that the current bilateral relations are worse than the relations in 1989, but it is appropriate to point out the reality that the Sino-Australian relations have been incrementally damaged. The Australian government’s dilemma is the overreliance of the Australian trade upon China and the exacerbated political disagreement. Jonathan Pearlman argues that “security and economics are tugging Canberra in different directions, as are its values and its interests”.

The Influence of the United States in Australian foreign policy

Undoubtedly, the Australian foreign policy has been influenced by the American government, as Australia has been called the “fifty-first state” of the US. Australia and the US have the same language background, similar European ancestry, similar political systems and strong economic ties. More importantly, in 1951, Canberra and Washington agreed on the Australia, New Zealand and United States Security Treaty (ANZUS), regulating that “an attack on either country’s armed forces or territory in the Pacific area” means “common danger” for the three countries. Since the US abolished its responsibilities to New Zealand due to the disputes of nuclear-armed ships, the ANZUS has become a bilateral treaty between Australia and the US and, separately, between Australia and New Zealand.

Given the American economic and military power around the world and the substantial disparity of Australia-American strengths, it is easy to argue that the ANZUS is the cornerstone of Australian security, and the US is the most important ally of Australia. In fact, Australia followed the US’s leadership through the UN, in the Korean War in 1950, the Vietnam War in 1962, the Afghanistan War in 2001 and the Iraq War in 2003 and recognized the PRC after the Nixon government had changed its China policy. To underpin the above view, Tow and Albinski affirm that the “ANZUS alliance remains Australia’s primary security relationship”. The former Australian diplomat Dr.Alison Broinowski argue that

Australia uncritically and voluntarily imitates its major ally (the United States) and its minor ally (the United Kingdom) in most things, yet lacks the capacity to do them well and the independence to do them differently. Having taken the drug of dependence from birth, Australia seems allied and addicted to it.

Thus, it is easy to question how independent Australia’s foreign policy is, especially its China policy, and argue that Australia does generally imitate the US’s foreign policy. As for the recent downturn of bilateral relations, Geoff Raby, an insider of Australia politics, believes that Canberra has developed policies to push back China’s rise in that the US started regarding China as a strategic competitor.

However, there is some policy flexibility in the Australian government, mainly economic-interests-motivated. To cite an instance, despite the opposition of the US, Australia participated in the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in 2015 and leased the Port of Darwin to a Chinese company in the same year. Australia took the position as an outsider in terms of the Sino-American trade war, suggesting the two sides to end the fight to avoid the risks of collateral damage to Australia. Even in the 1950s and 1960s, when the Australian government adopted a hostile attitude towards China, the wheat trade between China and Australia“reached a significant level”.

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The Economic Revival of Japan

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Photo: Jezael Melgoza/ Unsplash

Amidst the uncertainty weaved by the pandemic, the stock markets around the world have shunned the preconceived notions associated to their functionality over the past year. While some sophisticated economies are suffering turmoil at the ensue of new Covid variants, deviant vaccination drives, and resumption of state-wide lockdowns, some of the countries are outright negating the educated forecasts made by seasoned financial experts all over the globe. China stands as a flag-bearer of such reality-defying markets: bagging GDP growth unlike any in the world whilst simultaneously controlling the virus strain in Beijing. Recent to the tally, however, is the quaint nation of Japan that despite being head-to-head with another gruesome wave of Coronavirus, still manages to consistently outperform the hailed champions of the global financial markets.

The 3rd biggest economy in the world astonished the financial gurus when Nikkei 225, Japan’s core stock market Index, soared up steadily over the last few weeks. With a 1.9% hike at the week’s opening on Monday, 15th February, Nikkei 225 Index surpassed the coveted 30000-point threshold after more than three decades. The economic rebound is associated to the export sector picking up the pace after a sluggish performance last year. The country still wrestles with the throttle of the pandemic; confirming over 1000 Covid-positive patients since November 16th and adding the cumulative death toll of 7056; surpassing the 7000 deaths mark in just under two weeks.

The positive effect, however, dawns since the daily confirmed cases are showing a steady drop; below 1000 daily-confirmed cases in over 4 months. This occurrence is in tandem to the global fall in the Covid cases. Moreover, Japan’s approval of the Covid vaccine produced by Pfizer Inc. is reflecting the recovery in the health condition of the country, especially a lucrative news amidst the second health emergency recently imposed in Tokyo.

Standing at the 30393.13-point mark, Nikkei 225 is expected to follow the bullish trend heavily over the following week as well. According to the measured forecasts, the bourse is optimally headed to strike the 33000-point mark after crossing the milestone of triple decades. This is due to the positive economic outlook in tandem to the rebooting of the global economy which would ultimately enable the export-reliant country. With Japan announcing a 12.7% GDP growth trailing from the recovery of the last quarter of 2020, followed by a hefty government stimulus to prompt domestic consumption, the Japanese bourse is expected to inflate by up to 30% by the end of the first quarter of 2021 in March, presumably speculating a record surge to bypass the highest ever figure of 38915.87-point, posted by Nikkei 225 back in 1989 before being subsequently floored by the notorious price bubble crash.

However, the economic recovery much less a record shattering surge in the market is heavily dependent on some of the core facets. The debacle of the nationalisation of vaccines is evident in Europe and ironically is the crisis posing more of a serious threat than the pandemic itself. Japan’s economic stability would only be possible given the vaccinations are administered effectively and timely with minimal resistance. As Japan still finds it hard to evade the emergency measures introduced in multiple regions, a vaccine crisis could intensify the emergency precautions and lockdowns may even gear into effect. This could seriously undermine the production capabilities of the country which ultimately could carry forward as an element hampering the blooming investor confidence in Japan.

Much to the global conformity of economic peril last year, Japan’s economy also contracted by 4.8% in 2020. The steep contraction, despite being of a greater extent relative to the 3.5% annualised shrinkage in the US economy, was still much controlled than the forecasted 5.3% fall projected by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, unlike some of the regional economies, the pandemic-induced decline lasted only for a short span of time before Japan waded through and rallied. Posting a 3% growth in the 4th quarter of 2020, when major economies like Germany and US grappled with recession, Japan steadily made surface.

Now as the pessimism looms in Europe and the political divide worsens in US, Investors are pouring confidence in Japanese equities which provide a solid foundation to the already surging Japanese Indices. This shift in perspective could be gauged by the purview of global stock positions taken by the active equity investors throughout the globe; pouring investments unlike the sceptical position adopted since January. The increasing investor confidence coupled by the improving economic and social health of Japan has proved monumental on the financial charts; despite being in the highs of a heavy stimulus, S&P 500 continues to be outperformed by Nikkei 225, sometimes even falling short by colossal margins to the returns added by the Japanese Index.

Which way the markets would turn and how Japan could sustain the whelming economic recovery depends largely on how Japan deals with Covid and how efficiently it regulates the vaccination drives. Moreover, Japan’s success may be upped the ante by any new misery that might befall on US or Europe that could ultimately drive more confidence and flare to the 3rdlargest economy of the world.

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Mongolia-World Bank Group Partnership: Three Decades of Partnering for Prosperity

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It all began exactly thirty years ago. On February 14, 1991, the eve of Tsagaan Sar, Mongolia joined the World Bank Group[1]. This was the period when the country had just gotten on the path of democracy, free market, and openness to the outside world.  Mongolia rightly took pride in this transition but, at the same time, it presented enormous challenges, including a sharp economic contraction. Following the cut of external aid, the hardship was felt by Mongolians every day. Long lines were visible on every street corner for rationed food.

The World Bank’s support was quick to arrive. By the end of 1991, the first project of $30 million was already signed to help rehabilitate production in key sectors such as agriculture, energy and transport. The World Bank also carried out a comprehensive macroeconomic analysis, zooming in on the immediate challenges of runaway inflation and falling output.

Since these early days three decades ago, the World Bank Group (WBG) has accompanied Mongolia’s strong recovery and development, culminating in the country’s graduation from the International Development Association (IDA) – the WBG’s lending window for low income countries – last year. Mongolia’s economy has expanded significantly over this period, with GDP per capita rising more than fourfold from $1,072 in 1991 to $4,339 in 2019. But growth has been volatile. Like many other resource-rich countries in the world, Mongolia experienced persistent boom-and-bust cycles. Economic diversification remains critical to generate productive jobs, especially for the young. People’s living standards have improved, but growth did not not generate shared prosperity for all. Mongolian citizens expect their government to deliver quality education and health services, and provide for a clean and safe living environment. Their aspirations have not yet been fully realized.

Through good and difficult times, the WBG has remained a steadfast partner of Mongolia. Our budget support operations helped Mongolia restore macroeconomic stability and lay the foundations for inclusive growth. Our investments contributed to economic development in both mining and non-mining sectors, improving people’s livelihoods, and addressing environment and climate challenges. A total of $1.28 billion World Bank financing has been committed to Mongolia for these years. The WBG’s private sector arms—the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA)—have also been active in supporting private investments.

The investments have helped improve people’s livelihoods across the country. In the energy sector, we supported electricity access to over 100,000 rural and herder families providing them with portable solar panels in the 2000s. In the early 2000s, the World Bank telecommunications project helped all 360 soums in Mongolia gain access to modern phone and internet services. To help herders mitigate natural disaster risks, we supported the world’s first index-based livestock insurance system in Mongolia. To improve governance, we helped revamp the statistical system in Mongolia to match international standards to inform decision making, and empowered citizens to make their voice heard on public expenditure allocations at local levels. IFC financed Mongolia’s first utility-scale windfarm for the country and supported reforms to increase access to finance for SMEs through enabling movable collateral.   

Most recently, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the WBG quickly mobilized over $60 million to support the relief and stimulus measures for saving lives, protecting the poor and vulnerable, and ensuring sustainability of businesses and jobs. These resources are being invested for the most essential medical and diagnostic equipment in three tertiary hospitals, nine district hospitals of the capital city and 21 aimags, personal protective equipment for frontline health workers, and training for medical staff. A new project, which would finance the vaccination of about 60 percent of Mongolians has just been approved. The Bank is also financing the temporary relief of social insurance contribution for over 120,000 self-employed workers including 72,000 women and around 150,000 workers employed by 18,000 firms affected by COVID-19. Bank support has also benefited approximately 1.19 million children through the top-up payments to the government’s Child Money Program.

After thirty years of partnership with the World Bank Group, Mongolia has become a lower-middle-income country and its vision is to become by 2050 a high-income country with high levels of human development, better quality of life, a diversified economy, and good governance. This is an aspiration we will continue to support. To turn it into reality will be challenging. The first step will be to gradually phase out short-term relief measures and return to the important agenda of structural reforms which are needed to rekindle growth and make it sustainable and inclusive. Over the medium-term, Mongolia will have to contend with the growing risks associated with climate change, and the challenges this will bring to the structure of its economy. And it will need to offer its youth the perspective of productive, well-paying jobs, to retain the country’s talents at home.

The WBG is honored to have been Mongolia’s trusted partner over the past thirty years. We are confident that our partnership will continue and further strengthen in the decades ahead, rain or shine.

 [1] Mongolia joined the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), International Development Association (IDA), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in 1991; and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) in 1999.  All these organizations together known as the World Bank Group.

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