International Studies

When the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) invited Hugh Trevor-Roper, Regius Professor of History at the University of Oxford, to visit China in 1965, he jumped at the chance. It was a decision that all parties concerned came to regret. The eminent historian had a terrible time in China, ‘that land of bigots and parrots’. He didn’t meet the right people. He found no intellectual equals. The interpreters and guides assigned to the group weren’t up to the job. He nicknamed them Cement-head, Duckbottom, Smooth-face, and the Presbyterian.

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Scott Morrison does not like to explain the decisions he makes on our behalf. Sometimes he just refuses to discuss them, as he did when, as immigration minister, he simply rejected any questions about how his boat-turnback policy was being implemented at sea. At other times he is a little subtler, as he has been this year while presiding over what will probably prove to be the most consequential shift in Australia’s foreign relations in decades. The collapse in relations with our most powerful Asian neighbour and most important trading partner is not just Canberra’s doing, of course; it has resulted from decisions made in Beijing too. But Australia’s recent and current choices have certainly contributed to the chill, and our future choices will do much to determine where things go from here.

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Peter Rodgers reviews 'Israel’s Occupation' by Neve Gordon

Peter Rodgers
Monday, 14 September 2020

Barack Obama has promised to change the way America does things. If he is serious about this when it comes to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, we can only hope that he will read Neve Gordon’s examination of Israel’s post-1967 rule of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The subject matter, and the occasionally choking academic writing, do not make for a pretty story. But the book might serve to temper the new president’s apparently effusive support for Israel. That country’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, and its determined settlement-building programme, are an ongoing disaster for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

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When I started reading My Israel Question, the Israel Defence Force Chief of Staff had just vowed to ‘turn back the clock in Lebanon by twenty years’; and the demolition was underway. Beirut’s airport, major roads, bridges, power generation facilities and other civilian infrastructure had been bombed, and villages and densely populated suburbs were being reduced to rubble. In a report some weeks later (August 23), Amnesty estimated that 1183 Lebanese had been killed, mostly civilian, about one-third of them children. The injured numbered 4054, and 970,000 people were displaced; 30,000 houses, 120 bridges, 94 roads, 25 fuel stations and 900 businesses were destroyed. Israel lost 118 soldiers and 41 civilians, and up to 300,000 people in northern Israel were driven into bomb shelters. Israel estimates that Hezbollah, the putative object of its wrath, lost about 500 fighters.

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The intrinsic quality of a state is, in the final instance, determined by that which guarantees its claim to authority. In the case of Indonesia, such guarantee is its military, the Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI), while the rebellious, resource-rich province of Aceh has arguably been the site of its most concerted effort. At a time when Western political leaders and most Indonesia scholars champion Indonesia’s procedural democracy, despite a reduced political capacity, the TNI structurally remains the institution that it was. As a result, studying the role of the TNI in Aceh reveals critical insights into continuing aspects of the Indonesian state.

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It is a damning – if not altogether surprising – indictment on our public discourse that the average Australian knows far more about political and social developments on the other side of the world than about those occurring in our ‘near abroad’. It takes just fifteen minutes to travel in a dinghy from the northern most island in the Torres Strait to Papua New Guinea. The flight from Darwin to Timor-Leste lasts barely an hour. If visitors were permitted in Indonesian-controlled West Papua, the trip from Australia to Merauke, by plane from Darwin or boat from the Torres Strait, would not take much longer. Yet judging by the sparse coverage these regions receive in our press and by their minimal prominence in our politics, they might as well be on Mars.

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It is a great pity that Efraim Karsh could not have read Raimond Gaita’s new collection of essays before completing his own. The essays might have prompted him to reflect that the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is not nearly as straightforward as he would have us believe.

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Not for forty years have Australians had real arguments with their governments about international relations. Many marched in 2003 against the Iraq invasion, but were ignored. Now, if the national obesity rate is any guide, Australians spend more time eating, partying and sleeping than having the earnest pre-breakfast discussions about foreign relations that Fukuzawa recommended.

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In 1991, French sociologist Jean Baudrillard provocatively claimed that ‘the Gulf War did not take place’. His argument was not a denial of the violence, suffering, and death experienced by civilians but rather that those very realities were absent in the mediatised consumption of the conflict. Dominant discourses reproduce the key events of the age, and the distant spectator can hardly escape the saturation of simulated symbols they entail. In Baudrillard’s words, ‘the warriors bury themselves in the desert leaving only hostages to occupy the stage, including all of us as information hostages on the world media stage’.

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Australians, Chris Bowen lamented recently, pay lip service to Asia. While millions of us visit every year, it is too easy to skim across the region’s surface. Few Australians speak Asian languages; most know little about our colossal neighbour Indonesia, let alone other ASEAN countries. Making matters worse, there ...

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