Kickstart the new year by reading through some of our favourite articles from 2021, chosen by Policy Forum Deputy Editor Patrick Cooney.
Already powered through your bookshelf after a year of on and off lockdown? Or maybe you’ve been glued to the television watching Australia dominate the Ashes? No matter how you’ve spent a well-earned Christmas break, you can kick off 2022 feeling well-informed on all things Asia and the Pacific policy by reading Pat’s picks from 2021.
“In a country which has made constitutional and regulatory provisions for the pursuit of happiness through inclusive and sustainable growth, COVID-19 has exposed fundamental structural weaknesses in its biggest growth sectors.”
In August, we launched a new In Focus: Developing Asia section to shine a light on some of the challenges facing the region’s least developed members as the pandemic continued to unfold.
In this article for the section, Dendup Chophel, Research Officer in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at The Australian National University (ANU), and Phurba, a Senior Planning Officer at Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Commission, examined how COVID-19 has set back inclusive and sustainable development in Bhutan, bringing to light the difficult choices the country faces as the pandemic evolves.
“Unplanned mine closure leads to shock, grief, loss of trust, and a sense of helplessness for workers and communities, and women are particularly marginalised and disempowered by the process.”
With world leaders descending on Glasgow in November for the COP26 conference, questions of energy transition have been at the forefront of policymakers’ minds in the past year. However, one aspect of that transition – gender – often flies under the radar.
In October, Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt, Professor at ANU Crawford School of Public Policy, wrote this article on what leaders can do to counter the gendered impacts of coal mine closure, unpacking the importance of gendering a just transition as the region moves away from coal-fired energy.
“Surely the moral imperative to save lives overrides the financial interests of pharmaceutical companies during a global pandemic.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic has raged across the Asia-Pacific region, protection from the virus has been far from equitable. Wealthy countries still have much greater access to vaccine and healthcare resources, and their less developed neighbours are struggling to cope.
In March, as a third wave began to reverberate around the region, Executive Director at Médecins Sans Frontières Australia Jennifer Tierney argued that Australia should provide its closest neighbour, Papua New Guinea (PNG), and other Pacific countries vaccines for those at high risk, especially front-line workers, even before low-risk Australians got the jab.
“The most recent coup has placed foreign engagement on hold at a critical juncture. COVID-19 has already slowed the progress of reform, but the coup may cause it to stall entirely.”
On 1 February last year, the democratically elected government in Myanmar was overthrown in a military coup. The coup had, and will continue to have, wide-ranging impacts on international engagement between Myanmar and the rest of the world, and the higher education sector is no exception.
Exploring how the coup would change scholarly relations between Myanmar institutions and their international counterparts, this piece by Director of ANU Myanmar Research Centre Charlotte Galloway explained why the military takeover has put a great deal of momentum in the space at risk.
“Whatever the explanation, nobody can ignore the fact that Australia has come through the COVID-19 crisis socially stronger.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed in Australia, there has been a great deal of worry about growing divisions in society. Vaccine hesitancy and protests in Australia’s capital cities have dominated television screens, but do they tell the whole story?
In this article, Kate Reynolds, Professor of Psychology at ANU, looked to an annual social cohesion survey that suggests that Australia has bucked the global trend and become a more cohesive nation, and unpacked what this means for the future.
“As these movements continue to destabilise the security of communities around the world, policymakers, security agencies and community leaders will have to try to come to terms with an impossible task – providing security to those for whom nothing is secure.”
Just six days into 2021, with many Australians still firmly on the couch waiting for the cricket, smartphones around the country lit up with the news that a shirtless ‘shaman’ in a fluffy horned hat appeared to be in control of the United States Capitol. In the investigations that followed the riot, it became clear QAnon, a ‘New World Order’ conspiracy theory, had played a large part in the hysteria.
With QAnon followers active in Australia and posing a policy problem, James Mortensen, Lecturer at the National Security College, penned this article about why leaders may have to take action to prevent an event like the Capitol riot happening in Australia, and what that action might actually look like.
“Historical training could teach the public service core skills in historical inquiry, focusing on how to navigate organisational records and public servants’ ability to analyse and weigh the value of sources of evidence.”
With debates about Australia’s national history curriculum filling the airwaves earlier this year, long-standing questions of national identity and how Australian history should be used, learned, and taught made their way back into national conversation in 2021.
In this context, Honae Cuffe, Research Officer at the Australia and New Zealand School of Government, weighed in on how the Australian Public Service (APS) could make use of greater historical skill. Her article explained the massive potential for improvement in government decision-making that could be unlocked if the APS were to invest in its historical consciousness, including establishing an Office of the Chief Historian.
3. Australia’s China supply chain ‘vulnerability’ – much ado about nothing? By James Laurenceson (19 May)
“The frequently touted logic of decoupling Australian supply chains from China to boost resilience is weaker than the common narrative suggests.”
Back in February, Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg tasked the Productivity Commission to “undertake a study into Australia’s resilience to global supply chain disruptions”, but the government largely ignored the Commission’s analysis.
In this article, James Laurenceson, Director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at University of Technology Sydney, explained why. Breaking down Australia’s supply chain relationship with China in light of the report, he argued that concerns over Australia’s reliance on China for material goods may be overstated in national discussion.
“Cyber activity is now one of the North Korea’s most successful and lucrative, although not only, means of circumventing the UN sanctions regime.”
On 21 June, Shadow Assistant Minister for Cyber Security Tim Watts brought a Private Members Bill to the House of Representatives that called for a strategy to prevent ransomware attacks on Australia. One reason for this was heightened cyber activity from hackers in North Korea – who for some time have been using such attacks to bypass United Nations sanctions.
Explaining these attacks and how the country is using them to chip away at the sanctions, Stephanie Koorey, Visiting Fellow at ANU Centre for European Studies, breaks down what policymakers can do to build resilience and keep the Kim regime from wreaking cyber havoc in the region.
“Above all, Australia’s behaviour shows a disrespect for the right of PNG to guide its own development.”
In November 2020, a Chinese company signed a memorandum of understanding with the PNG Government to set up a $200 million multi-functional fisheries park in its Western Province. In response, the Australian Government simultaneously claimed it was really a plan to overfish the area – ‘vacuum everything up’ – and that such a facility couldn’t really be about the ‘fish’ because that same area is ‘not known for an abundance of fish’.
Responding to this hubbub, Michael Kabuni, a Lecturer in Political Science at the University of Papua New Guinea, noted the ways that the park will be greatly beneficial for PNG’s economy and workers, especially women. He argued that Australia’s intervention in infrastructure in PNG in recent years has largely been a reaction to Chinese initiatives.
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