Friday, March 30, 2012

Forgive me Father but I will not sin: Why a devout Catholic makes a poor choice of ambassador to the Vatican

Forgive me Father but I will not sin: Why a devout Catholic makes a poor choice of ambassador to the Vatican.

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr has appointed his long time friend John McCarthy QC ambassador to The Holy See. McCarthy has been a life-long barrister, and an adviser to the Australian Labour Party , in particular the ALP in the State of New South Wales of which Carr was premier.
He is also a devout Catholic ,and a friend and adviser to Sydney Archbishop George Cardinal Pell. MCarthy’s son is a priest, who himself spent a number of years in Rome. According to the Sydney Morning Herald McCarthy “has been involved in international Catholic organisations, and received a papal knighthood in 2006 for services to the Catholic Church in Australia and the Australian community.”
All this may make him seem the ideal candidate for the post, but however, he is being sent to the Vatican as a diplomat, not missionary.
Indeed , as a diplomat representing Australian interests he may well have to act against the interest of the Vatican. It is unlikely that Australian interests and that of the Vatican will always coincide. The Iraq War (or Gulf War 2) is one such example. While the Vatican and then Pope John Paul II opposed the war, the Australian Government decided that it was in Australia’s national interest to support the US led invasion . If Australia had an ambassador at the Vatican at that point of time he or she would have needed to gather intelligence from within the Vatican to determine the motivations for the Vatican’s position, and then used that information to either change if not undermine that stance. It is hard to see McCarthy doing anything of that sort.
Indeed , it is difficult to see how this life long barrister would even begin to appreciate what is required of him in the post he is to assume. A Vatican posting can serve many purposes. For instance it serves as an important centre for the exchange of information which career diplomats would instinctively identify and seek, but which a barrister whose work has been confined to the State of NSW is unlikely to be aware of.
Then, while having the honorific “Your Excellency” before one’s name may seem a logical extension to having the words “Queen’s Counsel” after, the role of diplomat and senior barrister require very different skills and temperament.Unlike barristers, particularly QCs , who are encouraged and indeed treasure a sense of aloofness from the rest of humanity, diplomats are expected to get themselves dirty in the furtherance of the national interest. For example, the Vatican has an extensive and unique network of diplomats, all of whom are priests , who are stationed in many parts of the world. Gaining an understanding of what they know would be very useful to Australian interests and it should be the task of the ambassador whoever he or she is to gain insight into that information by whatever means. That may require being less than honest with diplomat priesththys ,cardinals and the Pope himself.
It is hard to see a devout Catholic doing anything of that sort. Some may think this assessment unfair given that the McCarthy’s predecessor Tim Fischer is also Catholic. However. Fishcer had been amongst other things a minister for trade and a politician of many years experience. It is hard to see that he would have let his faith get in the way of his work.
Disclosure: The writer is himself of the Catholic faith but understands the distinction between the Pope as head of the Roman Catholic Church and head of state.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Australia's Influence In South East Asia-A Wet Dream

Many in Canberra and indeed among the Australian "intelligentsia" believe that the key to Australian engagement with South East Asia is identification with the culture of the region.Ability in the regions'languages,marriage into any of the region's main ethnic groups,or better still being their ethnicity, are all thought to be assets that will only enhance Australia's relations with South East Asia.

The reality has proven otherwise.

Zuli Chudori,the Indonesian born and raised wife of the current Australian High Commissioner to Malaysia, Miles Kupa, has been reduced to pretending to be a journalist on Linkedin in what appears to be part of an effort to build a network of local contacts. Chudori is herself a senior executive of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade,and formerly in charge of the Malaysia Desk.

Michael Wise,High Commissioner circa 2003, despite being married to an Indian from Goa was so ignorant of goings-on in Kuala Lumpur that it took Australian media reports brought to the specific attention of his office for him to realise that a USD 8 billion Al-Qaeda linked fund based in Melbourne operated a bank in Labuan.

His predecessor Peter Varghese ,being of Indian descent, was best known as the High Commissioner who knew nothing.His pronouncements about the region when later appointed head of the Office Of National Assessments,prove the point.

Now there is the attempt to burnish the credentials of the Foreign Minister designate, Bob Carr,whose Malaysian born-wife Helena Carr is said to have provided him "a wealth of contacts" in South East Asia. Unfortunately , no one who is anyone in Malaysian business circles can recall even having met her.

Carr's predecessor, the Mandarin speaking Kevin Rudd's Asia-Pacific Community proposal was rejected by even Singapore which has a specific policy encouraging the speaking of Mandarin.

Despite this history, Canberra continues to believe that it has some role to play in regional security, together with China and the United States. While the Five Power Defence Agreement remains in force, the governments of the region realise that they need to prepare their own defences.The Butterworth RAAF base, for example,is not considered a serious deterrent to any transgressing force.
Carr himself, has spoken of a sharing of power between the three countries.
If only he and Canberra stopped to listen, and stopped pretending that they know anything, it would be obvious that arrangements favouring a larger US presence, with no Chinese presence whatsoever in the Strait of Malacca,and limited to the northern section of the South China Sea, are already in place.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sydney University condemned by the Chinese: A case study of how to fail in business in Asia

In October 2011 the Vice-Chancellor , University of Sydney, The Rev Dr Michael Spence, announced that the University will accept for entry into the University grades achieved in China's National College Entrance Examination(or Gaokao in Pinyin).

On February 21 2012, the Chinese state owned English publication, China Daily, reported:
Compared with the admission cut-offs set by Chinese universities, the entry score set by theUniversity of Sydney is very low, according to the guide to academic entry requirements for Chinese students applying to undergraduate programs at the university in 2012.
The entry score is listed by China's municipality or province. In Shanghai, for instance, students with a minimum gaokao score of 468 can apply for the university, which is more than 100 points less than the score needed to enter China's top universities, such as Peking University orTsinghua University.

The publication is state owned and serves to disseminate the views of the Chinese leadership.

That the Daily has chosen to describe the University's cut-off mark as "very low", and then compared it unfavourably to Peking and Tsinghua universities should be of concern to Sydney University for the words convey a lack , if not a loss of regard for the University's standing.The reasons are unclear, but regardless of what the reasons might be, the University obviously does not enjoy the confidence of the Chinese leadership.
While their motives are not known, what is clear is that the above has followed the Reverend's decision to accept NCEE marks for admission. While he might have felt he was doing poor Chinese students and their families a favour, the Chinese reaction is that he has been motivated by money. As another state owned if not controlled publication , the Shenzhen Daily put it:
A growing number of Australian universities are preparing to lower the enrollment requirements for Chinese students in the hope of enrolling more high school graduates from the country.

This is an opinion shared by younger Chinese as well, who have made their opinions known on the website OffBeatChina
In that sense, the reaction of the Chinese leadership is easily understood as a simple taking of an advantage when the opportunity to do so is offered.The Reverend offered the opportunity by showing the University as being willing to lower standards to gain more fee paying students, the Chinese leadership took advantage of that opening to publicly demonstrate the superiority of Chinese institutions.
Any Asian would have seen that coming.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Australian Department of Defence-SingtelOptus Contract seen through Asian eyes

Singtel Optus has the prime contractor role to the Australian Department of Defence for the military communications payload.

The nature of the relationship is well described by the Department:
Joint Project 2008 Phase 3D was established in 1997 following an invitation from Optus for Defence to share Australia’s next generation commercial communications satellite. The project provides for supply and support of a Defence owned payload operating on the shared C1 communications satellite, together with Defence owned fixed terrestrial infrastructure for control and management of the Defence payload and the new communications network.

The network, otherwise known as the Australian Defence Satellite Communications Capability, will provide Defence with satellite communications across Australia and throughout the Asia Pacific region in the X, Ka and UHF radio frequency bands. Contracts with Optus were signed in October 1999.

“Information Systems Division will be responsible for control and management of the new communications network. Optus has been contracted by Defence to supply payload operators, to maintain and support the fixed terrestrial infrastructure and to undertake telemetry, tracking and command of the satellite. A satellite management agreement has also been established to guide Defence and Optus in the management and operation of the shared satellite asset."

Singtel Optus is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Singtel Ltd, a subsidiary of the Temeasek Holdings Ltd , a wholly owned subsidiary of the Government of Singapore.

Few ,if any born and bred in Asia, would not see that this deal provides the Government of Singapore with a number of opportunities. These include:
a) The ability to listen in, catalouge and archive all Australian Department of Defence communications

b)To analyse that information so as to identify material that could be of use to Singaporean interests

c)To analyse that information so as to identify material that could be of use to Singapore's friends in the region whose interests might be affected by Australian foreign policy, for example Indonesia, Myannmar and China.

d) To determine the best use of that information to further Singaporean interests, including the sale of that information to any interested party

As anyone born and bred in Asia will tell you, for Singapore to not do so would be the height of stupidity. The Department of Defence would of course argue that there is no evidence to suggest......


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

People Smuggling: Did Australia's National Security Adviser learn anything in Malaysia?

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on April 25,2009:
WAVES of Australia-bound asylum seekers crossing from Malaysia to Indonesia have prompted the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, to send the national security adviser, Duncan Lewis, to talk with Malaysian officials about counter measures.
Mr Lewis was accompanied by the head of Customs, Michael Carmody, and senior immigration and Australian Federal Police officers. Before leaving Kuala Lumpur yesterday, members of the delegation said the meetings with Malaysian officials were "positive".
"There has been agreement at a conceptual level for increased co-operation and engagement to combat people smuggling," one member said.

On February 1 2012 a boat capsized of the east coast of Malaysia.The wording of reports regarding that incident by Malaysian media, which are essentially state controlled, is instructive:

EIGHT foreigners drowned in Malaysian waters early yesterday while attempting to sneak into Australia to seek greener pastures.
District police chief Superintendent Che Mahazan Che Aik said when police reached Telok Semayong about 8am, they saw eight bodies washed ashore while further off, the 12 survivors were spotted in a group.
“We believe the foreigners were trying to leave the country illegally. They were using Malaysia as a spring-board,” he said.
Initial investigations also revealed that the passengers had paid US$8,000 (RM24,000) each for the journey from their country to Australia.
The 12 who were rescued were sent to the district police station to assist investigations while the bodies were sent to the district hospital for post-mortem.
(by Sam Bak Heng, 8 drown off Johor;New Straits Times,02 February 201)

Eight people drowned, 11 others were rescued while six more are still missing, all foreigners, after their boat capsized off Teluk Semayong waters, Sedili Besar, near Kota Tinggi Wednesday morning. Kota Tinggi Police Chief Supt Che Mahazan Che Aik said the boat was believed to be illegally ferrying men from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq to a neigbouring country when the boat capsized.
(Report in the Borneo Post, 2 February 2012, quoting the national wire news service, Bernama)

Clearly, what Australia regards as "asylum seekers" Malaysia regards as opportunists.
As far as Malaysian police are concerned the main issue here is "illegal ferrying".
The persons being ferried are not being treated as asylum seekers, refugees, or anything of that sort but rather suspects or accomplices in a crime.

How then did Duncan Lewis and party come to the conclusion that "there has been agreement at a conceptual level"?
Lewis is now Secretary , Department of Defence, and the post of National Security Adviser has yet to be filled. Nevertheless, as NSA he was , in essence, the country's chief spy.
As Sally Neighbour put it:
The most recent initiative is the appointment by the former Rudd government of a National Security Adviser (NSA), who works out of the prime minister’s office and chairs a new National Intelligence Coordination Committee, to ensure the agencies are “closely aligned [and] effectively integrated”. Australia’s first NSA, the former SAS commander Brigadier Duncan Lewis.....
(the post) centralises control in the prime minister’s office ... the position is entirely outside the accountability umbrella of IGIS.
(Sally Neighbour, Hidden Agendas,The Monthly, 2010-11-04)

Despite these advantages, it does appear that the NSA learnt nothing in Malaysia, or of Malaysian attitudes to what Australia considers asylum seekers. Judging from the SMH report, and from the Gillard government's handling of the the "asylum seeker" issue it does appear that the present administration is light years away from understanding the problem of illegal migrants.Pretending that this simply another aspect of the white man's burden is an idea that has long passed its due date.