Ideas@TheCentre – The Centre for Independent Studies


Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table.  3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.

Another rebuke to Beijing

Tom Switzer

17 January 2020 | Ideas@TheCentre

Last weekend, Taiwan’s first female leader was re-elected in a landslide to claim a new four-year mandate. Tsai Ing-wen  – a 63-year-old admirer of Margaret Thatcher and former law academic — defeated the Opposition Nationalist leader Han Kuo-yu in the best result for any presidential candidate since Taiwan began holding democratic elections in 1996. The DPP also maintained its legislative majority.

Taiwan’s resilient economy contributed to the victory, but Tsai’s dramatic political comeback is widely seen as a rebuke to Beijing’s attempts to impose its will and influence on this robust island democracy of 24 million people.

The emphatic DPP victory represents another setback for Beijing. It is of particular relevance to Australia. In recent months, several Sinophiles have argued that our nation indulges in anti-China hysteria. Concerns about Beijing’s interference in our politics and universities amount to some kind of panic. Security hawks exaggerate the ‘red’ threat. Canberra, we are told, is out of step with a region that is accommodating the rise of a superpower.

However, anxieties about China are hardly confined to Australia. And Taiwan’s election result is just one of many examples of growing regional concerns about a rising China.

Hong Kong’s anti-China protests culminated in the landslide victory of pro-democracy candidates in district council races in November. Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and The Philippines continue to challenge Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. India and Japan engage with Washington to check China’s power.

Some foreign-policy scholars say time is on China’s side and that Taiwan — which Beijing sees as a mere renegade province — is in deep trouble if China continues to grow at an impressive rate. Perhaps.

But that outcome is a long time off and who knows what can happen between now and then. China has very real weaknesses and limitations, the US remains deeply engaged in Asia, and Taiwan, like Hong Kong, has the weight of international opinion firmly on its side.

So it makes sense for the US, Australia and like-minded allies to maintain close relations with Taiwan, but to make sure Taipei does not provoke China into attacking it.

Ever since Richard Nixon and Gough Whitlam visited China in the early 1970s, both Washington and Canberra have adhered to a One China policy, in which we acknowledge the Chinese view that there is but one China, and that Taiwan is part of China.

Our interests on this issue are best served by maintaining a status quo that balances de facto autonomy with formal ambiguity of status for Taiwan. Anything that tilts that balance – in either direction – could make us prisoner of events.

Tom Switzer was part of the American Enterprise Institute delegation to the Taiwan elections. This is an edited extract of an opinion piece published in the Australian Financial Review as Taiwan votes for sovereignty and against Beijing’s autocracy

2020 foresight

Simon Cowan

17 January 2020 | Ideas@TheCentre

Christmas and New Year are traditionally a time of forbearance and fellowship, where the old year is forsaken and old grievances forgotten. Except in politics, where it’s traditional to pass judgment on winners and losers of the 12 months past – and scope out the 12 to come.

Last year’s biggest winner was Scott Morrison. At the start of the year, you wouldn’t have wanted your last 10 bucks riding on him winning the 2019 election. Indeed, Sportsbet went so far as to pay out those who bet on Labor before the election was held.

Of course, in retrospect, it’s possible to identify many of the factors that led to his victory. Bill Shorten and Labor promised a fairly radical agenda premised on the idea that there were too many middle-class retirees not paying their fair share, who needed to be taxed to the very hilt in order to pay for a veritable Santa’s sleigh full of promises.

More broadly, it’s been a fairly positive year for the populist strain of conservatism. Donald Trump’s re-election bid is probably in better shape than anyone would have anticipated at this point in his presidency, Boris Johnson won a thumping majority in the UK, and the left appears to be doubling down on identity politics — despite the public’s aversion to it.

The opposite is true for moderate progressivism, which is really struggling in a lot of ways. They are the most likely victims of a ruthless “cancel culture” that seeks to erase any views not conforming to the absolute latest in progressive thinking.

Politically they are in retreat too. Not only has Corbyn decimated the centre of the Labour Party in Britain, his successor may be a (non) carbon copy. Biden is under attack from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, both of whom are way to the left of the ordinary voter.

And in Australia, Labor has won a majority in just one of the last nine elections – that being one in which they triumphed largely by promising incremental change, not radical reform.

Yet their base, and their cheer squad in the media, are not happy with the idea of slowly building a coalition for reform.

Yet for all of this, the biggest mistake for those on the right would be to assume that these trends will continue unabated. Swings and roundabouts are the absolute norm in politics. 20-20 hindsight may be clear, but the year 2020 is anything but.

This is an edited extract of an opinion piece that was published in the Canberra Times as 20-20 hindsight may be clear, but the year 2020 is anything but

Doctor Woke

Monica Wilkie

17 January 2020 | Ideas@TheCentre

Fiction has become a medium for writers and actors to treat their audience as morally inferior dolts in need of re-education.

This week’s episode of Doctor Who was an excellent example.

The Doctor and her companions land on a possible future in which the Earth was destroyed by food shortages, mass migration, war, and because — she claims — we “ignored every scientist on Earth.”

The big scary monsters who evolved from the humans left behind are subtly called ‘The Dregs’… and just in case you missed all that, there is a montage of the Earth being destroyed, and a tedious monologue urging us to change to avoid destruction.

All that was missing was for the Doctor to fall to her knees and scream “you blew it up!”

Fiction has always borrowed from real-world events and anxieties. The problem is when writers and actors hubristically sacrifice good story-telling to ensure they are on ‘the right side of history’.

This thinking was admonished as lazy by author Jessa Crispin in a fantastic piece for The Guardian “…if you insist that a movie is important, you don’t really have to deal with whether or not it’s good.”

Reviews will often sport headlines like ‘X is the show we need right now’. The show is apparently needed to “keep the momentum of change moving forward” or because it is has a diverse cast, or has the ‘correct’ political slant.

The plot, character development, costuming, lighting, score, or anything else relevant gets little to no attention.

But unfortunately, politics over substance is a trend set to continue.

Patrick Stewart – who will reprise his role as Captain Picard – has promised us the newest iteration of Star Trek “was [Stewart] responding to the world of Brexit and Trump”.

Apparently, the world is so chaotic we need a fictional captain with a penchant for “tea, earl-grey … hot” to save us.

As an alien in the first Star Trek series warned: “wrong thinking is punishable.” And we are certainly being punished with nauseatingly preachy fiction.