American Daily: September 8, 2014

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

8 September 2014

  • Texas state senator Wendy Davis's memoir reveals she has had two abortions.

Davis received national attention in 2013 after her special session filibuster of proposed abortion regulations. The legislation didn't pass during that session, but it passed during a second special session. Davis wrote that she had considered talking about the terminated pregnancies during the filibuster, but she said the timing wasn't right.

  • How the South stands in the way of a moderate Republican Party.
The broad ideological contours of those coalitions have held firm for some two centuries. Southerners, dating back to Andrew Jackson, strongly opposed a centralized government, believed the Constitution strictly prevented the government from intervening in the economy, distrusted cultural change, and represented the interests of whites as opposed to nonwhites. (Jackson’s defenses of strict Constitutionalism and the gold standard, and hatred for the national bank, perfectly anticipate tea-party economics.) Northerners believed more or less the opposite.
  • What is Congress doing between now and the midterms?

One thing is certain: Congress will not address all of these problems before the election. In fact, it may only address one or two of these issues. In these final weeks before November, leaders will orient the legislative process toward campaigns rather than policy. Don’t expect much before November 4th.

  • Twenty-five years after George H.W. Bush escalated the War on Drugs, what's the result?
The Monitoring the Future survey, which tracks illicit drug use among high school students, found drug use has greatly fluctuated over the past few decades. In 1975, four years after former President Richard Nixon launched the war on drugs, 30.7 percent of high school seniors reported having used illicit drugs in the past month. In 1989, the year of Bush's speech, the rate was 19.7 percent. In 2013, it was back up to 25.5 percent.

In short, we started thinking of the media as an institution—not as separate organizations or individuals we needed to judge on their own merits, but as a collective enterprise, and one we could judge collectively. The result is that it became a separate subject that could be argued about, and one that was resistant to evidence about individual reporters or newspapers. Sure, NPR is great, but the media is awful; Seymour Hersh does good reporting, but the media gets the story wrong every time. And the result, as I found in my research, is lowered trust.

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American Daily: September 5, 2014

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

5 September 2014

Kansas, however, had become an under-the-radar opportunity for Democrats. The Republican incumbent there, Pat Roberts, barely survived his primary and has extremely low approval ratings. Several recent polls had put the race in single digits between Roberts and his Democratic opponent, Chad Taylor, with the independent candidate Greg Orman getting about 20 percent of the vote. As of Wednesday, the FiveThirtyEight forecast gave Roberts an 80 percent chance of winning. That’s not bad, but it’s not any better than McConnell, who also has about an 80 percent chance of holding on in a race that has gotten far more attention.
Late Wednesday afternoon, however, Taylor announced his withdrawal from the race, setting up a contest between Orman and Roberts.
  • Are Republicans pursuing a 1998 strategy in this year's midterms?
Republicans didn't run on any agenda of their own in 1998, just as they're not running on one today. Their campaign message was: If you don't like the president, vote for us. It didn't work. Democrats got voters to the polls to defend the president while the Republicans' message didn't resonate. Republicans had hoped to pick up 25 House seats that year. They ended up losing five.
  • Barack Obama's not very good at stirring Americans to anger.

If there's one thing we can all agree on, it's that Barack Obama is not good enough at making Americans feel angry and afraid. When he first ran for president, we were astounded at his rhetorical gifts, but in retrospect they seem so touchy-feely. He made his listeners feel things like hope, optimism, and inspiration. Which is all well and good, but a country that can't go more than a few years without invading somebody needs a leader who knows how to beat the war drums, get the blood pumping, ride his horse back and forth in front of the assembled troops and shout, "This day, we fight!"

Mansfield uses tipping as an example of a social norm and wants to know what determines its global spread. Unlike some other norms — human rights, democratic elections, Washington Consensus economic policies — the U.S. government has little incentive to use punishments or inducements to spread the norm of tipping. This is almost a pure example of Joseph Nye’s concept of soft power — getting other countries to want what Americans want (or, in this case, feel ambivalent about but do anyway) without using carrots and sticks. In other words, this is an example of a custom or social norm that spreads through learning and emulation.

In real life, the Japanese didn't win — sorta. Toyota is still eating everyone's lunch, making exactly the kind of cars that the "Harvard deadheads" working at Powell Motors said Americans wanted: Bland with good mileage. But while the animators of "The Simpsons" did foresee a bankrupt American automaker, they probably couldn't have predicted that a company like Powell Motors would be absorbed by an Italian company rather than a Japanese one. Or that Korean automakers would be the real threat, or that American companies would aggressively court Asian countries (and partner with their companies on some products) rather than sticking to the home turf.

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James Jeffrey on ISIS: "This is something that President Obama can simply not tolerate long term"

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

4 September 2014

Former US ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey visited the Centre this week for a talk titled "Middle East in turmoil: US options in Iraq, Syria, and Israel–Palestine." Considering the timeliness of the subject matter, I thought I'd use the opportunity to sit down and discuss some of the issues surrounding the region. Here's how our interview turned out. (Edited slightly for length and clarity. Thanks to Max Halden for transcribing.)

former US ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey

Jonathan: It seems that the Middle East has recently become a lot more troublesome than it has been in the past. How bad are things really?

Ambassador Jeffrey: The region traditionally has not been very stable. It’s a dysfunctional region and there have been many international, largely US-led, interventions there from the 1950s onwards. And so we’ve had, every year or two, one or another crisis in the Middle East that has required some kind of American activity and some kind of humanitarian international response. But we knew how to deal with these things in the past. Now we have the velocity of threats coming against us and the transnational nature of them — it isn’t just one dictator or one force, it is a number of forces and they tend to be more rooted in the nature of the region: certain Islamic movements, certain groups of local populations.

How do you think America should respond to the Islamic State?

Well, the Islamic State is the enemy not only of all the regional state systems but of the US and the civilised world. This is something that President Obama can simply not tolerate long term. The question is not whether we are war with it — whether you use that word or not — but how we go about it? That’s what the US is engaging in right now, while simultaneously, in Iraq and, to a very limited degree, in Syria, we’re actually taking steps to begin stopping the forward movement and beginning to push IS back.

Are we likely to see the kind of extensive involvement of western forces in the region like in 2003 and 2004? Is that in the near future?

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Absolutely not. 2003–2004 — actually 2001 in Afghanistan, 2003 in Iraq — involved a US-led coalition moving in to very disturbed countries with the effort of setting up an entirely new social, economic, governmental, and security apparatus. This was long-term nation building; it generated obvious counter-pressures that led to high causalities, high costs, and disillusionment from populations from here in Australia all the way to America. That is not what is being contemplated. What is being contemplated is the human and military challenges.

At your talk, you’re going to discuss Israel, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. How connected are the problems in these countries and can they be treated regionally or can they not really be looked at as a whole?

That’s a very good question. And you have to understand what might work and what might not work — look at it as a whole. But the basic treatment is going to have to be issue by issue, in part because you need desperately for parties in the region to work together to avoid having a long-term commitment in the region like we talked about. The basic underlying problem is that you have a very weak version of the classic modern nation-state system. We all understand the UN charter: they have flags, they have armies, they have prisons, they have borders, but the loyalty of the population in most of these places is quite suspect. There are a few exceptions: Turkey, Iran, Israel, Egypt. The rest of these countries have trouble defining themselves vis-à-vis the larger Islamic world. And competing and challenging that are these Islamic transnational, transcendental, political-religious movements. The Iranians present one version of this for Shia Muslims, Muslim Brotherhood, al Qaeda, and IS represent another for Sunnis. They are characterised by violent opposition to existing nation-states and the extreme use of force to carry out their objectives. It varies from organisation to organisation. Some elements of the Muslim Brotherhood are not violent; others such as Hamas have been. Hezbollah has been a terrorist organisation under some circumstances, under certain others it basically bides its time. The most extreme organisation is the Islamic State. 

Australia will be providing military support to the US. How much risk is there to Australian and American military personnel in responding to the Islamic State?

Any military operation, whether it’s training or field operations, carries an inherent risk. Having done this many times in Bosnia, in Kosovo, in northern and southern Iraq, in the No Fly Zone in Libya in 2011 — the actual risk — significant risk — to personnel is extremely low.  It’s nothing like putting ground troops in a country on foot or in vehicles against enemy forces.

What is the key point for people to understand about the region, the conflicts therein and how to deal with them?

This is a vital region. If it is not stabilised as it has been in the past more than just Iran and Pakistan will reach for nuclear weapons, and that is a threat to everybody. It will breed mass terrorist organisations that will come home to threaten all of us, as we have seen in the past. And thirdly we have all important allies, including much international trade in the region, so it’s an economic, a terrorist, and a nuclear weapons security issue. This makes it job one for the international community to deal with. 


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American Daily: September 1, 2014

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

1 September 2014

  • Getting involved in Iraq is no less risky today than it was in 2003.
The Prime Minister is right when he says that Australia's escalating involvement in the Iraq conflict is nothing like 2003, when Australia joined the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
But if he means that Iraq 2014 somehow is less dangerous than it was 11 years ago, then that is not the case.
But the optical response is crumbling, too, in the face of a brilliant media strategy by the Dreamers. The Dreamers are undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. Since their parents decided to bring them, and since they grew up in the United States, deporting them to a foreign country would be unjust and cruel. The Dreamers have a simple media strategy: They publicly question Republican leaders wherever they appear, asking them to straightforwardly explain why they propose to have them deported. The confrontations are powerful and immensely awkward for their subjects. Rand Paul fled in terror; Paul Ryan awkwardly ignored the question. Rubio, speaking in South Carolina, opted for direct confrontation.
  • How the Supreme Court protects bad cops.
In recent years, the court has made it very difficult, and often impossible, to hold police officers and the governments that employ them accountable for civil rights violations. This undermines the ability to deter illegal police behavior and leaves victims without compensation. When the police kill or injure innocent people, the victims rarely have recourse.
  • How corporations became people you can't sue.

The court decisions that birthed this brave new world coincided with a rising conservative legal movement that advocates judicial restraint and a corporate lobby that has successfully pushed the idea that America is an excessively litigious society in dire need of “tort reform.” The result, lawyers and scholars say, is that thousands of cases that individuals once had a shot of winning can no longer even enter a courtroom, jeopardizing enforcement of laws spanning consumer and employee protection, civil rights, and antitrust.

Longtime readers of PEC will not be surprised to know that I think the media organizations are making a mistake. It is nearly Labor Day. By now, we have tons of polling data. Even the stalest poll is a more direct measurement of opinion than an indirect fundamentals-based measure. I demonstrated this point in 2012, when I used polls only to forecast the Presidency and all close Senate races. That year I made no errors in Senate seats, including Montana (Jon Tester) and North Dakota (Heidi Heitkamp), which FiveThirtyEight got wrong.

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Cashing in on American philanthropy

By Shalailah Medhora in St Paul, Minnesota

27 August 2014

Shalailah Medhora is the recipient of the 2014 US Studies Centre – World Press Institute media fellowship and is contributing to the blog while in the United States.

Susan Albright was part of a slew of Star Tribune journalists who left the paper when it was taken over by a media conglomerate.

Her one-time boss, Joel Kramer, had been shown the door once the Minnesota news stalwart changed hands.

He invited Ms Albright to take casual work with his new start-up, the Minnpost.

That was seven years ago. Today she’s managing co-editor of the online newspaper.

“I just never left!” Ms Albright laughs.

Non-profit media

Minnpost is one of a handful of non-profit media outlets in the United States.

Its largest revenue stream comes from membership.

Individuals pay anything from $60 to $20,000 a year to ensure the publication continues to exist.

Last year membership accounted for more than $480,000, up 30 per cent from the previous year.

Publisher Andy Wallmeyer says donors get “very little” in terms of tangible benefits from membership, but continue to give because they believe in the brand.

“They see the value in community journalism,” Mr Wallmeyer says.

The website gets 100 million unique browsers a month. Not bad for a publication that presents news and analysis at a hyper-local level.

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Culture of philanthropy

Americans are a generous lot.

More than 95 per cent of households gave to charity in 2013, raising over $241 billion.

Religious organisations account for nearly one third of the recipients, and people who classify themselves as religious give more to charity than their counterparts.

So-called “red states,” or localities that vote Republican, are more generous than their Democratic neighbours.

Part of this comes from the long-held belief that, in order to keep taxes down and government small, individuals must step up and donate to charity.

Media outlets like Minnpost are now cashing in on this American culture of philanthropy.

Publically-funded journalism

Crowd-funding website Kickstarter has a section dedicated to sourcing funding for journalism projects.

Users have pledged $4 million dollars to these projects in the five years that the website has been operating.

Could this be a solution for an industry struggling with how to make money in the internet age?

Andrew Wallmeyer says the model certainly works for Minnpost.

“We wouldn’t exist otherwise,” he says.


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Six weeks in Shanghai

By Samuel Johnson in Sydney, Australia

22 August 2014

Samuel Johnson is an undergraduate student with the University of Sydney's Faculty of Art. In winter 2014, he travelled to Fudan University as part of the Centre's Shanghai Study Abroad Program. In this post, he discusses his experiences studying the United States in China.


The exchange group in Shanghai

While it is conventional to say that academic exchanges are intrinsically valuable experiences, the inaugural US Studies Centre program to Shanghai was unique. The 17 of us on the program found that, in many ways, our academic studies were complemented by practical engagement in all things China. We would attend Mandarin classes and then use our new language skills by ordering dinner or catching a cab. We would study Chinese foreign policy and discuss our views in the student cafeteria with our local Chinese friends. And we would learn the history of Sino–US relations at Fudan to later attend a comprehensive site-visit schedule, allowing us to talk directly with the professionals who are shaping the relationship today.

You don’t often come across opportunities like this at university, and to be in a city like Shanghai adds an extra level of dynamism to the experience. This is a city of eye-opening vibrancy and diversity. You can walk down China’s most affluent commercial road in Xintiandi and minutes later turn a corner to find an impoverished, old-Shanghai style residential area. Another district, the French Concession, epitomises the notion of East-meets-West as Shanghai skyscrapers morph into a tree-lined district boasting dozens of bars, a lively expat community, and boutique shops.

Yet the most appealing aspect of the city to me was not centred in the charms of a particular district, but rather the energetic undercurrent, the feeling of expansive change, and the futuristic vibe evoked by the fast-paced pulse of the city. Remarkably, and rather symbolically, even the famous Pudong skyline changed in our six short weeks here: the dominant Aurora sign was gradually taken down as the colossal Shanghai tower edged closer to completion. This fast-paced environment of change made us feel as though we had arrived in the city at a time when history is being made: a place where the world is beginning to direct its focus. It was certainly an exciting time to be in Shanghai, to experience this energy first-hand. 

In terms of the political environment, China is in a fascinating stage of its history. China’s economic growth over the last few decades has been marked by significant milestones, most notably the elevation of almost 600 million citizens from poverty and, up until recently, an average GDP growth rate of 10 per cent. Now, China’s export-oriented economy is transitioning to consumption-based growth, boosting its services sector as its middle class expands.

At the same time, the international sphere is recognising the Asia-Pacific as a growing centre of economic activity. In 2011 the Obama administration propagated America’s “rebalance” strategy, aiming to tap into the Asia–Pacific’s economic growth and shifting security environment. China, meanwhile, has increased its external engagement, participating more seriously in regional territorial disputes. This is amid rising domestic issues of pollution, corruption, lingering poverty in the west, and increasing instances of domestic terrorism.

All of these factors weighed in on our visit to Shanghai.

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This was particularly so in our studies at Fudan University, China’s leading research university. All USyd students took the core unit “Sino–US Relations in a Rising Asia,” and my additional course focused on the history and future of Chinese diplomacy. It was an interesting time to be studying these subjects amid current events in the region, and it was refreshing to hear opinions from students across the world about issues which will likely affect Australia in future decades. We would often break into open, multi-faceted discussions about the regional political climate, and this alone was a valuable component of the program.

Exchange group in Shanghai

In our second week of studies we heard from centre CEO Professor Bates Gill, who gave two guest lectures in the US–Sino Relations unit. Bates discussed the implications of North Korea to the regional security environment, and also spoke about the future trajectory of the US–Sino relationship, arguing that the depth and complexity of relations is often underestimated. We also heard from centre COO Dr Sean Gallagher, who discussed the US influence on world class universities and the core challenges ahead for China’s tertiary education sector.

Throughout the program we had many opportunities for cultural enrichment and professional development. Some of us visited the Bao Steel production line — what felt like the engine room of the Chinese economy — and there were opportunities to attend various networking events across the city, including AustCham Shanghai’s monthly Aussie Drinks.

The site visits were, for me, the defining component of the program. In our visits to Atomic and Mailman we discussed the challenges of operating a business in China, especially as an expat moving into a new business environment. In our discussions with AEG, Apple, and eBay we learned how major global companies were tweaking business models and strategies to better suit the Chinese market and changing consumer sentiment. When we visited AustCham and AmCham, we gained a broader understanding of the barriers to trade, investment, and business in China, and how these bodies were aiding businesses in expanding their opportunities in Shanghai.

These discussions were of extreme value. To be in Shanghai hearing directly from professionals in these fields provided a chance for many of us to consider future career paths.

A highlight of these site tours was our visits to both the US and Australian Consulate Generals. Our discussion with the Australian consulate included briefings from immigration, Austrade, and DFAT officials about their operations and responsibilities in Shanghai. We heard from the consul general, Alice Cawte, who herself is a University of Sydney alumni. The visit to the US Consulate gave us a chance to use our studies from the previous four weeks at Fudan by engaging in a roundtable discussion with Foreign Service Officials. Our discussion ranged from careers in Foreign Service, to the geopolitics of East Asia, to Chinese and American foreign policy strategy, and to the depth of their complex bilateral relationship. It was thrilling to find ourselves in the conference room of a foreign consulate, discussing our degree interests with experienced professionals in China.  

All of the businesses and professionals we visited were incredibly generous in both their time and their insights.

Many of us have spent our first week back in Sydney just processing the experience that was Shanghai. The people we met, the food we ate, and the things we learned. It was truly a remarkable experience and learning curve for everyone involved. We’ve come away with strong relationships, new perspectives, and transformed outlooks, and personally I have never extracted so much value from a six week period. This was much more than an academic exchange program — this was a practical, immersive learning experience.


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The Tragedy of American Diplomacy and US imperialism

By Marc Palen in Exeter, United Kingdom

20 August 2014

Marc Palen is a research associate at the Centre and a lecturer in imperial history at the University of Exeter. This post was originally published at the Centre for Imperial and Global History's blog.


The Tragedy of American Diplomacy

William Appleman Williams is considered the founder of the strongly influential”Wisconsin School of US foreign relations imperial history that took root from within the History Department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Williams’s book The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, first published in 1959, was the first of many revisionist imperial histories of American foreign policy that appeared amid what would become the broader radical New Left movement.

Beginning with Tragedy, Wisconsin School–inspired revisionist histories suggest that, owing to the distinctive nature of American capitalism, imperial presidents embarked upon a bipartisan quest for foreign markets with broad business and agrarian support, culminating in the acquisition of both a formal and informal American empire. Williams termed it “Open Door imperialism,” an American manifestation of “the imperialism of free trade.”

In this episode of the Centre for Imperial and Global History’s Talking Empire podcast series, hosted by Professor Richard Toye, I discuss the significant historiographical influence of Tragedy, particularly how it and subsequent New Left imperial revisionist histories helped overturn longstanding conceptions of American imperial expansion. As a result, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy continues to retain a dominant position within the study of American imperial history and historiography.

Professor Richard Toye interviews Dr. Marc-William Palen about William Appleman Williams’s Tragedy of American Diplomacy (1959) and its long-term influence within American imperial history and historiography.

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Of church and state

By Shalailah Medhora in St Paul, Minnesota

18 August 2014

Shalailah Medhora is the recipient of the 2014 US Studies Centre – World Press Institute media fellowship and is contributing to the blog while in the United States.

On our first night in the United States, nine blurry-eyed newshounds went out for pizza. The restaurant was a block or two from the private Catholic university we’d will calling home for the next three weeks, in the perfectly manicured city of St. Paul, Minnesota.

Jetlag claimed a few of World Press Institute 2014 Fellows early on, and by 10pm, the remaining four of us decided to venture back to campus.

Walking back, we saw a group of students gathered in the quad near our rooms. Curiosity, a shared trait that typifies people who choose to make their livelihoods from news reporting, saw us approach. No doubt, some (ok, maybe just me) had hoped for a genuine college party, complete with plastic cups of beer that had recently come out of a keg.

But there was no keg to be seen. In fact, there was no alcohol whatsoever. We had, somewhat unwittingly, found ourselves at the centre of a young missionaries national convention. These young people whose party we’d crashed had decided to dedicate their college experience to spreading the Christian gospel.

As journalists do, we stopped to have a chat and to find out about this unusual collection of young adults. After a while, we bid them farewell, and they promised to pray for us while we travelled their country.

As an Australian, I found this whole exchange fascinating and yet odd. Australians rate themselves as a religious people. The last census showed that 78 per cent of Australians have some kind of religious affiliation. But we’re fiercely proud of our secularism, and prefer to practice our religious beliefs unashamedly, behind closed doors.

In the United States, there seems to be a religious undercurrent everywhere — in the campaign ads of would-be politicians, in the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, and on scrunched up dollar bills changing hands at the grocery store.

A far-reaching survey into religion in the United States, undertaken by Pew Research in 2007, shows that 84 per cent of Americans identify themselves as having a religious affiliation. The vast majority of respondents, nearly 78.5%, are Christian.

American politicians promote their Christianity as a sign of trustworthiness and a bond with everyday voters. Some ecclesiastical sects tell adherents that prosperity comes to those who demonstrate their faithfulness the most.

Despite that there’s increasing concern in the US that the tenants of Christianity are incompatible with American capitalism.

While the Protestant work ethic and wealth go hand in hand, there are many aspects of American capitalism that church leaders say are at odds with Christian teachings.

Recently, Pope Francis labelled unfettered capitalism “tyranny” and urged the wealthy to spread their fortunes.

The concept of wealth-sharing is not openly welcomed in many parts of conservative America. Distrust of socialism and strong belief in free-markets mean politicians are reluctant to promote higher taxes for the wealthy and greater welfare for the poor.

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The deep links between churches and the Republican Party muddy the waters a bit. While many Christians feel uncomfortable with the growing gap between rich and poor, they still overwhelmingly vote Republican due to social issues like abortion and gay marriage.

This continues to ensure capitalism is king in the United States.

Though politicians are ill-advised to be complacent about the country’s economic trajectory.

Religious groups spend $400 million a year lobbying in Washington DC. The number of religious lobby groups has ballooned from just 40 in 1970 to nearly 200 in 2011. They say informing constituents is their main form of lobbying.

If data showing that many religious people are unhappy with the way American capitalism is heading is correct, then Capitol Hill will need to work out how to keep this large and influential electorate happy — or risk being booted out.


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Observing America from Shanghai

By Maddy Greer in Shanghai, China

6 August 2014

Maddy Greer is an undergraduate student with the University of Sydney's Business School. In winter 2014, she travelled to Fudan University as part of the Centre's Shanghai Study Abroad Program. In this post, she discusses her experiences studying the United States in China.

The 2014 Study Abroad group

Six weeks in Shanghai flew by as a short-term study abroad student at Fudan University. This pilot program was organised by the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, and offered to students in the business school and arts faculty.

As part of the program, 17 University of Sydney students completed a four-week intensive summer school at Fudan University, which is renowned as one of China’s leading universities. Students studied a variety of courses such as Chinese diplomacy and politics, Chinese civilisation, Chinese art, and international business. Our study schedule also included daily Mandarin lessons that catered to all experience levels, from beginners to advanced. Most students received up to 12 credit points for taking these units, and all added real value and international experience to their degree.

Another major component of this program was a series of site visits to Chinese business, government, and non-government organisations led by US Studies Centre staff. These site visits enabled our group to enjoy presentations, discussion sessions, and participate in debates with professionals working in Shanghai. Highlights of this two-week schedule include Q&A sessions at the Australian and American Chambers of Commerce, Australian and American Consulates, eBay China, Apple, and the Anschutz Entertainment Group. 

It was thrilling to hear from a variety of mid- to senior-level management about their experiences as expats and local people, navigating the challenges and opportunities that doing business in China entails. Another stand-out experience was participating in a round-table discussion with foreign service officers at the American consulate, and enjoying a group dinner with Bates Gill, the CEO of the US Studies Centre and a world renowned US–China expert.

Yu Garden

Life in Shanghai outside the classroom certainly lived up to our expectations. As a group and as individuals, the students in this pilot program made a huge effort to immerse themselves in the local customs, culture and food. Some of us arrived in Shanghai not knowing how to use chopsticks, and others who had previously travelled to China deepened their connection to this exciting, vibrant metropolis. 

Overall, this was an incredibly rich and rewarding experience, made even more special by the close friendships we formed within the University of Sydney group, and with other international students taking the program. I have certainly returned to Sydney with a strong case of the "China bug," which will hopefully lead me to return to China later in my career. 

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Selling the TPP to the home crowd

By Hannah Blyth in Sydney, Australia

30 July 2014

Hannah Blyth is an alumnus of the Centre's master's program.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership would herald an unprecedented level of trade cooperation between America and the Asia–Pacific. Its likelihood of making it out of Congress unscathed however, seems increasingly unlikely.

Since President Barack Obama announced America’s rebalance to the Asia–Pacific in 2011, the hype of America’s foreign policy pivot has filled the pages of foreign affairs commentary. But has the rebalance message been effectively relayed to the American public? It appears not when you look at the widespread opposition to the TPP in Congress.

President Obama has not effectively sold the TPP — or the importance of the Asia–Pacific — to the American people. As Matthew Goodman argued before a US Senate subcommittee, it is overwhelmingly in America’s interests to drive economic engagement with the fastest-growing region of the world.

Yet, mentioning it only fleetingly in this year’s State of the Union address and in his West Point speech, Obama chose to side step the integral stabilising role America must play in the future of the Asia–Pacific. One of the key strategies for America to promote this peace and prosperity is through strengthening multilateral trade ties in the region.

Herein lies Obama’s difficulty. A path to unhindered negotiations between America and key TPP countries can only be achieved if a fast-track mechanism, the Trade Promotion Authority, is reinstated by Congress. This will reassure other TPP players that they can close a deal that that won’t then be shredded by Congress. Given the partisan politics of recent years, little support was ever to be expected from House Republicans on the TPA. Most surprising though was the 151 House Democrats who also expressed their strong opposition to the TPA in a letter they sent to the President this past November.

Still burnt from the mixed results of the DR–CAFTA and NAFTA trade agreements, House Representatives are feeling the pressure from constituents on potential local job impacts of the TPP if it is negotiated behind closed doors. With looming mid-term elections, an unemployment rate hovering above 6 per cent and public hostility towards government transparency courtesy of the NSA, a cloak-and-dagger free trade agreement with the Asia–Pacific is no easy sell.

Obama needs to properly articulate to his colleagues and the American people the benefits of a secure and prosperous Asia–Pacific region. China certainly is a rising power making its mark, but America still remains its military superior, as has been made clear by its careful support of Japan in the East China Sea. A successful TPP would give America the opportunity to build on its existing bilateral trade agreements and solidify its stakes alongside China in a key growing economic region.

Domestic concerns can be won over — even in a hostile Congress — but this can only be done if Obama reignites his first term rhetoric and sells the Asia-Pacific to his own people.

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