New beginnings: Rethinking business and trade in an era of strategic clarity and rolling disruption (John Coyne, Gill Savage and Michael Shoebridge, ASPI)

This special report considers the relationship between our business and trade positioning in the context of the impacts of Covid, natural disasters and the actions of coercive trading partners.

Global economic integration has enabled the spread of ideas, products, people and investment at never before seen speed. International free trade has been a goal of policy-makers and academics for generations, allowing and fostering innovation and growth. We saw the mechanism shudder in 2008 when the movement of money faltered; the disruption brought about by COVID-19 has seen a much more multi-dimensional failure of the systems by which we share and move. The unstoppable conveyor belt of our global supply chain has ground to a halt. This time, what will we learn?

ASPI’s latest research identifies factors that have led to the erosion of Australia’s policy and planning capacity, while detailing the strengths of our national responses to recent crises. The authors recommend an overhaul of our current business and trade policy settings, with a view to building an ‘agenda that invests in what we’re good at and what we need, values what we have and builds the future we want.’

The authors examine the vulnerabilities in Australia’s national security, resilience and sovereignty in relation to supply chains and the intersection of the corporate sector and government. To protect Australia’s business interests and national sovereignty, the report highlights recent paradigm shifts in geopolitics, whereby economic and trade priorities are increasingly relevant to the national security discussion.

New beginnings: Rethinking business and trade in an era of strategic clarity and rolling disruption | Australian Strategic Policy Institute | ASPI


Iran – Iran’s presidential election may also be a contest for the next supreme leader (Ian Dudgeon, ASPI)

Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline conservative, is widely predicted to be elected as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s successor in elections scheduled for 18 June.

But the vote won’t just determine the country’s next president; it’s also seen as part of a contest to determine Iran’s next supreme leader.

Raisi’s likely win follows the controversial disqualification on 25 May of all competitive centrist and reformist/moderate presidential candidates by Iran’s electoral gatekeeper, the Guardian Council. Of the approximately 600 candidates, the council announced that only seven met the qualifications for office detailed in section 115 of Iran’s constitution. Five are conservatives and two are reformists/moderates. Because presidents are constitutionally limited to two consecutive four-year terms, Rouhani was ineligible to seek re-election.

Raisi, 61, from Mashhad in Iran’s northeast, is the stand-out candidate. He’s well known nationally and is popular among hardline conservatives. A long-time prosecutor, he was appointed chief justice in 2019. He’s a member of the Assembly of Experts and was attorney-general from 2014 to 2016. He has also served as chairman of the Astan Quds Razavi, a non-profit multibillion-dollar religious-cum-business and charity conglomerate (bonyad) based at Mashhad.

Raisi was Rouhani’s major competitor and runner-up in the 2017 presidential election, which drew a high turnout of 73% or 41.3 million of Iran’s 56.4 million eligible voters. Although Raisi lost, he attained a credible 38% of the vote versus Rouhani’s 58%.

Raisi’s nearest non-conservative rival is Mohsen Mehralizadeh, 64, a reformist and ethnic Azerbaijani from Isfahan in central Iran. He was vice president from 2001 to 2005 and is a former governor of Khorasan province. He contested the 2005 presidential election, but came last with 4.4% of the vote. He was seen then, as now, as a relatively weak candidate.

The council’s disqualification of competitive candidates, without giving reasons, was strongly criticised by non-conservatives. Rouhani was one of those who appealed to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to include at least one strong non-conservative candidate to ensure a competitive election, but the pleas were rejected. This prompted activist Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of popular former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, to state in an interview, ‘This is no longer an election, it’s an appointment.’

The two most popular non-conservative disqualified candidates were Ali Larijani, a former conservative but now centrist, and reformist Eshaq Jahangiri.

Larijani, aged 64, is seen as the stronger of the two, appealing to both conservatives and some moderates. He is a member of the Expediency Council, and until 2020 was a member and speaker of parliament. He has also served as minister of culture and Islamic guidance and as head of state broadcasting. He retired as a brigadier general of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in 1992. Like Mehralizadeh, he stood as a candidate in the 2005 presidential election; he came sixth with 5.9% of the vote.

Larijani also comes from a political family. A younger brother, Sadeq (Amoli) Larijani, is a hardline conservative, current chairman of the Expediency Council and member of the Assembly of Experts. He was chief justice immediately prior to Raisi and is a former member of the Guardian Council. He also publicly expressed concerns about the disqualification of his brother.

Eshaq Jahangiri, 63, has served as Rouhani’s first vice president since 2013. His previous appointments include minister of industries and mines, governor of Isfahan and member of parliament.

It’s generally assumed that the council’s list of approved candidates was drafted in response to ‘guidance’ by Khamenei, who wants Raisi as his next president. Local media has speculated that Khamenei is using the presidential election to assist with determining his successor as supreme leader. Khamenei, 82, is reportedly not in good health and a succession plan has become a priority.

Raisi is one possibility to succeed Khamenei, and Ali Larijani is another. While Larijani has demonstrated his potential leadership capabilities through his various appointments, Raisi hasn’t yet done so and his performance as president could be an important test.

Raisi’s tenure as president, if he’s elected, is likely to be controversial. The first marker will be voter turnout at the election. If, as speculated, there’s a low turnout due to a boycott by many reformists/moderates, that will reflect on Raisi’s appeal.

He’s also likely to lack appeal among Iran’s ‘progressives’, with his background suggesting he’d oppose any liberalisation of society that would clash with his strong views on traditional Islamic values.

Raisi is also unlikely to tolerate active political or other dissidence, especially if it challenges the regime’s authority. As a prosecutor, he is said to have been involved in events leading to the execution of thousands of detained dissidents in 1988. He was also involved in the suppression of dissidents generally in the 1980s and has been accused of failing to bring to justice security force members who used lethal force to suppress demonstrations against electoral fraud in 2009 and economic hardship in 2019.

These and other factors have contributed to both the European Union and the United States imposing sanctions on Raisi and others, including Amoli Larijarni, for human rights abuses, which would complicate relations if he wins.

Two of Raisi’s key campaign issues are reviving the economy and fighting corruption. US negotiations with Iran on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action will be critical to the economy. If the US rejoins the agreement, many sanctions will be lifted, providing some immediate economic and financial relief to Iran.

But if that doesn’t happen before Rouhani leaves office, Raisi or the US might seek to vary the agreement’s conditions. It would be in Raisi’s political and economic interests to quickly seal a deal with the US.

Raisi has already commenced his anti-corruption campaign from his present judiciary post. That corruption is endemic in Iran is not in question. It was ranked 149th out of 180 in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index in 2020.

One of Raisi’s early targets was his predecessor, Amoli Larijani. While allegations are unresolved, this has been seen as a politically motivated attempt by Raisi to tarnish the Larijani name, especially that of his rival, Ali Larijani. Politics in Iran, as anywhere, can be brutal.

If elected, Raisi faces a bumpy road.


(China) Leaping across the ocean: The port operators behind China’s naval expansion (ASPI)

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has become increasingly willing to project military power overseas while coercing and co-opting countries into accepting the objectives of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).


AUSTRALIA/DATA – Devolved data centre decisions: Opportunities for reform? (Gill Savage and Anne Lyons, ASPI)

Data has been referred to as the ‘new oil’ or ‘new gold’, but it’s more than that. Most organisations can’t function without it. That applies equally to government.

Government data creation, collection, storage and analysis has grown and continues to grow, as does government reliance on it. With continued government policy directions promoting increased outsourcing of data storage, processing and cloud storage, the value and protection that disaggregation and diversification generate may be lost in the absence of appropriate oversight.

In this report, ASPI’s Gill Savage and Anne Lyons provide an overview of the current state, the implications of the panel arrangements and the resulting challenges. They review the unintended consequences of the Australian Government’s data centre procurement arrangements, first introduced over a decade ago, and suggest areas for reform. The aim is to shape a better conversation on issues, challenges and factors to consider relating to arrangements for the provision of outsourced data centres.


2020 in 30 minutes (ASPI)

In the final episode for 2020, The Strategist’s Brendan NicholsonAnastasia Kapetas and Jack Norton share their thoughts on some of the key events and geopolitical developments of 2020 and the areas they will be watching closely in 2021. Some of the topics they discuss include: the Australia-China relationship, climate, the Brereton Inquiry, the US elections and disinformation.


UN PEACEKEEPING/PACIFIC CONTRIBUTIONS – Mapping Pacific contributions to UN peacekeeping (Lisa Sharland & Genevieve Feely, ASPI)

There’s a long and proud history of peacekeeping in the Pacific. Countries in the region have hosted missions, and contributed to them, to support their neighbours, resolve conflicts and maintain a more secure and peaceful region. They have also sent personnel abroad to contribute to global efforts to maintain international peace and security. Yet, this is an area that’s less explored and understood. The Pacific is frequently viewed as a beneficiary of peacekeeping rather than as a substantive contributor. In this report, we attempt to address that gap, drawing on interviews and discussions with government officials and returned peacekeepers in seven case-study countries (Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Timor-Leste and Vanuatu). We offer recommendations for Pacific countries, as well as the Australian Government, about opportunities for further partnerships to support the engagement of countries in the region in UN peacekeeping.


AUSTRALIA/COVID19/SUPPLY CHAINS/SOVEREIGN CAPABILITY – What the coronarvirus crisis has taught us about supply chains and sovereign capability (Anthony Bergin, ASPI)

The supply chain vulnerabilities exposed by the pandemic have important lessons for other types of emergencies.



INDO PACIFIC – Indo-Pacific election pulse 2020: Taiwan, Singapore, New Zealand, Myanmar and the United States: Views from The Strategist (ASPI)

The ‘Indo-Pacific Election Pulse’ is an annual project examining the most consequential elections in the region and the most important for Australia’s strategic environment. In what was an ‘unprecedented’ year, Taiwan, Singapore, New Zealand, Myanmar, and the United States braved the challenge of conducting elections under the shadow of a pandemic.

This diverse collection of views – from experts from different countries and fields – looks at how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the key elections in our region. A key challenge faced this year included countering misinformation, disinformation and cyber-enabled attempts at foreign interference, as in-person campaigning was restricted, and the virus forced campaign activities online.

The victories of incumbents in Singapore, New Zealand, and Myanmar showed how effective responses to the pandemic granted legitimacy to governments. Taiwan also saw an electoral win by the sitting government. But this was largely a response to Xi Jinping’s harsh politics rather than the government’s pandemic response, as the election took place in January before Covid-19 spread globally.

Conversely, in the US, the Trump administration’s disastrous response to the Covid-19 crisis resulted in a change of leadership. With the Biden administration preparing for the transition, partners and allies in the Indo-Pacific are growing more hopeful to see a return of a more engaged, predictable, or at least conventional, US foreign policy.

The year has been short on good news, and the Indo-Pacific democracies, like all nations, have had their fair share of challenges. But despite the creeping trend of democratic decline globally – arguably exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic – the results show that democratic activism and accountability are doing well.


THAILAND/DIGITAL ACTIVISM – #WhatsHappeningInThailand: the power dynamics of Thailand’s digital activism (Elise Thomas, Tracy Beattie and Albert Zhang, ASPI)

Thailand’s political discourse throughout the past decade has increasingly been shaped and amplified by social media and digital activism. The most recent wave of political activism this year saw the emergence of a countrywide youth-led democracy movement against the military-dominated coalition, as well as a nationalist counter-protest movement in support of the establishment.

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