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Australia’s pushback against China’s grey zone tactic



Australia’s pushback against China’s grey zone tactic

Editor’s note: Australia is leading the regional pushback against China’s territorial and diplomatic expansion and interference in the Asia-Pacific, said Sascha-Dominik Bachmann, professor in law at Canberra Law School – University of Canberra.

Australia’s position on the East Vietnam Sea was the center of global attention amid the 30th Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) 2020.

As per the joint statement on July 28, Canberra reaffirmed U.S. alliance but opted to avoid full commitment over freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in the East Vietnam Sea.

To be more exact, Australian governments have so far sailed through the international waters in accordance with international law, but never within 12 nautical miles of land features claimed by China.

Canberra, in other words, chose a cautious approach as Foreign Minister Marise Payne stated, “Let me reiterate that we make our own decisions.”

In an exclusive op-ed for Tuoi Tre News, Prof. Bachmann shared his thoughts on what is behind Australia’s stance on the East Vietnam Sea, the relationship with the United States, and the United States – China relations.

It is not surprising that both the U.S. and Australia issued a very similar condemnation of Beijing’s continuing illegal activities in the disputed maritime region on the evening of the AUSMIN talks.

This is a logical consequence of China’s ever increasing bellicose posturing in the Asia-Pacific region.

Labelled by some commentators as ‘weaponization of COVID-19,’ China seems to have taken advantage of the outbreak and its impact on the states to accelerate its ever more bellicose territorial ambitions from the [East Vietnam Sea] and East China Seas to the Chinese-Indian border dispute, Hong Kong, and Taiwan issues. Beijing’s increased aggressive behavior had to be countered at one point and this is what is happening now: a naval exercise by Japanese, the United States and Australian naval vessels in the Philippine Sea, ongoing United States FONOPS in the [East Vietnam Sea], in addition to individual states like Indonesia conducting military drills in the East Vietnam Sea region to signal to Beijing that its illegal claims over the waterway are being rejected and will not stand.

In an Australian context, we can see that the current government of Scott Morrisson is leading the pushback against China’s increasing regional influence and any unrestricted warfare of the People’s Liberation Army targeting the region in general, and Australia and New Zealand in particular.

China’s influence eroding the sovereignty of these two countries has been known for years and the Morrison government has been at the forefront of countering Beijing’s such grey zone or hybrid activities. Australia has been on the receiving end of such operations in a variety of grey zone domains, from cyberattacks, influence operations, trade boycotts, and diplomatic threats to espionage. It’s a whole spectrum of DIMEFIL operations targeting our way of life and sovereignty by exploiting expertly our vulnerabilities of an open and democratic society.

And the Morrisson government has been pushing back against such hostile actions by a supposedly partner of Australia since 2018: from banning Huawei from 5G, calling for an independent inquiry into whether COVID-19 originates in China, demanding an international investigation into Beijing’s systematic abuse of Muslim Uighurs to a call for the adoption of new tougher laws on foreign direct investment detrimental to Canberra’s national interests.

Australia’s growing concern in regard to China and its awareness of hostile activities by Beijing has seen the adoption of these governmental actions and culminated in the announcement of the adoption of a record high defense budget and increased spending on cyber as well as investment into grey zone capabilities. Such defence spending is augmented by an increased diplomatic, international law and relations-centered, strategic alliances approach.

It is heartening to see that Australia as a leading middle power is once more playing an important role in upholding the global rules-based order in the region and the examples discussed highlight how Australia’s awareness of Beijing as a source and originator of current threats to regional (and global) rule of law, security, and stability.

China’s influence has to be countered by adopting a comprehensive multitasked holder and domain counter approach. We are seeing that the Morrison administration seems to be determined to continue this as long as it is needed and Beijing returns to be a trusted partner in peaceful trade and development in the region.

And to meet this goal, Australia and its allies need to increase our resilience in the face of economic coercion, aggression, and political interference by China, with whom our future relations must come from a position of unity and strength.



Chinese cities issue travel warnings after Fujian COVID-19



China’s COVID-19 outbreak in Fujian province, which has reported 152 local cases in five days, has prompted cities in other parts of the country to issue travel warnings ahead of major holidays, though state media warn against imposing blanket travel curbs.

The travel warnings come ahead of the week-long National Day holiday starting on Oct. 1, a major tourist season, as well as a shorter Mid-Autumn Festival holiday next week.

The last outbreak in July-August, which saw strict movement restrictions in some cities, hit tourism, hospitality and transportation sectors and significantly slowed retail sales growth.

Even though all new local cases in China since Sept. 10 were reported in southeastern Fujian province only, the northeastern city of Jilin, as well as Maoming and Guangzhou in the south, have advised people against non-essential trips out of their provinces. Shanxi and Heilongjiang provinces have also made similar advisories.

The cities of Chifeng and Hohhot in the northern autonomous region of Inner Mongolia have advised residents to stay put during the holidays, while Xian in Shaanxi province told residents to avoid leaving town for unnecessary reasons.

But state tabloid Global Times said in an editorial on Wednesday that local officials should not casually advocate blanket orders to stay put or turn such advocacy into a requirement.

“We need to gradually enhance the accurate efficiency of our dynamic zero-case route,” the newspaper said.

“We should avoid a complete halt on a large scale. We have to strive for early detection of each outbreak. We also need to make sure that we can contain it faster so that it will cause less harm to the society.”

Julian Evans-Pritchard, senior China economist at Capital Economics, said China’s services sector was expected to rebound strongly from August, but efforts to contain the Fujian outbreak may disrupt the upcoming holidays, a key period for consumption.

He also warned of a risk of fresh disruptions to supply chains since Fujian is a major trade hub.

Contagion risks

The National Health Commission said on Wednesday that 50 new locally transmitted cases were reported for Sept. 14, compared with 59 infections a day earlier. All of them were in Fujian.

That brings the total number of local infections in the three Fujian cities of Putian, where the outbreak began, Xiamen and Quanzhou to 152.

About 30,000 people travelled from Putian to other provinces from Aug. 26 to Sept. 10, state television reported on Monday citing estimates from health authorities, stirring concerns of contagion.

Zeng Shidian, director of Disease Control and Prevention Centre in Wenzhou, in Zhejiang province north of Fujian, was cited as saying in local media that there is a “high” risk of the city seeing some imported cases from Putian and other parts of Fujian due to the movement of people and goods.

Wenzhou is urging its residents not to travel to Fujian during the upcoming holidays. The city said on Tuesday it will close indoor entertainment venues for half a month.

As of Sept. 14, mainland China had recorded 95,413 confirmed cases.


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Malaysia holiday hotspot readies for reopening with tourism bubble



Businesses at Malaysia’s prime holiday destination are gearing up to welcome the return of tourists this week, as the country takes an early step towards recovery from a devastating coronavirus crisis.

Langkawi, a cluster of 99 islands in the Straits of Malacca, will reopen from Sept. 16 to fully vaccinated travellers as part of a domestic tourism bubble, with strict protocols in place to thwart the spread of the coronavirus.

Restaurant owner Esther Lee said she was excited the bubble was finally being launched.

“Finally we can welcome customers and this is actually our main source of income to actually survive,” she said.

“We have like staff under us, we have overhead costs to bear so we definitely need dining customers.”

The plan is similar to that introduced in Thailand, which started with the July reopening of Phuket, 220 km (137 miles) north of Langkawi, to vaccinated foreign tourists. Malaysia has yet to invite foreign tourists to return.

Like Phuket, Langkawi, known for its beaches, geoparks, bird life and rock formations, is not expecting huge numbers initially, with 400,000 visitors targeted by the end of the year and estimated revenues of 165 million ringgit ($39.66 million).

“We still do not want congestion even though we need a high number. What is important is that we can control the tourists to ensure their compliance,” said Tuan Nasaruddin Abdul Muttalib, head of the Langkawi development authority.

Malaysia has recorded 2 million coronavirus cases overall among its 32 million population, one of Asia’s highest per-capita infection rates, with more than 20,000 deaths.

Its vaccination programme has progressed faster than its neighbours, with more than half the population inoculated, in the hope of a quicker return to normalcy.

“A big sign of relief, the team is ready, everybody is very happy to welcome you know, our local tourists again,” said Arnaud Girodon, general manager of luxury resort The Datai Langkawi.

“We can’t wait to see them back.”


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‘Broadway is back’: New York celebrates return of hit shows



Broadway celebrated the return of some of its biggest musicals on Tuesday after an 18-month coronavirus shutdown, a landmark moment in New York’s post-pandemic recovery.

“Hamilton,” “Wicked,” “The Lion King” and “Chicago” were all resuming performances, to the delight, and relief, of the industry and theater lovers.

“Broadway is back and it’s a fun thing for everybody,” said Jenni Milanoski who traveled with her daughter from Boston, hoping to see “Hamilton.”

They checked into a hotel opposite the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where Hamilton is showing, so Milanoski could get in line for a ticket at 5:30 am (1030 GMT), some 14 hours before the curtains were due to go up.

At 10:15 am she learned there had been a cancelation and that she had secured the extra ticket she needed.

“I love this show so much. I’ve seen it 11 times. The energy today is going to be great,” Milanoski told AFP.

Broadway theaters have been gradually re-opening throughout September but Tuesday heralds the collective return of some of its most popular shows.

September 14 was the date former governor Andrew Cuomo said Broadway would re-open back in May.

All audiences are required to be vaccinated, as are performers, backstage crew and theater staff, while spectators must also wear masks throughout the show.

Theater fans said they felt safe returning to indoor performances knowing that everybody was vaccinated despite concerns about the highly infectious Delta variant.

“You also don’t have to worry about them not wearing masks. They’ll be kicked out of the show if they don’t,” said Milanoski’s daughter Maddy, who is 18.

Around the corner at Broadway’s ticket booth in Times Square, 65-year-old Angela Mecca agreed, pointing to a badge on her bag that read “fully vaccinated, slightly intoxicated.”

“I think I’ll feel much more comfortable. We have copies of our vaccination cards that we’ve used to get into a couple of the restaurants here in New York City with no problem, so that’s fine,” she told AFP.

People queue outside the Richard Rodgers Theatre for tickets to see the musical 'Hamilton', near Times Square in New York on September 14, 2021. Photo: AFP

People queue outside the Richard Rodgers Theatre for tickets to see the musical ‘Hamilton’, near Times Square in New York on September 14, 2021. Photo: AFP

‘We missed it’

Mecca, visiting from Buffalo in upstate New York, was hoping to see “Waitress,” which reopened earlier this month.

“We try to come every year to catch a couple of plays so that it’s opening back up is wonderful. We missed it. There’s no excitement like this,” she added.

Broadway generated around $33 million in sales per week across 31 shows before Covid-19 swept the Big Apple in March 2020, forcing the abrupt shutdown that left thousands in the industry suddenly without work.

Coronavirus has killed 34,000 people in New York City.

The resumption of shows comes with the city still suffering a huge shortfall in tourists, which typically make up two-thirds of audiences.

But officials and theaters are confident that New Yorkers, and those who can visit, are desperate to watch live theater again.

“This is a big night for New York City’s comeback,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “(Broadway) is in our heart and soul.”


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