I am fortunate to have been asked to do a new show, Global Focus with Christopher Pyne, that unpacks just one important foreign, defence, trade or international political issue with only one guest. No hectoring, no faux fights to feed the social media cycle, just a considered discussion with a well-informed guest about an issue that matters to Australians and the world in which we live.
Most guests will be international, mainly because there are so many sources of news from which we can already glean what Australians think about our place in the world. This show seeks to let you into the thinking of what others around the globe think about the issues that affect us all.
My first guest this Sunday is Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s Foreign Minister.
Dr Balakrishnan is a good friend to Australia and thoroughly understands South East Asia, the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the role of both China and the United States in the Indo-Pacific.
Global Focus with Christopher Pyne premieres Sunday
We will be talking about how Singapore and ASEAN view China; the role that the United States could play in the Indo Pacific; terrorism in the context of Afghanistan and South East Asia; and trade.
As Dr Balakrishnan says, of the relationship between China and Singapore, which applies to just about every nation in the Indo Pacific, “there is a relationship not based on symmetry… because we are so small. It’s not based on complete congruence. It’s not possible. But we find ways to work together and where there are differences, we work through them.”
Surprisingly, Singapore is the largest foreign investor in China since 2013 and ASEAN has overtaken the European Union and the United States as China’s largest trading partner. In other words, they have skin in the game.
Christopher Pyne at his Adelaide Hills home in 2020.
Dr Balakrishnan argues that because the same players are at the table week after week, there is a longer game that needs to be played with broader horizons than just the latest dispute. He says that this ethos even applies to the attitude of the countries in dispute over the South China Sea. While, of course, a nation doesn’t simply give up its territorial claims lightly, they need to see the longer term, which in the case of resolving the issue of who can do what in the South China Sea could be decades away.
For us in Australia, it’s a fascinating perspective. We often see world events in the short term. In Asia, the opposite is true. When Zhou Enlai, China’s Foreign Minister under Chairman Mao Zedong, was asked what he thought the lessons from the French Revolution might be, which had occurred in 1789, he is credited with observing, more than one hundred and fifty years later that, it was too early to tell!
Dr Balakrishnan points out that the US has more foreign investment in South East Asia than it does in India, China and South Korea combined. It’s a sound argument for the Biden Administration reversing the decision of President Donald Trump to pull out of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
He argues that the US investment in South East Asia gives the US a “head start” that, rather than wasting, the US should take advantage of by engaging on economic and trade issues in particular through mechanisms like the CPTPP. He has a point. Australia and Japan drove the CPTPP after the Trump Administration canned it. But China has seized the opportunity by asking the other nations of the CPTPP for membership. It would represent a failure of US economic and foreign policy to remain out of the CPTPP while the very rival who is challenging its power in the Indo Pacific gained access to such a prestigious club.
Teena McQueen: ‘We all have to stand up to China’ on Taiwan
Finally, Balakrishnan and I traverse the reversal of the US in Afghanistan and what it means for the US allies in the Indo-Pacific.
Unsurprisingly, he sees the issue through the lens of what it means for global terrorism because the removal of Afghanistan as a haven for terrorist training, testing and headquartering was the primary reason that Singapore and Australia joined the global coalition to remove the Taliban in the first place.
He makes the point that “the nature of terrorism has now metastasised and turbo charged with internet technologies, in fact, the risk (of terrorism ) has gone up, not down”.
In Global Focus we reference the Australian involvement in the ISIS uprising in Marawi in the Philippines as a template for how nation states will cooperate to defeat terrorist cells in the future and Balakrishnan advocates that the solution ultimately lies locally in winning the hearts and minds of the people to the cause of freedom and respect for one another.
I hope you enjoy and learn something new out of the first outing of Global Focus with Christopher Pyne this Sunday.
Hon Christopher Pyne is a former Minister for Defence and long serving Member of the House of Representatives in the Australian Parliament.
Watch Global Focus with Christopher Pyne each Sunday at 5:30pm AEDT on Sky News Australia.

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