Is Le Pen mightier than accord?; Coming up Trump; Ki-moon descends but will Kevin rise?; Farewell to scholar Benedict Anderson; Super spy story By Hamish McDonald.

Coal comfort from Paris climate talks

François Hollande greets Barack Obama and Narendra Modi at COP21 on November 30.

While preparing the last column of the year, I got an email from a journalist acquaintance at The Hindu, the best and most balanced of the Indian newspapers, asking how to get in touch with The Australian cartoonist Bill Leak.

The first day of the Murdoch’s flagship after its leadership passed from Chris Mitchell to Paul Whittaker had been marked by a cartoon showing Indian villagers trying to eat solar panels just arrived in United Nations-badged boxes. It unleashed the familiar media frenzy about racism in the bilateral relationship that can be set off by a media report, a slur on a bus, a bit of sledging on or off the cricket field.

That was a side track, however. The broader question is whether the Paris agreement just a day earlier that inspired the cartoon is going to change the toxic debate that has held up effective measures against global warming. The cartoon, and sneering commentary, in The Australian, suggested not.

Meanwhile in India, many commentators are whingeing that the agreement lets rich countries such as Australia off the hook. “The phrase ‘historical responsibility’ has been erased from the agreement and this weakens the obligations of developed countries to take actions due to their past emissions,” said Chandra Bhushan, at the Centre for Science and Environment, an NGO in Delhi.

For his part, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed Paris a victory for “climate justice” and well he might. Developing countries benefit from a $US100 billion fund to help them lower carbon emissions. India is pledged only to reduce the carbon intensity of its economy rather than stop expanding carbon emissions. Climate experts such as Navroz Dubash at Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research see the Paris agreement mechanisms steadily shifting the burden of cuts. “While India should certainly do its part, it is important that these mechanisms keep pressure on developed countries for more ambitious actions, to allow countries like India the carbon space to meet our development needs,” Dubash wrote.

So, as we’ve pointed out before, it’s all systems go for coal exports to India from projects such as Adani’s Carmichael mine in Queensland, even if we have to close down our own coal-fired power stations. It’s all a bit like the opium trade the East India Company used to run into China, to pay for the tea imports to wean the British working classes off gin.

1 . Is Le Pen mightier than accord?

Marine Le Pen’s advance towards power in France met a setback last Sunday, when the two mainstream parties ganged up to block her right-wing National Front taking control of six of the 13 regional governments where it had led the voting in a first-round election a week earlier.

Three of the Socialist Party candidates in these regions actually withdrew, leaving supporters to vote for the centre-right Republicans, while similar mutual support efforts saw these two parties retain control of 12 of the 13 regions, including in the bleak northern city of Lille where Le Pen was standing.

However, the National Front more than trebled its number of regional council seats, and with a first-round vote of 28 per cent remains a powerful contender for the presidential elections in 2017. Le Pen tipped how she will spin the co-operation of her political opponents. “We really are in a bi-party system,” she said. “No longer right and left, but globalists and patriots, with the globalists working toward the dilution of France in a giant global magma.”

2 . Coming up Trump

What of her transatlantic counterpart, Donald Trump? His anti-Islam comments have made him even more popular with Republican voters. Despairing moderates in the party now take hope from polls suggesting Trump’s support base has a low rate of participation in the primaries, the party internal election of delegates to the convention that selects the presidential candidate. If Trump fails in the first primary, in Iowa on February 1, his campaign could deflate rapidly.

Meanwhile, some advice on how to stop Trump, from none other than Karl Rove, the controversial former George W. Bush political campaign manager. In a Wall Street Journal column, Rove virtually scripted the ads likely to come from the Democrats. They would take Trump up on his comments in the Cleveland debate that he had “taken advantage of the laws of this country” when his companies declared bankruptcy four times, by testimony from the contractors, small-business people, and bondholders left in the lurch.

3 . Ki-moon descends but will Kevin rise?

Next year brings another big election, to replace UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Will our Kevin be in the field, and which country or countries will nominate him?

This week the UN’s Security Council and General Assembly sent out a joint letter inviting the 193 member states to submit candidates. Instead of the previous murky processes, it will be more open, with the list of candidates published and delegations able to interview them.

Though a groundswell of popularity in the General Assembly may help, however, the real election takes place from July when names go to the 15-member Security Council where the five permanent members each have a veto.

As well as having some baggage with the Chinese, Kevin Rudd would have the disadvantage of not being female, there being a suggestion in the joint letter it was time to break the 70-year pattern of male secretaries-general. So far there’s been two formal nominations, Macedonian diplomat Srgjan Kerim and Croatia’s foreign minister, Vesna Pusić, a woman.

4 . Farewell to scholar Benedict Anderson

Vale the great Indonesianist of our time, the Cornell University scholar Benedict Richard O’Gorman Anderson, who died in Malang, East Java, last Saturday night, aged 79.

Born in China and educated at Eton and Cambridge before getting into the then new field of South-East Asia at Cornell, he was the most elegant writer about power and culture in the region, being fluent himself in Indonesian, Javanese, Thai and Tagalog.

Like the late Herb Feith at Monash, Anderson was ready to take the risk of exclusion from his area of study. He was persona non grata in Indonesia from 1972-99 for questioning the official version of the 1965 events and exposing East Timor’s brutal subjugation. His writing was irresistibly quotable: his nemesis Suharto had a retinue that reminded many of Anderson’s line about how ancient Javanese kings augmented their power by surrounding themselves with “extraordinary human beings such as albinos, clowns, dwarves and fortune tellers”.

5 . Super spy story

What stories lie among people who’ve settled in Australia! Earlier this month saw the launch of a privately published biography of Perth resident Paul Vukelic, written by Wilma Mann. A story of a worthy, middle-class, suburban life, except for its connection with the greatest espionage achievement of the past century.

Vukelic’s father, Branko Vukelic, and mother, Edith, were members of the Richard Sorge spy ring in Tokyo, working for Moscow’s Comintern. A German, Sorge was so convincing in his cover as a pro-Nazi journalist that the Gestapo chief at the German embassy vouched for him when the Japanese military police got suspicious. His report that Japan had abandoned any plans to seize territory from the Soviet Union, in favour of a move into South-East Asia, enabled Stalin to concentrate forces against Germany.

Branko also had cover as a pro-Axis journalist. Danish-born Edith was courier for the spy ring, smuggling microfilm and documents to Shanghai where they were transmitted to Moscow by the American communist Agnes Smedley. As the Japanese net closed on Sorge, Edith and 11-year-old Paul got out of Japan in September 1941. Paul saw his father for the last time as their ship sailed. By the time they arrived in Perth, to join Edith’s sister, Japanese police had arrested Sorge and his collaborators. Sorge was hanged; Branko Vukelic died of pneumonia in Abashiri Prison seven months before the war ended. If ASIO were aware of a former Comintern agent settled in Perth, it’s not mentioned in the official history.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 19, 2015 as "Coal comfort from Paris climate talks".

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Hamish McDonald
is a Walkley Award-winning foreign correspondent.  

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