PANEL 1: REGIONAL POWERS, GEOPOLITICS AND INTERNATIONAL LAW

Lecture Theatre 2, 10:30-12:00
Chair: Asima Rabbani

 

Interpreting Russia’s Engagement with International Law Regarding its Takeover of Crimea
Michelle Chase, PhD Candidate, University of New South Wales, Canberra

Russia’s takeover of the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 was widely condemned as a flagrant violation of core principles of international law, including the keystone article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter. The annexation elicited much discussion in the popular press, amongst world leaders and in international relations and international law circles. A question implicit in much of the discussion was what Russia’s illegal actions indicated about its attitude to international law. Although many interpretations were offered, none satisfactorily explained the apparent riddle of why a state whose actions suggest blatant disregard for the rules of international law, would talk so much about the importance of states adhering to those rules. This paper argues that the explanations offered so far have failed to offer a theoretical framework explaining the relationship of international law to world politics. They have therefore been unable to satisfactorily account for the political significance of Russia’s engagement with international law in the case of Crimea. This paper proposes that the theory of International Law as Ideology offers the theoretical tools to analyse and explain Russia’s apparently contradictory action and rhetoric regarding Crimea. Applying the theory, the presentation will argue that far from being contradictory, Russia’s action and rhetoric worked together in pursuit of its geopolitical goals of pursuing great power status, excluding other powers from its sphere of influence, and diminishing the relative power of the United States and European Union.

Michelle Chase is about to commence as a doctoral candidate in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at UNSW Canberra. Michelle is a graduate of the University of Sydney (Bachelor of Economics (Social Sciences) (Hons)) and UNSW Sydney (Master of International Law and International Relations). Her research will look at China’s engagement with international law, with particular reference to its activities in the areas of cyber governance and outer space.

  


 

The Impacts of Major Power Rivalry on ASEAN Centrality: South China Sea Case Study 
Tuan Luc, PhD Candidate, University of New South Wales, Canberra

This paper investigates the repercussions of major powers’ dynamics to ASEAN’s centrality in the South China Sea issue. I examine the complexity of the South China Sea dispute and explore if ASEAN has played a central role in such an issue. I argue that ASEAN has demonstrated centrality on the issue though its interest in the matter just started in the early 1990s. Data collected in extensive field trips to Hanoi, Manila, Jakarta and Singapore and archival research reveal that major powers have entangled at different levels into ASEAN’s endeavour to manage the South China Sea maritime disputes. The entanglement has brought about both advantages and disadvantages to ASEAN solidarity which has been seen as critical to the regional integration. Major powers’ dynamics have resulted in two opposite impacts on ASEAN solidarity. On the one hand, the ‘China factor’ has been singled out as critically intensifying division within ASEAN via the role played by Cambodia, Laos and Brunei. It eroded the intra-mural trust among ASEAN members and ASEAN’s credibility. On the other, the effective division made by the exogenous players became a waking call to ASEAN. Since the 2012 fiasco, ASEAN has further understood the real threat of external intervention, its own operational problems and most importantly, the significance of ASEAN solidarity in the rivalry for influence among world powers. This paper concludes that a united ASEAN is the only way the Association can avoid being entrapped in ‘the game of thrones’ between major powers.

Tuan Luc is a PhD Candidate from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at UNSW Canberra. His PhD research seeks to explain the impacts of major power dynamics on ASEAN’s centrality in the management of the maritime dispute in the South China Sea. Tuan graduated from the People’s Security Academy of Vietnam (B.A.) and Old Dominion University - ODU (M.A. under the sponsorship of Fulbright program). He is an alumnus of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders’ Initiative (YSEALI), IISS-Shangri La Dialogue Southeast Asian Young Leadership Program (2017 and 2018), and Pacific Forum Young Leaders program. He was an international relations expert of the Ministry of Public Security of Vietnam, a research assistant at the Graduate Program in International Studies (GPIS - ODU), a tutor at the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at ANU, a teaching assistant at the UNSW Canberra, and an intern at the IISS Asia Office. 


 

Identity Switching: Proposing a new model of hedging from the South Pacific
Philippa Louey, Honours Student, University of New South Wales, Sydney

Set against a backdrop of intensifying large power rivalry, South Pacific nations appear to be engaging in a form of hedging not yet identified in the hedging literature. My research indicates that South Pacific nations are carefully navigating a non-aligned and equidistant relationship with regional large powers, namely Australia and China, by translating hedging strategies into practices of national identity articulation. I term this new form of hedging identity switching in reference to the way in which South Pacific leaders articulate different identity profiles depending on which larger power they engage with. By integrating key role theory insights into the concept of hedging, I suggest that small states are capable of utilising identity switching to steer larger powers towards roles that deliver beneficial outcomes for the smaller state, such as development assistance or the provision of concessional loans. This claim is examined in reference to three case studies: Fiji, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea wherein supporting evidence is found. This study challenges depictions of South Pacific nations as passive agents ‘caught’ in the crossfire of large power competition and instead consider them astute geopolitical actors capable of influencing large power behaviour via strategies of identity switching. As the effectiveness of identity, switching does not appear to be dependent on the material capabilities of a state. This model is uniquely situated as an accessible geostrategic strategy for small, minimally resourced states.

Philippa Louey is a UNSW Arts and Social Science Honours student with an interest in the evolving geopolitical situation of the South Pacific. Having studied Politics and International Relations in her undergraduate degree, Philippa has long been drawn to ‘small states’ scholarship and its consideration of the potential agency in regional and international systems. This year of honours study provides her with an opportunity to combine her interest in the South Pacific with her enthusiasm for small state scholarship and consider the potential for continuing this research through further academic study. 


 

Conflicting Visions of Ritual Order: Restriction of Foreign Interaction as Contesting Hierarchy in Early Modern East Asia
Michael Varnay, PhD candidate, Australian National University

This project’s goal is to challenge sinocentric narratives that have emerged within International Relations surrounding the nature of order in early modern East Asia. Here, the two main approaches to understanding order in this period will be examined: the first explores hierarchy produced through the dominance of Chinese culture while the second material approach explains hierarchy as a consequence of power politics. Yet these approaches have done little to explain the understandings of hierarchy among other states which contested claims of Chinese centrality. By looking at several dyads in this period including the China-Korea, China-Japan, China-Vietnam alongside the Korea-Japan relationship, we find that each held mutually contradictory normative understandings of their place within the hierarchical order of East Asia. By looking at formal hierarchy as emerging through the practice of ritual diplomacy, the different understandings of their meaning produced the mutually exclusive normative understandings of each state’s position and what the hierarchical order of East Asia in this period was. These contradictions were possible through the restriction of foreign interaction, commonly known as ‘isolationism’, and the manipulation of the practice of ritual diplomacy as a form of contestation. In the face of sharp differences in material and cultural power, controlling the spatial and temporal nature of interactions allowed non-Chinese states to express their worldviews through ritual diplomacy, meaning singular diplomatic acts could be interpreted to reflect different understandings of their position within a hierarchical order.

Michael Varnay is a PhD candidate at the Coral Bell School at the Australian National University (ANU). He received his Bachelor of Arts (Honours – First Class) from the University of Sydney in 2016 and his Master of International Relations from ANU in 2017. His Honours Project looked at the role of ideology in the nation-building process in Cold War Korea, focusing on how the rivalry between the Korean states influenced the choices in this process. The focus of Michael’s research is on the nature of hierarchy in early-modern East Asia. His research focuses on non-Sinocentric hierarchies within the region and how these overlapping systems were able to co-exist despite contradictory understandings of how they viewed the order they inhabited.