The year in international affairs

HSV Lecture by Melissa Conley-Tyler, Australian Institute of International Affairs, at Balwyn Library on 27 November 2014

Melissa was welcomed by the secretary as a long-standing member of HSV. She approached her topic, ‘The year in international affairs’, by showing a series of slides, one for each month of the year depicting an event that received wide media coverage. They can be summarised as follows.

January – Julie Bishop, Minister for Foreign Affairs, with her Indonesian counterpart. This was a reminder of Australia’s tense relations with Indonesia, linked to ‘turning the boats back’, Australia spying on the Indonesian President and our ships in Indonesian waters.

February – Vladimir Putin and the tensions building in the Crimea region of Ukraine.

March – The Malaysian airliner MH370 that disappeared. Still a mystery.

April – Boko Haram captured young school-girls. Little attempt to get them back.

May – Tensions in Thailand between pro-democracy groups and those advocating traditional social roles with the King floating above all.

June – ISIS or Islamic State extremists, with a highly developed talent for getting media attention.

July – MH17 airliner crashed or shot down in East Ukraine, with Russian-backed  rebels controlling access to crash site.

August – Unarmed black teenager Michael Brown shot by police officer in Ferguson, St Louis.

September – Hong Kong ‘umbrella revolution’ protests against mainland Chinese government’s control of democratic elections.

October – Abbott’s assertion he would ‘shirtfront’ Putin when they meet.

November – Group photo of leaders at G20 gathering in Brisbane.

December – Global concern over Ebola virus.

Melissa then commented that this run-down of issues made it looks as though things were getting worse around the world. But that needed to be balanced against reality. For example, ISIS had very little reach, while the emphasis on terrorism was bringing about failure to address important issues like climate change, poverty – because we don’t want to face them. She then added that in the USA more people die from furniture falling on them than from terrorism.

Melissa then suggested that looking at long, slow trends, instead of focusing on these sorts of attention-grabbing events reveals different stories. Good news stories that are real, but rarely attract media attention.

She then showed a complementary set of slides, one for each month.

January – Australia’s aid projects in Indonesia based on people-to-people links have made enormous difference to the lives of many people.

February – Victory for Australia and other countries lobbying on whaling at the International Court of Justice against Japan’s so-called scientific whaling.

March – India was declared polio-free.

April – Free trade agreements signed with South Korea and later with Japan and China.

May – Marshall Islands suing the USA for not fulfilling its non-proliferation treaty.

June – Angelina Jolie and William Hague announced action on sexual violence in war and everyday life.

July – Australia urged the UN Security Council to have an inquiry into the downing of MH17 in Ukraine.

August – Arms Trade treaty to stem the flow of illegal small arms.

September – Orderly referendum process in Scotland.

October – Abbott and Obama, both holding koalas, demonstrate strong bonds of friendship between Australia and US.

November – US and China sign an agreement for action on climate change.

In summary, the stories in the news may not reflect the most important things that are happening around the world.

Report by Howard Hodgens and Rosslyn Ives

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