Australian leaders

Bonita Mersiades

Bonita Mersiades is one of the most famous whistleblowers in world sport.

She is the author of ’Whatever It Takes: The Inside Story of the FIFA Way’ – a book that details the massive corruption inside the bids for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup including Australia’s role in the shady process. 

Bonita joined Misha Zelinsky to talk about the intersection of sport and politics, why when it comes to cheating its easier to punish individuals than nation states, the role that money plays in the corruption of sport and why it’s just so scary being a whistleblower. 

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Misha Zelinsky:                  Bonita Mersiades Mersiades, welcome to the show.

Bonita Mersiades:           Thanks, Misha.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Slightly different change of pace for what we typically have on Diplomates. You’ve got a very heavy sports background, but sports and politics are never too far apart. I thought, with your experience, let’s start right at the beginning. Why do people care so much about sport? Why do people care so much about men and women running around on a field kicking a ball or throwing a ball?

Bonita Mersiades:           There’s many reasons. I guess one of them would be that we’ve all done it, or most of us have don’t it, at some stage in our lives. The other thing is I think almost more than anything, perhaps music is the only other thing, is that it’s something which is part of a culture that goes through generations. Particularly in something like football, regardless of which code of football it is, the love of that and a love of the team for example can pass down from generation to generation. I think from an individual perspective, that’s why we love sport.

Bonita Mersiades:           From a bigger picture perspective, of society, it absolutely does reflect society and the values that we find important and the values that we like to instill for example in our children, of fair play and team work and perseverance and determination and integrity. For all of those reasons, it’s important.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Now, people often say, sports, it’s not a matter of life and death, it’s much more important than that. It’s also seen as an extension of the nation state. Do you see, in your experience, how much is sport an extension of not just communities but of the country itself? Do you think that that is an important part of sport, as well, the national identity?

Bonita Mersiades:           Yeah, especially for a country like our own. We’re very much tied up, our national identity is very much tied up with sport, even if not so much with ourselves. It is for other people. Having traveled a lot for work not just in sport, but in previous work in government, one of the things that people will often throw at you as a curtain raiser conversation is about the cricket team or the football team or whatever. It is pretty much part of our identity.

Bonita Mersiades:           I think, though, increasingly, too, is that a lot of nations are getting into sport and investing so much in sport because it is obviously a way of exercising soft diplomatic power. Along with arts and culture and fashion and food and all sorts of other ways in which soft power is exercised, sport is also very important to that.

Misha Zelinsky:                  It’s interesting you touch on that soft power, because it’s that murky bit between politics, business, passionate community interest. It strikes me sometimes what makes sport so special is what makes it inherently corruptible. What is it that we see with this questionable behavior from players, obviously, but administrators, high level bureaucrats? How is it that it gets so easily corrupted, something that is so pure when you start as a kid?

Bonita Mersiades:           I think a lot of the administrators in sport, particularly at high level, they forget what sport was about in the first place. My experience, for example, of FIFA is such that, whereas most of the people involved at a high level would have started off in the game as a kid once upon a time and came through the ranks as a volunteer and all of those sorts of things, they lost sight of that when they could see just how powerful that particular sport is, football … I’m talking soccer when I talk football … and the doors it opens for them. For example, if the FIFA president came to visit a country such as Australia, he would get a green light corridor which is reserved for heads of state. He would get to meet anyone that he wants to meet. The president of FIFA has, it doesn’t matter who it is, the president of the United States or the prime minister of the UK. They juggle about who they’re going to sit next to at state dinners. They are treated like a head of state and they see themselves as a head of state. In fact, they even refer to the FIFA congress, which has 212 member nations, more than the United Nations, as their parliament.

Misha Zelinsky:                  That’s really interesting. We’ll come back to that a little bit later on, about the way that sports globally govern themselves. You of course, you touched on FIFA. You’re the author of a book called Whatever it Takes, which is The Inside Story of the FIFA Way, but also particularly Australia’s failed bid for the World Cup in 2022.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Firstly, I suppose, why did Australia bid for this event? Why is it important to put taxpayer money … We put in $50 million, I think it was. Why do countries put money behind these kind of events?

Bonita Mersiades:           I think the number one reason is the one that we touched on earlier about soft power. If you look at Australia’s history with major world events, whether it be the ’56 Olympics, the 2000 Olympics, the Commonwealth Games, although that’s not as large, and things like that, Australia has leveraged those events to give it more power and more of a, I guess, credibility and notoriety, and I say that in a positive way, every time there’s been one of those major world events. That’s why nations use them. If you look at who won out of that 2018, 2022 process, and we’ve already experienced the 2018 World Cup, there is absolutely no doubt that Vladimir Putin and Russia used that to try and soften their image when everything else that was going on in their country would probably be a negative for most.

Bonita Mersiades:           Why did we bid? One, there was that. Two, I think from a football perspective, at the time and probably still, we have always seen it necessary to turbo charge our sport to realize its potential. This is what I’m really passionate about, is that football is a way in Australia for Australia to be closer to the world and the world to be closer to Australia. Yet, we’ve never really taken great advantage of that. Hosting a World Cup would have been a way to do that, as well as putting our sport onto another level financially. That was one of the reasons from a football perspective, as well as whatever legacy it may have left for the sport within our country. They were the three major reasons. There was a national reason, there was a football legacy perspective, and there was a football financial perspective.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah. In your book, you talk about the fact that … Famously, for those who … I’ll just quickly recap. There was two bids for the 2018, 2022. Australia was reasonably confident they were going to do well with that process. We then finished last. We got one vote. $50 million dollars for one vote. That vote was from the now disgraced Sepp Blatter who basically told us he voted us, I mean, effectively out of sympathy. Otherwise, we would have got zero votes.

Misha Zelinsky:                  The thing that you talk about in your book, and I’d like for you to unpack this, at the time of the vote we knew we were going to lose, and yet nobody told the government. Can you expand on that a little bit, about that process of the vote itself?

Bonita Mersiades:           Yeah. I think that was … People have also asked me what really got me to the point where I was so unhappy with working through this. There was a lot of things, but that was one of them. We were standing in the lobby of the FIFA headquarters in Zurich after Kevin Rudd had been to visit. Kevin Rudd was a master politician and master showman. Put him up with Sepp Blatter and it was really a contest to see who was going to be smiling the most and being in front of the camera the most. Kevin Rudd was great on that visit, but after he left we were told point blank we wouldn’t win it because we would never be commercially competitive.

Bonita Mersiades:           From my perspective then, we should have at least as a minimum told the government that that was the case. The government may well have said, “That’s fine. There are other objectives we’re pursuing with this,” because after all, just by being a bidder we’re out there in the global community getting noticed. That’s not a bad objective as long as the government is able to make that decision, in my view. They were also bidding at the time for a security council seat at the United Nations, so there was that double act going on as well. But we didn’t. We didn’t do any of that.

Bonita Mersiades:           I think, when you come back to what happened at the very end of the whole bidding process and the fact that I revealed in my book, that Qatar, through what was then Al Jazeera, paid a $100 million what they call production contribution if the World Cup was held in Qatar, I think it’s fairly clear that Qatar were also given the same information, i.e. you won’t be competitive commercially. In other words, their meaning against the United States, who was one of the other bidders for 2022. Qatar dealt with that because they had the state owned resources to be able to deal with it. They came up with some might say it was a clever way of doing it, and some might say it was sneaky. Nonetheless, it worked for them, from an organizational perspective. We didn’t do any of that. Instead, what we did was, oh, we’ll get a consulting company to do a report on why Asia is the next big growth area in football. My question to that was, there’s three other Asian nations bidding so why us rather than the other three.

Bonita Mersiades:           There was always this view that no one would want those other three, they’ll want us in Asia, not the other three. I think there was this sense that while we would host a great World Cup … We do all of that stuff really well … and it’d have been fantastic to have, there was never any sense, realistic view of what else was going on. At least publicly there wasn’t a realistic view of what was going on.

Misha Zelinsky:                  You’ve sort of touched on this process. A lot of people wouldn’t know that when they’re deciding a World Cup, there’s only 22 votes, as I understood it.

Bonita Mersiades:           At that time, yes.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah. Can you give a sense of some of the dirty trick … You touched on the Qataris have put up $100 million. You talk in your book and at other speeches around some of the examples from the then French president Sarkozy or Vladimir Putin in Cyprus. Can you give some examples of some of the stuff that other countries were doing in other to secure it? Given that the Russians won 2018 and Qatar won 2022, I think it’s important to think about exactly what went on.

Bonita Mersiades:           Yeah. Not just during the bidding process, but afterwards as well if you track some of these things. I think it’s important, too, because so many people have talked about Qatar and put it down to the traditional brown paper bag stuff. There may well have been some of that that went on, but there are also this other much more sophisticated and strategic interventions.

Bonita Mersiades:           I mentioned the $100 million production contribution. Not long before the vote, the person who is now the emir of Qatar went to France, had dinner with Nicholas Sarkozy, and Michel Platini who was then the FIFA vice president and one of the most powerful people in football, was invited along. Basically, it was put upon him that he and the people, his votes that he could manage, should vote for Qatar and in return for which Qatar would look after a number of things.

Bonita Mersiades:           The following year at the Dubai Air Show, Qatar Airways bought … I haven’t got the numbers absolutely correct, but certainly a proportion … bought approximately 80 Airbus aircraft and two Boeing aircraft. The following year, Michel Platini’s son ended up with a job with Qatar. The following year, Qatar, and they still owned, Paris Saint Germain, the most successful and the biggest football club in Paris. All of these things sort of went on both at the time and subsequent to secure those votes. That’s one example.

Bonita Mersiades:           In terms of Russia, I tracked this through a Greek newspaper, or through a relative who sent it to me actually. Vladimir Putin visited Cyprus in September 2010. This was about two months before the vote or six weeks before the vote. In a speech about anti ballistic missile technology, he said, “We Russia are going to share our technology with you,” which in itself is a huge issue and quite big, “But by the way we’re also bidding for the 2018 World Cup and we’d really love to have your vote.” Sitting in the audience is the man who’s going to vote. Now, was that you must vote for us or else or just the type of typical government to government deal or negotiating or trading that goes on during these things? That’s why I say there’s a lot of sophisticated and strategic interventions from countries and nation states around that whole bidding process and the voting process.

Misha Zelinsky:                  It was quite successful when you look at it, right? You look at the fact that there was a lot of concern at the time, certainly for the last decade, around Russia’s behavior globally, when you look at invasion of Georgia and so on and so forth, the annexation of Crimea. They bid quite high as you describe and then there was a tremendous soft power success for the Putin regime in Russia last year in the 2018 World Cup. Qatar, which is a tiny country, I think everyone was shocked that they won it. They’ve come under enormous pressure for some of the abuses of human rights and labor rights subsequently. They’re two really concerning examples.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Australia’s bid. I’m kind of curious. What about us? We spent $50 million of taxpayers’ money. Was our bid clean or not?

Bonita Mersiades:           It depends what you mean by clean. Is it clean in that anyone is being indicted or arrested yet? It was clean in that respect because no one has been. Was it clean in terms of using, as I’ve termed it, or in fact as the former attorney general of the United States termed it, the FIFA way? Yeah, we absolutely did. For example, we gave four million dollars to the Oceania Football Confederation, that’s based in the Pacific, for a really good project, that is to help kids in the Pacific play sport with better facilities. No one can doubt that that’s a good cause, but it was only given because we were bidding. I sat in the meeting. It’s not a question of I’ve read this somewhere and i think this is what happened. I sat in the meeting with the director general of [inaudible 00:14:59] on more than one occasion, what was then [inaudible 00:15:02], more than one occasion in which he talked about how he would require additionality from the federal budget in order to fund this. There is no doubt about that.

Bonita Mersiades:           We, when I say we, Australia, the Football Federation of Australia, got an award from the Asian Football Confederation for a five million dollar donation, five million dollar donation that wasn’t particularly allocated to anything but we donated it. We gave half a million US dollars to Jack Warner, probably the most notorious of all of the characters, if I can call them that, around FIFA and world football. He wanted that to upgrade a stadium in his home country of Trinidad and Tobago. What they didn’t bother to do in terms of due diligence was to find out that the land on which the stadium was … Sorry, the stadium was built by FIFA money. The club concerned was owned by the Warner family. The land on which the stadium and the facilities were built was owned by the Warner family. Where did that US half a million dollars end up? In Jack Warner’s personal back account.

Bonita Mersiades:           Now, what Football Federation Australia officials or former officials have said in relation to that, “Well, we didn’t know that was happening.” Even if they didn’t know that was happening, they should have been able to figure out what was going on and they should have done better due diligence. Not only that, they shouldn’t have made a payment of US half a million dollars to one of the most powerful people in world football and a voter some six weeks before that vote, because it smells. There is no other word for it. It smells.

Misha Zelinsky:                  In any other context, if these people were elected, it’d be a corruption. Because again this murkiness of sport, it becomes less … There’s no proper oversight, no proper democratic oversight. Just going back slightly from the bid, we lose the bid quite badly, but ten months before that event you lost your job. Your book is largely about being a whistleblower. I was kind of curious. You called out some of the problems. Next thing you find yourself on the out. Can you maybe explain what caused you firstly to blow the whistle on this, so to speak, internally? Then why did you find yourself shown the door do you think?

Bonita Mersiades:           I kept raising questions while I was in the job. It’s worth bearing in mind that I was a very senior executive. I reported to the CEO, I had close contact with the chairman amongst the bid group. I was also doing my other work at FFA as well, which was the ordinary communications and PR and corporate affairs type stuff. I would ask questions about why were we doing this, why were we spending money here. I would call out … We employed three notorious, two of them especially, notorious international consultants. In my eyes, [crosstalk 00:18:05]-

Misha Zelinsky:                  Who specialize in the area of thief of bidding?

Bonita Mersiades:           Yes. That’s all they do basically.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Right.

Bonita Mersiades:           Having worked with consultants for years and years and years, having been in government and elsewhere, I knew that they were not ordinary consultants. They were getting paid $15 million between them. They weren’t like ordinary consultants who would provide reports or provide you feedback or have any … Except for one of them, they had no deliverables in particular. I kept asking questions about this. As I mentioned, we were told that we wouldn’t win and we didn’t tell the government. As far as I’m aware, we didn’t tell the government. Certainly from a management perspective, we didn’t. I just got more and more uncomfortable. After a while, I guess, I think it was just simpler for my CEO at the time because he had the consultants in one ear sort of complaining about me and me in the other ear complaining about them. I think he thought what price piece will get rid of her?

Misha Zelinsky:                  Like a lot of whistleblowers, you came under an enormous amount of personal pressure. Can you explain that the attempts to discredit you? There was a report done that deliberately targeted you and one other person. Can you sort of take us through that process? You’ve made the complaint and then you’ve then largely been left as the problem.

Bonita Mersiades:           Yeah. To this day, I’m still seen as a problem, even though there’s been a change of executive management [inaudible 00:19:35] at FFA. I think someone said I was an agitator and therefore I shouldn’t really be someone they talk to.

Bonita Mersiades:           The first thing they did was try to make out that the reason I was sacked was for reasons that were just not accurate. A little bit like what’s happened to the Matilda’s coach more recently. They would say, for instance, it was because I was responsible for relationships with the state governments and they weren’t going well. Actually, it wasn’t my responsibility. That was all about stadiums and that wasn’t my responsibility. There were those sorts of things. That was just the immediate aftermath.

Bonita Mersiades:           It became much bigger than that. There was sort of a fatwa put out against me by Football Federation Australia in terms of warning people not to have any contact with me, not to talk to me, not to take any notice, saying that I was bitter and twisted, saying the usual stuff when there’s a whistleblower. They do everything to discredit you and say that you’re only saying things because you’ve lost your job. Some people didn’t believe that because they had known me. I didn’t just go and work in football because I wanted a job. I worked in football because I love football and have done all my life. I grew up with it.

Bonita Mersiades:           Then it sort of elevated. When I started talking about governance, when I put it all together, I wrote it all down. I wrote everything down. I started putting together and I realized that what this really was was a governance issue at a much bigger level, at a FIFA level. I started talking about that, both here in Australia and also internationally. I actually coined the phrase the FIFA way back in 2011 and in fact I’m delighted to say that Loretta Lynch, the US attorney general, picked up on it.

Bonita Mersiades:           They then started a review of the 2018, 2022 bidding process by a person who is now a judge in the New York Court of Appeals. He was a paid consultant to FIFA. He interviewed approximately 75 people for his report, which took approximately two years to do. He got paid about ten million US dollars for it. In his report, he singled out two people to criticize. First of all, he said the decision was fine, there was nothing wrong with Qatar and Russia being selected. He did say that there was some dodgy things about the Australian bid and some dodgy things about the UK bid, but he singled out two people and identified them. That was me and another whistleblower, a woman. Of all people in the entire world of football that were seen as being a problem for football, it was the two whistleblowers and two women, and two quite vulnerable people.

Bonita Mersiades:           One of the impacts of having been a whistleblower, especially in a relatively small community in Australia, is it’s very hard to get a job when you’re up against one of the most powerful men in the country, i.e. Frank Lowy. For the other whistleblower, she was an American born Arab woman who … She has found it difficult to I guess really gain the employment that she would like to, just as I have. You continue and get on with life and do other things, but life changes a lot when that happens to you.

Bonita Mersiades:           I guess one of the telling things about all of that was that you do learn who your friends are and you do learn about people who say they stand for something and that they don’t actually stand for anything when it comes to it. Because they’ve never bothered to pick up the phone and ask you how you are or any of those sorts of things. I guess I’m glossing over it to some extent, because it doesn’t sound that bad, that it was just written in a report, but it was much worse than that in that this was global news. This wasn’t just something that happened in little old Australia. It was global news.

Bonita Mersiades:           When this report came out, I was in Perth doing some work. A friend of mine, a journalist in England, contacted me and he said, “You really need to look at the Garcia report straight away.” By the time I’d got back to the hotel to log onto the computer and have a look at it, I was inundated with calls. It changes your life. It’s one thing to have been sacked from my job and had to sort of reinvent myself after that. It was quite another to have this man who should know better, a lawyer, who had been the US attorney general for the Southern District of New York, so a prosecutor, he should have known better than to break the confidence of two women whistleblowers. It was just outrageous treatment and says more about him than it does about us.

Misha Zelinsky:                  You sort of detailed I suppose there the enormous pressure you came under. It’s quite a curious … A lot of people might have just gone underground. You’ve probably taken even more prominence since then. How did you go about fighting back against a very, very, very powerful not just in Australia, but global outfit?

Bonita Mersiades:           There were two options, and one was to sort of, and what they wanted us to do, was to get into a corner and curl up and die. Neither of us did that, I’m pleased to say. Certainly for the other whistleblower, her preference was not to bring any more attention to herself because she had some other issues that she needed to deal with. From my perspective, I thought I’m just not going to take this. I’m not the person who did anything wrong. I’m the person who’s brought attention to all of this. I’m just not going to take it.

Bonita Mersiades:           Fortunately, someone put me in touch with an MP in the House of Commons, Damien Collins, who is now the chairman of the Culture, Media, Digital, and Sport Committee at the House of Commons, and also an Australian businessman who is living overseas who is very interested in sports governance issues. We formed, in conjunction with a couple of members of the European Parliament, a group called New FIFA Now, campaign group. Soon after that, we turned up in the Brussels parliament and European Parliament and had I think about 250-300 people at a gathering in which we called for reform of FIFA. We called for basically an overthrow of FIFA as we knew it then and said that there was something terribly wrong going on, when that report had come out, when the two whistleblowers were shamed and disparaged the way they were, yet their whole decision making regime and rationale was not questioned whatsoever.

Bonita Mersiades:           Now that was before the May 2015 arrests.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah, I’d like to … Let’s go to that now. This dodgy process happens. You lose your job. You come under a lot of pressure, start fighting back. FIFA are kind of largely sweeping things under the rug as perhaps they’ve done in the past. Then, of course, there are an enormous amount of arrests, huge worldwide press, that of Jack Warner, the soccer club that you just described, the $500,000 from Australia for the stadium upgrade that never happened, and then Sepp Blatter who was the head of FIFA and the person that voted for us but did so in a manner that was relatively back handed. Tell us a little bit about that and also how validating it might have been. Was it validating after everything?

Bonita Mersiades:           It was quite incredible. As part of our New FIFA Now campaign activity, there was actually a FIFA presidential election coming up in 2015. Sepp Blatter was standing yet again and he was up against at the time Prince Ali of Jordan. We had, as part of a campaign activity, we had organized something with Amnesty International and with [inaudible 00:27:55] to happen in Zurich. We also have put together this sort of fake newspaper, which we were handing out in the streets of Zurich.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Not fakes news, though.

Bonita Mersiades:           No, no, not fake news. Fake newspaper.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Okay.

Bonita Mersiades:           With stories about FIFA corruption basically. Sharon Burrow and Jamie Fuller and others were …

Misha Zelinsky:                  Sharon Barrow is of course the global head of the union movement. An Australian, former head of the ACTU.

Bonita Mersiades:           Yeah. Former head of the ACTU. They were in the streets of Zurich handing out this fake newspaper with the real news when all of the sudden the news came through that there’d been these arrests at the Baur au Lauc Hotel. That was yet another media onslaught. It was quite incredible. In a sense, Jamie and Sharon were sort of Johnny and Jenny on the spot in Zurich. Even again here, there was a lot of media interest in what went on.

Bonita Mersiades:           Did I feel vindicated? Not straightaway. It took a while for that to happen. It was certainly the case though that it was pleasing to see and to have confirmed that the FBI and the IRS were looking into these issues. I had known about it for some time that they were. It was pleasing to see that they’d got to the point where they’d made these arrests. After that, to learn that other things subsequently happened, such as the Swiss government started looking at it, the French government and the UK. I guess over time that has become vindicating. Even more so, I guess when the full Garcia report was released some three years after that summary report, which-

Misha Zelinsky:                  This is the report that named you as the …

Bonita Mersiades:           Which named me and the other woman. Almost three years after it was first released as a summary report, when that came out, everything that was in it in relation to Australia in which he had pointed the finger and said there’s something that needs to be looked into in relation to Australia, everything had come from me, which made it even more absurd what he had said. Because on the one hand, he’s saying this happened, that happened, this happened in relation to Australia. The person who had told him all that, he then said, “You can’t really take any notice of her because she’s a whistleblower.” I think that probably for me was really the point of vindication.

Misha Zelinsky:                  That’s a big decision to make, whistle blowing. Do you think it was worth it knowing that journey you’ve been on? Maybe you can’t answer that, I’m not sure. At huge personal cost, obviously, but seeing that whole house of cards come tumbling down, does it feel worth it in the end?

Bonita Mersiades:           Yes, it does fundamentally. Does it change your life? Yes, it does. Is it worth it? Yes.

Misha Zelinsky:                  It’s a very brave thing to do, to stand up to power.

Bonita Mersiades:           Thanks.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Turning to money in sport, we’ve talked a little bit about much money there is in sport. You talked about FIFA more generally in the sense that they’re an international body, they’re not government run, but they’re these quasi international bodies with sort of no democratic oversight, at least from people, democratically elected people. Given how much money they’re in control of, and these are multi, multi, multi billion dollar enterprises, but also receive billions and billions of dollars from governments, from taxpayers, what do we do about overseeing these entities? What’s the role of culture and governance and how do you actually bring these institutions to their heel? The FBI raiding them and investigating and arresting people is one thing, but you want to see good governance more fundamentally like you would in an ordinary government. What’s the role of governance and culture?

Bonita Mersiades:           It’s a really interesting question, and especially at the moment when you can see what’s happened since 2016 in particular. What happened then is we got a new FIFA president. He brought in a CEO who was a senior bureaucrat in the United Nations. Now, United Nations has had its own governance and financial management problems, but what she has done is introduce a lot of good process and good reporting. I would say that where there’s an issue of process versus culture, culture wins every time. What they haven’t addressed, and I don’t think anyone who’s in the game could address it, they haven’t addressed the culture of FIFA and they haven’t addressed the culture of world football.

Bonita Mersiades:           You’ve got to go back to what the FBI said, I think it was James Comey at that very first media release, sorry, media conference, after the arrests, where James Comey and Loretta Lynch was there. James Comey was still the director of the FBI and he said, “This is a mafia style organization.” I was at a conference not long after that where one of the FBI investigators was speaking. He actually explained what a mafia organization looks like. You take one person out, e.g. Jack Warner, and you put another person in.

Misha Zelinsky:                  The show rolls on.

Bonita Mersiades:           Yeah, the show rolls on. In fact, that’s exactly what happened in the Caribbean. Jack Warner came out, the next person came in, and he’s since been arrested as well.

Bonita Mersiades:           What do you do in terms of governance and culture? One of the things that we called for at New FIFA Now is that there needed to be … It was like being a company. You needed to treat it like a company, an administration, that you would bring in an outsider who had an absolute [inaudible 00:33:47] to make the necessary policy and operational and cultural change and force that through. That takes a generational thing. That isn’t what’s happened. What is clear, though, is that the whole circus keeps rolling on.

Bonita Mersiades:           FIFA’s financial statements came out I think yesterday or the day before, and they showed that their cash reserves have increased to $2.6 billion, their revenues over four years have increased to around about, I’m talking US dollars here too, seven billion dollars. Despite, when you consider that those four years to 2018 includes 2015, despite all of that and despite a 100 million US dollar legal bill, sponsors are still putting money into the game. The question is, where is that sponsorship coming from nowadays. This is the big issue for sport, I reckon. It’s coming from Russia. It’s coming from China. It’s coming from the Middle East. There’s still some money coming from the US, but it is less so as a proportion of all the money. There’s a real pivot happening in world sport. That could just reflect society in general, where the world is going in geopolitical terms. Going back to the very first question is how the sport reflects society, I think it’s worthwhile looking at where the big money in sport is coming from.

Misha Zelinsky:                  That’s interesting. I didn’t really link the concept of sponsorship, soft power, and the control of those institutions, but there’s actually … My next question just goes to this point. There’s this issue of national systematic cheating going on in sport. You’ve seen the Russians with Sochi, then the question of the nation states interfering in the bidding process. We’ve seen some pretty severe penalties for Sepp Blatter, for Jack Warner, but the penalties seem to be on the individuals and on the nations less so. Why? Is that about power? Is it about money? It seems to be the World Cup, the 2018, the 2022 fiasco, Putin would be the center of it and he’s gotten away with it scot free and put on a triumph of soft power in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in his home country. What is it that you can actually … How are we going to stop countries getting away with this rather than the individuals?

Bonita Mersiades:           That’s a really good question. As to why, it’s much more difficult to I guess get at a world leader in that respect than it is to get at a recipient or someone who may be a recipient of a corrupt payment for example. That’s what’s interesting about what’s happening with FIFA so far, too. Most of the people they’ve arrested, indicted, charged, or have been sentenced have been those who have been in receipt of the payments, not those who have made the payments. I think that’s a really interesting issue because it’s not always that companies have made the payments, it’s been individuals as well. Yet, every single indictment so far has been around an individual. It hasn’t gone beyond that. How you stop that, I don’t know. I think it’s a big issue for the world. It goes beyond sport, but of course it gets back to the fact that sport reflects that very much so.

Misha Zelinsky:                  It’s definitely a challenge, though. These countries and these individuals, sorry, companies and countries, when you look at countries like Russia, countries like China, the distinction between a company, an individual, and the nation state is incredible blurred.

Bonita Mersiades:           Very.

Misha Zelinsky:                  That-

Bonita Mersiades:           [crosstalk 00:37:24]

Misha Zelinsky:                  That’s right. Exactly. The top down pressure and the top down influence is enormous. To say these are just rogue actors is to a fair minded person, I think, relatively heroic kind of way of framing it. What’s the answer? Is there cause for hope in this? Ultimately, sport … Sport is a funny thing because it relies on you and I putting importance on 11 women or men running around on a field kicking a piece of leather around wearing different color shirts and giving import to that so people can make billions of dollars out of it. It matters. Once you puncture that myth, sport kind of dies. These things chip away at it. Is there hope for sport in the longterm, do you think?

Bonita Mersiades:           I think there’s hope for sport in the longterm. I would have perhaps three and a half years ago we were at a tipping point where things may change more quickly than they have. I think what an organization like FIFA in particular has done very well is manage the crisis they’re in quite well. I would argue, as I said earlier, that the culture hasn’t changed though. One of the things we have to bear in mind is that the FBI and the IRS and the Swiss and all of them keep saying this is an ongoing investigation. They haven’t gone beyond North and South America yet. They haven’t looked at Asia. They haven’t looked at Oceania. They haven’t looked at Africa or Europe. That’s, I would think, is still to come.

Bonita Mersiades:           What can sport do? I think the other potential is in the general changes we see in society where younger people in particular are not taking crap like this. My generation, obviously there are exceptions, but my generation has tended to sort of play within the system a bit more. Whereas I think younger people, don’t classify it necessarily as an age thing, but they are calling out this sort of behavior and they don’t want it. I am hopeful that that will have an impact over time.

Misha Zelinsky:                  You’ve talked about the age of idea. Another important [inaudible 00:39:41], it’s something that has been a certain movement in this area as well, gender, the Me Too movement and calling out bad behavior and power. Role of gender in sport, you took on basically the ultimate boy’s club arguably in FIFA. What was the role of gender in this?

Bonita Mersiades:           For the two of us, the two women involved, it was huge, but I’m going to say there’s not one woman in power in football, including in this country, who ever bothered to pick up the phone and say, “Are you okay?” Not one. I find that unforgivable because in fact the other woman whistleblower, she actually sort of came to my attention as being in a spot of bother quite a while before that. My first reaction, having met her once, was I must reach out to her and see that she’s okay because there’s obviously something going on there. I did that. That’s what I think I would do for almost anyone in that situation.

Bonita Mersiades:           There’s no doubt that because we were women, they saw us easy targets. She was even a more junior woman than I was in the whole setup. They saw us easy targets, thought we’d be people who would probably keep quiet. They certainly looked for areas, things where we were both vulnerable and found them, and that’s one of the reasons in fact why she has chosen not to be public about these things. Yet, there was no support from a gender perspective. That’s despite the fact on the FIFA executive committee at the time, sitting in the room, discussing these issues, was an Austrian woman, who’s gone on to get awards for being so wonderful on gender diversity in football, yet she didn’t once reach out to either of the two women who were absolutely treated appallingly by the male machine that was FIFA.

Misha Zelinsky:                  What do you think the reason for that was? Is that something that’s systemic as a problem in the sport itself, that it’s hard for women to support other women, the interests of the individuals involved? Is there anything in particular you could put it down to?

Bonita Mersiades:           I don’t think it’s the sport itself. It’s the sport itself in that I think one of the things I always characterize those who have got to the top of FIFA and in fact in football in Australia as well, they get to the point where they’ve forgotten why they are there. They’re more concerned about what football can do for them than rather what they can do for football. Therefore, if there is a line between right and wrong and good and bad and all of those things, they are quite happy to sort of dip their big toe over to the other side and dismiss anyone … This is true of any sort of whistleblower type situation … dismiss anyone who’s making a noise, a bit of an agitator as I said earlier, or a bit of an activist and say, “I’m not having to do with them because that won’t help me.”

Misha Zelinsky:                  Now, we’ve talked a lot about all the negatives of sport. We kind of touched on the positives at the beginning. One of the things, you can sometimes get depressed about the state of the world. This podcast often deals with a lot of the bad things that are happening in the world. Sport can be harnessed for good. We saw recently the issue in relation to Hakeem Al-Araibi, the entire soccer football community coming together, although the union movement globally coming together, and the players union movement supporting him and the incredible work of Craig Foster. Do you see that there are other avenues for sport to be that lightning rod for good? We’ve talked about the problems, but can it still be a force for good?

Bonita Mersiades:           Absolutely. That’s what it should be for. The Hakeem Al-Araibi situation is a good one. I first met Hakeem back in 2016 because the FIFA presidential election was on. One of the front runners for that was Sheik Salman of Bahrain and Hakeem was then living in Australia. He didn’t have refugee status, but he was brave enough to speak out against Sheik Salman. Hardly anyone in Australia took any notice of it, including Craig Foster and the UPFA, but nonetheless internationally it was a big story because the FIFA presidency was a big story. Hakeem did the right thing then and he’s continued to do so. It was a great example of the positive power of sport and the potential of sport. What we recently saw with Craig is the public face of that Save Hakeem campaign.

Misha Zelinsky:                  It was a great story and it’s very good to see him back safely at home here in Australia. The last question I like to ask all my guests … We could talk all day about sport, frankly. I could talk about sport nonstop. We need to put some kind of limit on it. .

Misha Zelinsky:                   Of course, the last hokey question that I have at the end of a very serious discussion about sport is about … It’s called Diplomates. Who are the three foreign mates you would invite to a barbecue at Bonita Mersiades’s? Who would they be?

Bonita Mersiades:           Three foreign mates or three foreign people who have-

Misha Zelinsky:                  Or three foreign people that you’d like to be their mates. I’d like to pretend that all these people that I talk to are my mates. You can have anyone you want.

Bonita Mersiades:           Okay, all right. The first I would suggest would be Vitaly Mutko. He is the deputy prime minister in Russia. He was the Russian sports minister. He was president of Russian Football Federation. He was the president of [inaudible 00:48:35] St. Petersburg. He is part of the St. Petersburg clique of Russia. He, of course, was the sports minister who was in charge when all of the doping issues were going on. He sanctioned it. He has lost all of his positions in world football and in the Olympics. I think he would be worthwhile having a chat to. Just to see if he’s ready to be a whistleblower.

Bonita Mersiades:           The other one would be, and this is terrible, I’m going to sit on the fence, either of the Obama’s would be fine with me. I’m a great admirer of Barack Obama and a great admirer of Michelle Obama-

Misha Zelinsky:                  I’ll let you have both. It’s your barbecue, so you can have them both. Is there a last one?

Bonita Mersiades:           Last, and I would like to say but not least, but this is a really different reason, I think it’d be fascinating to meet one of the people who controls a lot of the world, especially a lot of the world in our language, and that’s Rupert Murdoch.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Certainly does.

Bonita Mersiades:           Yeah.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Rupert Murdoch, a Russian politician, and the Obama’s. That’d be quite an interesting affair. Look, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks so much for being so open and honest and brave. Congratulations on your fight so far and appreciate it.

Bonita Mersiades:           Thank you.

 

Elaine Pearson

Elaine Pearson is the Australian Director of Human Rights Watch.

As a graduate of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson school, Elaine is a global expert in human rights law and has worked all over world – including stints at the United Nations and various NGOs.

Elaine joined Misha Zelinsky for a fascinating chat about the intersection of democracy and human rights, the fate of Hakeem Al Arabi currently detained in Thailand, China’s use of hostage diplomacy and its muslim reeducation camps, whether autrocrats are winning the global PR battle and what role Australia has as a middle power in global diplomacy. 

 

Misha Zelinsky:                  Elaine Pearson, welcome to Diplomates. Thank you for joining us.

Elaine Pearson:                  Thanks for having me.

Misha Zelinsky:                  So, you’re the head of Human Rights Watch in Australia, so a lot of places we could start, but it seems a good place for us to start the conversation might be the news related to the young soccer player, Hakeem, who’s now been detained in Thailand. Maybe you could just give us a bit of background about that before we start to discuss it?

Elaine Pearson:                  Yeah, sure. I mean Hakeem al-Araibi went on a belated honeymoon to Thailand in November with his wife. He’s originally from Bahrain. He got refugee status in Australia in 2017, and when he got off the plane in Thailand, he didn’t even make it to Bangkok, or anywhere, because a squad of police were waiting for him. And what had happened was that there was an Interpol red notice out for him, which was actually a massive screw up. Interpol should’ve never issued the red notice because he’s a refugee, but he was sentenced in absentia in Bahrain for a crime that he says that he didn’t commit, to 10 years in prison, for supposedly vandalizing a police station. So since that time, Bahrain has basically issued an extradition request. Interpol got rid of the red notice, because as I said, it should never have been issued. And he’s sitting now in Bangkok jail, awaiting, basically the trial for extradition proceedings to be carried out.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And of course he is a refugee in Australia, subsequent to the Arab Spring in Bahrain. And so he came to Australia when?

Elaine Pearson:                  He came to Australia in 2014.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Right. And he’s a permanent resident, but not a citizen?

Elaine Pearson:                  He is a permanent resident. Actually, he was days away from being able to apply for his citizenship. And at the moment, there are moves underway to file those papers and make him a citizen, because we feel that that might strengthen his hand in dealing with the Thai authorities. But in any case, whether he’s a permanent resident or a citizen, he should be returned to Australia. He should not be returned to a country that he fled persecution from, and was found to be a refugee from.

Misha Zelinsky:                  So he was just days away from applying to be an Australian citizen?

Elaine Pearson:                  That’s right.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Wow, that’s really scary for him. So, a little bit about, why has this captured the attention of so much, so why is it such a big deal for someone to be arrested in an airport the way that he has, to be sent to face charges? I mean, is that something that you’d be worried about or is it not a big deal? I mean …

Elaine Pearson:                  Well, I think it’s a really shocking case, and I think it’s very scary for people who flee their home countries, think that they’re then safe in a country like Australia. He then subsequently spoke out against a member of Bahrain’s ruling family, who’s a president of the Asian Football Federation, and it’s because of his criticisms of the Bahrain government that he feels like he is being punished. That’s really what this is about, and that’s why this case, I think, will have really global ramifications, because it means that if he was sent back to Bahrain, anyone who’s been found to be a refugee who comes an authoritarian country, will have to think twice before taking holidays to third countries, because of the risk that something like this potentially could happen to them.

Elaine Pearson:                  As far as Thailand’s concern, unfortunately, Thailand has a really horrible track record of collaborating with countries like China, Bahrain, in the past, Cambodia, Vietnam, and basically sending back their citizens on the result of these extradition requests, and many cases, these people have been activists who, yes, may have been convicted on national security charges, but I think there’s very big concerns about how those people were convicted, and whether those people actually committed these crimes or whether these are people who were thrown in jail, basically for peaceful acts of free expression.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And what about Bahrain’s record in human rights? I mean, it’s not a country that’s really got strong rule of law despite their guarantees, as I understand it, coming from the leader of the country. It’s a place that if you had fled from it, you would have valid concerns, would that be right?

Elaine Pearson:                  Well, yeah. I mean, Human Rights Watch has reported on the torture in Bahrain’s prisons. We issued a big report just a few years ago. There were five deaths in custody as a result of torture in, one year alone. So this is a country that has a really big problem with basically torturing dissidents, in order to get forced confessions out of them. So the claim by the Bahraini government that, we have an independent judiciary, he should just come back here and face charges. Look, in the last time that Thailand send someone back to Bahrain, the person was beaten so badly, before he even got off the plane at Bahrain’s airport, that he had to be hospitalized. So that’s why we’re so worried about the fate of Hakeem, if he was returned to Bahrain. And he says that he was tortured before, so we have no reason to believe that it would be any different this time, if he’s sent back.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And, one of the things I’m never clear about, I mean, I think you hear about Australian’s being detained, well what’s the role of the government here? Because we’ve got people … you’ve got similar emissaries like [Fozzy 00:05:03] going over there to intervene, and we’ve had the soccer unions getting involved, and the player’s association. What’s the role of the government here, because I think people think, well, the diplomats will come in and save it, but how easy is that? I mean, is that more difficult than it seems, once you actually been in custody in another country?

Elaine Pearson:                  Well, it can be quite difficult. I mean, our government tends to adopt a sort of quiet diplomacy approach. Often when these cases come up, they’re dealt with very quietly, behind closed doors, with our government believing that that’s the best way of resolving these matters. But in this case it’s a bit different, and part of it is because there was a massive screw up on the part of the Australian Federal Police, who actually notified the Thai police about the Interpol red flag.

Misha Zelinsky:                  So that came from the AFP?

Elaine Pearson:                  That came from the AFP. I think it’s an automated systems, but in any case, they should have obviously checked his status and realized that he was a refugee. And I think because of the intense pressure from the media on this case, from FIFA, from the football groups, actually the Australian government has taken a much more robust and public stance, and I think that’s really important. But there are many other cases actually, where the Australian government is dealing with similar cases of people being wrongfully detained abroad, where they haven’t had such a strong response. I mean, there was James Ricketson, for instance, last year in Cambodia, he was eventually released but he was also someone who was tried and convicted on espionage charges, and unfortunately spent many months in a Cambodian prison.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And so, just before we act, because I’m keen to talk about some of the detainments, how is Hakeem? I mean, how is he coping? This would be a terribly … I mean, I can only imagine what he’s sort of fearing in terms of being in a Thai prison, in of itself. And then the prospect of being sent somewhere where you fled political persecution, I mean how is he doing, given the circumstances?

Elaine Pearson:                  Well, he’s not doing that great. I mean, the conditions, as you can imagine in Bangkok jail, are not particularly good. He’s been a bit sick in recent weeks, he’s sharing a cell, I think, with about 35 other people. He’s also extremely worried about his wife. I’m in pretty much daily contact with his wife, who’s here in Australia, but you know, she’s also terrified about what’s going to happen to her husband, and she was with him when he was arrested, but has not been able to have direct communication with him since, because he’s not allowed to have telephone calls.

Elaine Pearson:                  So, they are now allowed to pass messages to one another, but obviously, he is extremely scared that he’s going to be sent back, and he’s really worried about spending the next few months in prison. The next court date is not until late April. April in Thailand is incredibly hot. I mean, it’s hot enough … I’ve lived in Bangkok, in an apartment without air conditioning. You can just imagine if you’re in a jail cell with 35 other people, how uncomfortable that is going to be. And clearly he shouldn’t be there. He should be back in Australia with his wife, and playing football with his team.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And, how hopeful are we that we can get a positive resolution for him?

Elaine Pearson:                  Well, it’s unknown. I mean, I think the great thing about this case is there has been so much support and pressure coming from the Australian government, also from the international diplomatic community. They turned out in force at his extradition hearing, last week. But I think, in any case there’s big questions around, why the Thai government seems to be prioritizing and entertaining this extradition request from Bahrain, and why it would be prioritizing that relationship, over its relationship with Australia. Because clearly, Thailand and Australia also have a very long relationship.

Elaine Pearson:                  Australia has provided a lot of security training, development aid, over the years. Obviously, a lot of Australian tourists [crosstalk 00:08:52] Thailand every year. So, it makes you wonder what incentives the Bahraini government has offered, or why, basically, Thailand is doing this. The Thai government’s now saying, they put out a statement recently where they said, this is a matter between Australia and Bahrain, and Australia and Bahrain should sort it out, and we just want to win, win result for everyone, which obviously is kind of ridiculous, because there can’t be a win, win result. Someone’s going to have to lose here.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Well, that’s why effectively, you can only be in one country at a time. So-

Misha Zelinsky:                  Indeed. Well, I mean, keep up the good work and no doubt, I think a lot of Australian’s obviously sending a lot well wishes, but you talked a lot about the high profile this case has but of course there are other Australians being detained around the world. Is it getting increasingly dangerous to travel the world as an Australian, or any sort of citizen from a Western democracy, into perhaps places that are more autocratic? I mean, because there are a number that you can think of.

Elaine Pearson:                  Well, I mean I have to say it just somehow seem that way a little bit. I mean, in recent months there have been a number of these high profile cases. China in particular, there’s the case of the Australian writer, Yang, who was detained just a few weeks ago in China. Obviously, there’s been a number of Canadians, including some really high profile Canadians who’ve been detained in China. I don’t know if it’s actually increasing, but I guess in a globalized world, people are traveling more and more, and I think we are seeing authoritarian governments basically becoming more aggressive, in the stance that they’re taking. And particularly if they see people as potentially a threat to national security, because they’ve spoken out, that this is one way of, I guess, lashing out at those people. So I think, the people who are particularly at risk, are people who are dual citizens or who have come originally from authoritarian governments, and if they’re visiting that country again.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah. So you’ve raised a Chinese example, and one of the things that people discussed, is the Chinese detainments of both the Canadians, and obviously the young Australian … Yang, the blogger, came hot on the back of a decisions made in relation to, Huawei’s banning from participation in telecommunication networks, in Australia and other countries, but also the arrest of the CFO of Huawei in Canada. That kind of sort of retribution, arguably from China, or and a payback of detainment of people, where they’re effectively holding people hostage, how concerned should we be about that?

Elaine Pearson:                  We should be very concerned about it. I mean, I think this kind of hostage diplomacy … I mean, in some sense, it’s not new tactics from China. We have seen them use these tactics before. There was the case of Stern Hu, which Australians might remember, an executive from Rio Tinto, who was detained I think for nine years, in China, over allegations of bribery and I think sharing state secrets. But while all of that was unfolding, obviously Rio Tinto was also having it’s issues with the Chinese government. But, now it seems like the Chinese government is becoming increasingly bold, and even more blatant, in the way that it’s going after people.

Elaine Pearson:                  And it is unusual, I think, that it has chosen to go after Yang at this point in time. We don’t really know why, but I think we’re very concerned that he’s someone that they’ve been saying is being held in residential detention. That doesn’t mean house arrest. That means he’s being held in an unauthorized place of detention, where sometimes quite frankly, the conditions can even be worse than in regular jails and prisons in China. And he could be held up to three months, in residential detention and that could be extended for another three months. So potentially, we’re looking at six months without him even having access to legal representation, family and friends, and so on.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Which is terrifying when you think about it. So, comparing and contrasting, because Hakeem, who’s currently detained, it’s a global story, national story set in Australia, but a global story because of the football component. You’ve got a situation with another Australian, in another country. Why is there so little attention, comparatively, and now of course it’s been reported, but not nearly to the extent as it captured public imagination, and are we doing enough as firstly, from a discourse point of view, but is the government doing enough, and why is it different when you can contrast Thailand and China, is it the countries involved, or something else?

Elaine Pearson:                  Well, I guess Thailand is a lot more open, so obviously, people have been able to go to Thailand. Thailand’s media has a lot of foreign correspondents being able to report on Hakeem’s case. Foreign correspondents have actually been able to go to the jail and talk to Hakeem. Thailand hasn’t prevented that from happening. Whereas in China, we don’t even know exactly where it is that Yang is being held. There’s very little information, it’s very difficult for journalists that work in China to get information about this case. So they are different, I guess, in that way. But obviously, yes, I mean we think also the way to address these cases is to bring more pressure to bear on the Chinese government.

Elaine Pearson:                  And I think many governments, including Australia, have been very reluctant to criticize China about human rights abuses, about detentions of human rights lawyers in China, but also of our own citizens, of Australians, are precisely because the Chinese government has so much clout, and it’s so powerful. And so at the end of the day, I think that’s also a big reason why we haven’t seen the prime minister speaking publicly about letters that he’s written to the Chinese government, in the way that he has spoken publicly about letters that he’s written to the Thai government, on Hakeem’s case.

Misha Zelinsky:                  It does make you wonder, because I mean, I always think of Hillary Clinton’s off the record comments about arguing with China, that it’s hard to argue with your banker, given the debt situation and underwriting of the US economy. And for Australia perhaps it’s hard to argue with that best customer, and when you look at the trade relationship, but should the government be doing more, irrespective of … is it possible to ignore those kinds of realities, or did they have to be managed in that way? Because some people will say, well, there’s no real … words are bought in diplomacy, and you’ve got to sort of talk quietly, but is that beneficial in these situations, or is it better to, for lack of a better phrase, blow it up in the media?

Elaine Pearson:                  I don’t think a quiet diplomacy is enough. And look, quite frankly, until Hakeem’s case was blown up in the media, the Australian government had not been as responsive on this case. It was really the public attention that this case brought, the fact that football associations we’re getting so involved, that really upped the ante in terms of the Australian government’s response. But no, I mean I think, look, where, China is concerned, it’s not like a very strong robust, response from Australia will necessarily win Yang’s freedom, but I think the danger of not speaking out, is that China will become more and more emboldened, to take these actions, because there’s no repercussions. And so, I think it’s actually really important that Australia have a more robust policy of speaking up on human rights issues, so that it doesn’t come as a shock to the Chinese government when the Australian government does speak up in cases like this.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Good. You’ve actually just touched on the next thing I want to talk about, which is a human rights record in China. And, you’re right, we don’t talk about it much at all. So, one thing that I’d be … and I know Human Rights Watch has done some work in this area, about the situation related to the Uighurs in the Xingang province. Are you able to get a little bit of background about that, and then we can perhaps talk about that issue in a little more detail? Exactly what’s going on there, in respect to the camps?

Elaine Pearson:                  Yeah. I mean, the situation of Uighurs in China, has always been dire in some respects. They’re in a far western province of China. Uighurs and Turkic Muslims have always been somewhat viewed with suspicion, by the Chinese government, but the repression really has been turned up a notch in recent years with the establishment of these political reeducation camps. And so now you’re looking at a situation where you have more than a million people, according to the UN, detained in these political reeducation camps. These are arbitrary detentions, so there’s no court. You can’t protest your detention. You don’t know how long you will be there, and living life in the camps, it’s very militarized. They’re forced to sing Chinese songs, they’re forced to pledge their allegiance to the Chinese state, and it’s really about eradicating any sense of Muslim identity or Uighur identity, and effectively trying to brainwash these people to become loyal Chinese subjects.

Misha Zelinsky:                  I mean, that’s terrifying. I mean, a million people in a reeducation camp, to be forced to pledge allegiance and give up their religions. I mean, these are the sort of things we haven’t seen, globally, for a very, very long time. Why are we not talking about this? I mean, again, we’re talking, and we should be talking about one Australian detained, in a Thai prison, but a million people detained in reeducation camps in a large country, is really quite scary. So why isn’t that not anymore attention?

Elaine Pearson:                  Well, it’s a very good question, and I mean certainly, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty and a bunch of organizations, are really trying to up the profile of what’s happening, and try and get governments to address this issue. So at the moment, we just launched the campaign, we wanted the March session of the Human Rights Council, governments to issue a resolution which would force the Chinese government to allow a fact finding mission, to come to China to look at the situation in Xinjiang, particularly with regard to the political reeducation camps.

Elaine Pearson:                  The problem is because the Chinese government is also a member of the Human Rights Council, a lot of governments and it’s … it tends to retaliate against governments. Frankly, a lot of governments don’t want to take on China, and so they don’t want to support resolutions like this because they’re worried that the Chinese government will retaliate, financially. A lot of countries in the world, involved with the belt and road initiative, and frankly that’s been a very effective way for the Chinese government to buy the collaboration and complicity from a lot of governments.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah. Just before we turn to that, because I think that’s really a fascinating topic, about Chinese assertiveness in the region. The other thing I’d love to get your take on, because you talked about Chinese, this urge to control its population. They’re very autocratic regime, obviously, very controlling of the media, but this latest thing, and maybe you could talk a little about this concept of social credit. And when I first read about it, the notion that you can … they’ll basically be scoring everyone for everything that they do. Jaywalking, whether or not you pay your bills on time, if you’re polite to people and then everyone has this score. It’s sort of almost like an Orwellian nightmare, or for your younger listeners, it’s something from a Black Mirror episode, and literally was an episode of Black Mirror. So, I mean-

Elaine Pearson:                  It was.

Misha Zelinsky:                  … Tell us a little bit about that because, that is legitimately scary.

Elaine Pearson:                  Yeah. I mean, the social credit system has been rolled out in China over the last few years. I think they expect it to be fully operationalized by 2020, and it’s basically a big data system that collects a whole lot of information, and scoops it up. So it could be all sorts of things as to whether you parking fines, court orders, what kind of shopping you do, where you go out, who you’re associating with, what kinds of comments you’re making on social media. And it basically uses that information to give you a score, and it determines whether you are a trustworthy member of Chinese society, in which case you will be entitled to all sorts of benefits from the Chinese state.

Elaine Pearson:                  Or if you’re in the untrustworthy a category, then you might actually have trouble in booking flights, or booking a fast trains to get around. And you know, it also has repercussions in terms of your social credit score for applying for government jobs, or if you want to send your kids to a good government school. So it is extremely scary, that the Chinese government has embarked on the system. I think it’s part of the broader efforts of the Chinese government to have this mass surveillance state. And unfortunately, because China is becoming increasingly totalitarian, there’s no real way for Chinese citizens to really object to this, because if they do, they likely to bend themselves, find themselves in jail.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Or with a low score.

Elaine Pearson:                  Or low score, indeed.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And so, in terms of, so if the ability to protest these things internally in China is difficult, and we’ve seen in the past with Tiananmen Square, where attempts have been made, that the dissidents have been brutally crushed, but also the hunting down of people that blog online, or tweet online, and the great firewall of China, I mean so, it really falls to other countries to call out this sort of behavior. So, can you talk a little bit about the way that China tends to sort of bully it’s neighbors, or coerce its neighbors, into silence? And we’ve talked about trade and that kind of bilateral nature, but you know things like the BRI with diplomacy, where China lends money for projects of questionable value, and then when they can’t pay it back, they either take the asset or reach some sort of accommodative arrangement with you. I mean, how worried are you about that as an organization, when you look at human rights, globally, and in China?

Elaine Pearson:                  Oh yeah, I mean we’re extremely worried about it. I think we’re seeing that happen all over the Asia Pacific. I think now, Australia for many, was the biggest donor to Papa New Guinea, but now that’s been dwarfed by China. But most of the money that the Chinese government is giving to the PNG government, is not aid, it’s loans, and it’s for infrastructure projects. And so I think there are real questions about what happens when that money has to be repaid. But the fact that China has this ongoing, with so many different countries around the world, it means that it is also effectively able to buy the silence of these countries when it comes to raising human rights violations. So when we were talking a bit about Xinjiang, this is happening to a million Muslims, you would think that Muslim majority countries would be concerned about this, because this is happening to their brothers and sisters. And in China, they’re not even allowed to say Salaam alaikum anymore. They have to say nǐ hǎo, because if they say that, they might get sent to a political reeducation.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Right.

Elaine Pearson:                  But we’re not seeing the criticism coming from these governments, because many of these governments are also indebted to China. I was just in Indonesia a few weeks ago to talk to the Indonesian government about this, because we saw the Indonesian government really show a bit of leadership on the Rohingya issue, ethnic Rohingyas and Muslims. And as you might remember, many of them had to flee to Bangladesh because of the Myanmar militaries mess campaign of rape, murder and arson. And in that case you saw countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, really taking a stand and calling on the Myanmar government for accountability. But, Myanmar and China, I guess, are two very different beasts, precisely because of China’s economic clout. And so actually it’s been much, much more difficult to get governments to speak up about what’s happening in China right now.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And so, thinking about the way that typically human rights has been led by liberal democracies, are you concerned about, and is the organization concerned about this sort of increasing divide where, so leaving aside China, but increasingly divided between countries that are democratic and countries that are either autocratic, or democratic in name only, we’re starting to see increasing divides emerge, when you look at the countries that have recognized the new president of Venezuela, they’ve tended to fall along the lines of countries that are broadly democratic, or countries that are broadly autocratic. What is the role of that, in the human rights discourse, and how important is democracy to civil liberty?

Elaine Pearson:                  Yeah look, I think that’s a great question. And I think democracy is really important to civil liberties. I don’t think you can have … it’s very hard to see how you could protect basic civil rights of free speech, freedom of association, free press, if you don’t have a democratic system or a way in which you can raise … basically call for your rights. I think we’re very concerned about the sort of sweeping populist, autocratic movement around the world, and I think we’re seeing democracies, even the established ones, are really fraying at the edges.

Elaine Pearson:                  And the rise of these populist leaders, they’re coming to power because I think they see the world as a complicated, difficult place. They were able to really tap into the fears of a lot of people, and they’re basically scapegoating minorities, and here it might be asylum seekers, in other places it’s migrants or Muslims. In other countries, it might be LGBTI people. And I think the other thing that they do is they really erode away the checks and balances that we need in place in order to defend our basic civil liberties. And so, it’s eroding away a free press, an independent judiciary, a vigorous civil society. And we’re seeing that happen all around the world.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And, so you just touched on media there, which I think is a really important one, because media model is collapsing of the exact same time we’re seeing these problems emerge. I mean, and then there’s a further complication, I think around sort of social media, and then you kind of got this post truth, this fake news phenomenon, so what’s real, what’s not? Do you find that it’s kind of almost like a propaganda, it’s like a almost an autocratic propaganda playground, because you can always contest what’s true and what isn’t, what’s real, what’s not, and increasingly it’s very difficult to source what actually is the case. And so, quality reporting from areas that are subject to human rights abuse is becoming increasingly difficult, if you can obtain it at all. Do you find that to be the case?

Elaine Pearson:                  Yeah, I think it is becoming a bit of a propaganda war now, in some ways. And I think in the past, Human Rights Watch use to diligently do it’s reports, put its reports out there and then we would kind of think, well, the facts speak for themselves. But frankly, that’s not enough anymore. So it’s also about getting visuals. It’s about using video. It’s about effectively using social media to get your message out there, because otherwise, I think there’s also so many counter narratives around the world. But I also think, we are seeing that certain sources of information that are considered accurate, that are considered independent, are actually even more important in this world today, that’s being dominated by fake news and by spin.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Because there’s that saying which is, a lie gets around the world before truth even has time to get out of bed and put on his pants, or something – I probably butchered the quote, the quote. But that’s even more true now with social media and the way things can quickly be spread. I mean, do you think in this battle, are the autocrats winning this PR battle? I mean, I think increasing you look at polling and even in advanced democracies, in Australia, you taking the example where, young people had to be convinced that democracy is the best model, which is quite scary. I mean, do you think we’re winning or we’re losing this fight, in very broad terms?

Elaine Pearson:                  Yeah, I mean it’s hard to say. I mean I think, look, working for human rights organization, you have to be an optimist. You can’t be a pessimists because we work on pretty depressing subjects. So, I mean I think the good thing … I think we were at a really low point, particularly after Trump won the US election, and I think at that point it did seem like, you know, all of these autocratic leaders, also in Europe, were basically coming to power and how we going to stop this? But that’s not true.

Elaine Pearson:                  I mean we have seen some positive stories in Malaysia, in the Maldives recently, where they’ve been able to oust authoritarian governments through having democratic elections. And even looking at the US midterms, I mean, I think that’s another example that gives us hope. But ultimately, it is up to people to vote for the type of leaders that they want. And I think, the Philippines is an extremely concerning example, where Duterte didn’t even hide about extrajudicial killings. He openly flaunted that he wanted to kill people who were involved in the drug trade, and-

Misha Zelinsky:                  He made it a virtue as a part of his platform-

Elaine Pearson:                  Yeah. And unfortunately he maintained a lot of popular support, despite those positions. So, I think now we seeing, in the Philippines, some of the independent media that were really reporting quite strongly on the war on drugs, also facing a lot of problems from the Duterte government. So I think it’s a matter of being vigilant, everywhere. And I think it’s also about ensuring that the way in which we fight back against these autocratic governments, might be trying to get more people to come out and protest, getting people to understand the impact that this has on their rights, and I think we are starting to see that around the world. I mean, even in places like Poland, I think the fact that you had the judges protesting and saying, no, we’re still going to come to work, you can’t just dismiss us, was actually really moving. And in Hungary too, you’ve seen massive protests against Orban. So it’s not like people are just suddenly sitting back and accepting, suddenly, these more repressive governments.

Misha Zelinsky:                  That’s a really interesting point. And it’s good to hear some positive news sometimes, because we do often focus on the negative. But yeah, again, we’ve sort of talked a little about the contest between democracies and autocrats, and the old divide of … the old cold war divide, but what’s the role of values projection in foreign policy? Because, I mean we talk a lot about hard power, and things in a national security frame, about cyber security and military and alliances. But what’s the role of values projection in it, and also, how much is it dependent on western credibility, and has some of that eroded over time, that we can’t really talk about these things as confidently as we once did?

Elaine Pearson:                  Yeah, I mean, I think there’s definitely some truth to that, that if you’re going to talk about respect for international law, and get other countries to agree to that, then you also need to apply those same principles at home. And we have seen basically hypocritical governments, from the US to Australia, on a number of these issues. But I think the role of values in diplomacy is incredibly important. And even if you read the foreign policy white paper that came out, it talks about the need for an international rules based order, and how Australia’s interests will best be protected in a region that respects the rule of law. Well, if you want a region that respects the rule of law, then it is about also promoting those values, because you’ve got the Chinese government at the other end, throwing all its cash around, in a lot of these countries in this region.

Elaine Pearson:                  And so I think, it is really important for democratic countries like Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea. It’s not simply, I guess, the place of Western governments to be speaking out for these things, certainly at Human Rights Watch, we’ve been investing more in middle power countries, not just western countries, because we think that they’re really crucial to the global fight to press for human rights. So it depends, a really good case example, the Japanese government gives massive aid all around the region, yet never has really raised human rights concerns. It never comes with any conditionality attached. So we’ve certainly been working with a Japanese MPs, to talk about the importance of making sure, at least in the aid packages, that there is some human rights benchmarks, or human rights monitoring that they’re doing, and trying to get the Japanese government to be a little bit more outspoken on some rights issues.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Okay. So you mentioned Australia, so circling back to us again, which we sort of started, I think it’s a good time to talk about it. What is Australia’s role in maintaining … we’ve said, and it’s very clear that Australia benefits, middle size economy, we’re down at the bottom of the world. We benefit from a liberal rules based order. What’s our role in maintaining that? Do we have a role? I mean, how does a middle power navigate this sort of uncertain times, where there’s these sort of emerging tensions between titans, globally?

Elaine Pearson:                  Yeah, so look, I mean I think, it’s about standing up. Consider having a consistent principal position on human rights, and standing up for those values, and those principles, wherever they under threat. And this doesn’t mean megaphone diplomacy, or … I hate that term because the whole idea that you would shout at someone through a megaphone, obviously is never going to be effective.

Misha Zelinsky:                  We do it at the unions, but …

Elaine Pearson:                  But maybe not, maybe not in senior meetings between prime ministers and foreign ministers. And it doesn’t mean lecturing other countries, but it also means finding ways to support civil societies, support human rights defenders, to support the lawyers and people in those countries, who frankly are under attack for their views. And so it might be simple things like, you know, inviting them to embassy functions, providing support to organizations who really need that work to document human rights abuses. But I think it’s also calling governments out, when people are unfairly prosecuted, or when political prisoners go to jail, and showing governments that the Australian government cares about these values.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And so, I mean, I think Ozzie’s often wonder, when we look at the world, we think, do we really matter? We’ve got our alliances, and they kind of taking care of us and the world and we just sort of ride along. Does our opinion matter in this space? Are we seen as a serious player in the human rights space? I mean, how much should we care about this, and what’s our influence, in a realistic sense?

Elaine Pearson:                  Yes, it totally matters. I mean, I think particularly now, given that the traditional countries that spoke up very strongly about human rights, for better or for worse, the US and the UK, they’re pretty absent now. The US is completely absent on a Trump. The UK is totally preoccupied by Brexit. That leaves the EU. Canada has been pretty good, in raising these issues, but I think that really sort of opens the space for middle power countries like Australia, and particularly in the Asia Pacific region. I mean, Australia is a really important player. It has important trade and security relationships with a lot of these countries.

Elaine Pearson:                  It’s provided a lot of aid over the years, and so our voice does matter. But I think it’s not just about Australia speaking up on its own, it’s actually about Australia working in coalition with a bunch of other governments, and especially if you’re dealing with a very strong, powerful country like China, it’s not going to be effective if it’s just Australia raising its concerns on its own. But in a case like Yang, I think it’s effectively trying to get joint demarches by embassies, getting other embassies to also speak up, and speaking with a united voice on these issues.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Well, I think it’s been a really fascinating chatting, and we could talk all day about this, well I certainly could. I bore people to death with my podcast. But, so the last question I ask everybody, so Ozzie’s get asked … so the mirror version, but foreign guests get asked which Australians they’d invite to a barbecue, so three foreigners at a barbecue at Elaine Pearson’s house. Who are they, and why?

Elaine Pearson:                  Three foreigners at a barbecue? Well, I think I would have to say Kofi Annan, because yeah, I have long been a fan of Kofi Annan. But at the other end of the spectrum, I would probably love to have Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister there, and he had her insights as a young female leader of the country. And then, maybe because this is a podcast, Ira Glass, who does, “This American Life”, I just feel like I’ve listened to his voice for so many years, I would love to have him around for barbie.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Very good. A podcaster, a politician, and a diplomat. It would be a great time to be a fly on the wall there. I’d like to record that barbecue, it would be a very fascinating-

Elaine Pearson:                  Well, maybe I’d let you come along too.

Misha Zelinsky:                  It’s kind of implicit in the Diplomates title I’m coming, but no, thank you so much for joining us tonight. It’s been a fascinating chat. Appreciate it.

Elaine Pearson:                  Thanks, Misha.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And we are done.

 

Governor Kim Beazley

Kim Beazley is the Western Australian Governor.  Governor might be his current job, but he was also the Australian Ambassador to the United States, Parliamentary Leader of the Australian Labor Party, Deputy PM of Australia and also served as Defence Minister – quite a CV!

Governor Beazley joined Misha Zelinsky to talk about Trump, Putin, China and how Australia can navigate the global rivalries that are fast emerging between our strategic allies and our regional trading partners.

We apologise for the quality of this audio. It was done in Government House in Perth, which is currently under extensive renovation. 

 

 

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Misha Zelinsky:                  Governor Kim Beazley, thank you for joining me on Diplomates. Now, I should note that we’re doing this in the rather salubrious surrounds of the Government House in Western Australia so thank you for having me along. Very lovely digs you have here.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Now, Governor, I thought it would be useful to start off here. You’re former ambassador to the United States. The U.S. under Trump, it seems to be picking fights with its friends in the European Union, it’s broken deals with the Iran Deal. Of course Australia was not immune in respect to the discussions around migration. The United States has been a very long term friend with Australia. Can we still count on the United States as a friend?

Kim Beazley:                         I’m going to separate Australia out from the rest. We’re unique. I suppose you could also include Israel in that uniqueness. We are not criticized by the U.S. in any way shape or form. That all the old verities were there and the language between us and the United States, all the old undertakings, all the old promises, they all still feature in the rhetoric of, not only the officials of the United States, but also President Trump. So it’s as though, excuse me, we’ve been frozen in aspic. The Australian relationship is carved out from the roiling of the rest of the U.S. relationships in the Western alliance. Most notable with NATO, but also, really, too, with Japan and South Korea and experiences that they have had. So there is no reason to say, in anything that has happened to this point, that Australia has been … had its relationship changed.

Kim Beazley:                         But the circumstances in which we conduct our own diplomacy in the region and further afield, yeah, that has been impacted. But that’s in a sense for us to work out how to handle it.

Misha Zelinsky:                  So we’ve had, recently the foreign minister come out and say that the relationship perhaps is changing. We’ve had the Shadow Foreign Minister in Penny Wong also talk about perhaps a new paradigm emerging. The U.S. president seems to be very focused on deals. He says that NATO’s a bad deal. The Iran deal was a bad deal. Various trade relations are bad deals. Could ANZUS ever be a bad deal, do you think? In that context?

Kim Beazley:                         I think the problem that we have with the President and others, is related to how he sees the world. And basically, American statespersons have run the United States since World War II on the basis of the post World War II settlement. Liberal internationalism, multilateralism, rules of the road in so far as the global commons is concerned, open trading relationships as far as the WTO is concerned. It’s at the heart of the liberal internationalist project of the United States. Trump is the polar opposite. He is a nationalist. He is a unilateralist. He has no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. He is an admirer of authoritarian rule. He sees essentially the paradigms that I described earlier on as essentially excuses for looting the United States. And in that position for a lengthy period of time.

Kim Beazley:                         He takes umbrage, therefore, at anything he thinks in past relationships with allies, in particular, as indicating that they’re users as a reason for him to bring them under a scalpel. And then he looks to Russia, probably in a quite unique way and we don’t know fully the reasons for that, but irrespective of his attitude to Russia, he is essentially not about an international order of liberal principles. He is about an international order of survival of the fittest, competitive and that order is ruled, not by rules, but by force de rigueur and the creation of facts.

Kim Beazley:                         Now that’s him. But his officials don’t agree with that. So you have these absurdities. You have the visit this month in July to Europe, Brussels, one or two other European capitals and then Helsinki with Putin, in which he exhibits all the, with NATO, all the facets of their changed ideological direction. But then the communique comes out. And there’s not a dime of difference between the communique from this NATO and any of the communiques in the past. And American officials are writing that.

Kim Beazley:                         He comes out with the picture I presented of nationalist unilateralism and his Defense Secretary, Mattis, personally writes the national defense strategy which is an enormous re-endorsement of the saliency of the American alliances.

Kim Beazley:                         So you’ve got the President out there with new directions. You’ve got the rest of his administration talking up the old storm, and most of Congress as well, doing the same. So this is, to say the least, a confusing time for Australian ministers.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Given the depth of relationship, I think it’s interesting because as you say the relationship is deep at a political level, it’s also deep at an institutional level. It sent us, for want of a better word, seems to be holding for now but given the extraordinary powers the president has, over foreign affairs in particular, can the relationship survive four years, potentially eight years of Trump? Can they potentially, given the importance of the U.S. relationship to Australia and it is, how do we maintain that relationship in the context of unilateralism and nationalism from a Trump administration?

Kim Beazley:                         If this was being pursued in an intelligent systematic way, based on our, what you’d call full court press of officials, and U.S. policy was proceeding with structure down the line that we’ve been talking about, the answer would be no to that question. But the essence of Trump’s administrative style is beyond the expression of an attitude. It’s impossible to develop a body. And so no one can really predict what’s going to come out of all of this, beyond volatility. And certainly there will be volatility and that volatility may produce crisis, particularly when they interact with other changes in the system.

Kim Beazley:                         See, I would say that Australia has more to think about in the much more rapidly changing distribution of power in our region, than simply Mr. Trump. And we do have to look very seriously at recasting the defense policy that we have.

Kim Beazley:                         And one of the things that Trump is doing, I think, inadvertently helpfully, and I put the helpfully in quotation marks because it’s not his intention, is that he’s forcing us to rethink the way we do force structure. And we put up global rules out there and global order up there and the relationships in the region as an equal force structure determinant with the defense of our approaches. That was a mistake when we did it and it’s now completely unsustainable. So we have to-

Misha Zelinsky:                  You mean the reliance on the U.S. underpinning security in the region?

Kim Beazley:                         Not reliance on the U.S. so much as the character of the region.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Right.

Kim Beazley:                         And the character of the region did not really reflect what we assumed of it and the fact that Mr. Trump is not actually prepared to pursue his side of some of the underpinnings means that what we should have done anyway, we absolutely have to do. We have to go to Plan B.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And so let’s talk a little bit about Plan B. You mentioned the shifting of power and I think, effectively, that’s a shifting to a more multi-polar world with the rise of China and the reset of Russia. And you’ve got Putin and Xi actively challenging some of these structures that we have and the alliance system, it’s not being helped by perhaps uncertainty around the U.S.’s position on those alliances. But in the region, with Australia and our relationship with China, we’ve seen [inaudible 00:10:11] assertiveness in the region from China militarily. How concerned should we be about China under the Xi regime.

Kim Beazley:                         There’s no reason that we have to engage with China. We have to calculate what the Chinese are likely to do in the future. We have to see how they interact with other powers in the region, including the United States. But I’ll just say this about President Xi, he has shifted China a long way from the vision of Deng Xiaoping. And there’s a big area of risk here that people just simply don’t talk about and that is, how does he keep his legitimacy going now that they’ve essentially moved away from collective leadership? It moved away from the trend towards constitutionalism. It reinserted the Party processes.

Misha Zelinsky:                  That’s right he was saying he’s a big reformer.

Kim Beazley:                         Yeah and everything. And they’ve done that. So you now have a totally different picture emerging from China. How does he keep legitimacy for what is a lifetime of leadership instead of the 10 years normally accorded. Well, he’ll run into trouble. All governments do run into trouble. The Chinese are not exempt from that. And when he does, people are going to start looking at him from a nationalist point of view and say things like, you made a big deal of re-incorporation of Taiwan. You made a big deal of enforcing our position in the South China and East China Seas. Why is nothing changed? Are you really the defender of the nation?

Kim Beazley:                         Now that’s not a question that would normally have been asked of any of his predecessors as president. It will be asked of him some time in the next 10 years.

Misha Zelinsky:                  What sort of event would ask that question?

Kim Beazley:                         The Chinese people are engaged. Yes, there’s oppression. Yes, there’s a failure to recognize rights, but there’s two things. One, they’re very courageous. Two, they’re very opinionated. And generally they’ve found out this, which is not a good thing, necessarily for the rest of us. They’ve found that if you go after the Communist Party from the right, you frighten them. If you go after them from the left, the super libertarian and the rest of it, you’re easily oppressed. And so-

Misha Zelinsky:                  So nationalism is the big threat to the regime.

Kim Beazley:                         Nationalism, you can always get them

Misha Zelinsky:                  Interesting.

Kim Beazley:                         And nationalism gets bound up in what we’ve just been talking about. So there’s that. There’s not just Trump out there on the landscape. There’s also these other changes and where on earth are we going to end up with North Korea is a further factor in this.

Misha Zelinsky:                  That’s right.

Kim Beazley:                         So what do we need to do? Well, we don’t need to move away from the United States for the very simple reason. In this more volatile region, where we have effectively a total focus on technological skills as our defense, staying ahead of the game technologically, we now only have one alternative and that is relationship with the United States. They are the only people really in the game, in technological enhancements, in capacity in weapons systems, military tactics, all the things that are associated with the next generation of military technologies.

Kim Beazley:                         The only other people in the game are the Russians and the Chinese. The Europeans are on the outskirts. So for us, if we want to survive in this zone, in the long term, we have no choice but to associate with the United States if we want to be anything.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Let’s talk about the United States, China, and the South China Sea. You’ve got the Chinese being very provocative, building manmade islands, taking ownership of other islands and then now militarizing those islands despite promises not to do so. The Americans are very keen for us to engage in the Freedom of Navigation exercises which is to go within the 12 nautical mile range of those sites. Australia has yet to do that. Should we be doing that? Should we be participating in those types of Freedom of Navigation exercises?

Kim Beazley:                         Well that’s a matter for the government. The government is quite clear on what it believes the legalities of the situation are. Also quite clear on what they believe the Chinese are already doing or not doing. Also quite clear on what the rights are of the states that have got counterclaims and the rest of the world in terms of movement of shipping, both civil and military through those areas. So there’s nothing you can complain about, I think, sensibly about Australian government policy and it’s quite reasonable for them to be presenting those policies to the Chinese in argument and discussion.

Kim Beazley:                         Before I became governor and was then less reticent about putting my views across about what government should be doing, what I used to say-

PART 1 OF 3 ENDS [00:15:04]

Kim Beazley:                         My views across about what the government should be doing. What I used to say was by and large, I think we should do these things on our own. That we have our own view about the legalities here and how these legalities ought to be pursued and we were pursuing it. The marginal zone about where we ought to operate in this regard is about island like features that are being created but do not attract island like legal rights. So that is when you take a rock and turn it into a base, that sort of thing, even when you’ve done that, that attracts no automatic rights to a territorial sea around it.

Kim Beazley:                         Most of what has been done has been turning features which do count as islands into bases. And the position of the Australian government over the years has always been that they treat those entities as though there was an owner because there is than owner. The question about who the owner is is to our mind not settled. But then we would observe the limits that would have been observed if an owner was in place.

Misha Zelinsky:                  How do we grapple with, as a democracy in Australia that we favor these rule based order, where you have contested claims in the South China Sea, they go to court, they’re ruling in one particular which is against China in that particular instance, and that has not subsequently been observed. If it does start to unstitch the entire system when countries don’t observe the outcomes of the great system, or the referee so to speak.

Kim Beazley:                         Well our view of course is they should. And hardly anyone can ever enforce its views on the rest of the globe. You basically have to simply influence folk or try to influence folk. Whether you do actually anything practical about it or not, at least when there is a discussion of these issues, you don’t back away from the principles that you evolved. So any argument that takes place you take the view of the legalities which we have supported for a very long period of time.

Kim Beazley:                         It’s not an embarrassment, I don’t think, for a country like Australia if the views we express are not entertained by others with whom we’re talking. We can’t force them to do anything. And in those circumstances, the best we can do is to articulate those concerns, keep doing so, give support to other people who are doing it who may be more directly effected than we are, and learning the maturity and toughness that comes with somebody or some nation that is prepared to stand up for what it believes.

Misha Zelinsky:                  I’d just like to just quickly talk about China’s relationship with some of the other players in the region. Some of the smaller countries of the Asian nations and also the Pacific in terms of this One Belt, One Road initiative. And we’ve seen initially it’s talked about one of the largest investment in human history to reestablish that trade route through sea and land.

Misha Zelinsky:                  But we’re also now seeing the so called debt book diplomacy where countries have signed dup for projects they don’t necessarily need at terms that aren’t that particularly favorable. Then when they can’t make the payment, that asset’s taken back. Most troubling-ly the example of Vanuatu it looked like there may have been a military lock base or Naval base being built there potentially. How concerned should we be about that the way that China’s asserting itself through trade or through debt in a region?

Kim Beazley:                         I think China might be concerned out it, not just us. International politics is pretty fluid. Reputational issues are very important. You start developing our reputation for using debt to essentially take over parts of other countries, if you start building installations which are of very little value to the country in which they’re built but a substantial value to yourself, if you start projects which can’t be paid for by their own intrinsic merits, or you can’t complete to the satisfaction of the folk concerned, you’re going to suffer immense reputational damage. And people will deal with it.

Kim Beazley:                         This is particularly so in the experience of countries in Africa, but also in Southeast Asia and South Asia. A lot of these things are self correcting. And China’s going to have to learn from that. and will learn from that as people respond. When you actually look at the completion rights of these projects, and then look at some others who engage the infrastructure of the region like the Japanese, at a much lower level the Japanese have a much higher success rate. And what the Japanese actually produce is something usually useful to the countries concern.

Kim Beazley:                         They don’t talk about belts and roads and endless highway of Japanese economic activity, but to all intensive purposes, when you look at the infrastructure projects they’re engaged in, they’re similarly geographically aligned to those which the Chinese do but with smaller amounts invested and better outcomes for the people that are concerned. It’s not just there, it’s Americans, it’s a lot of other people engaged in this.

Kim Beazley:                         But it is an opportunity for many countries, and there will be from time to time an intersection between what is fiscally sustainable and what is actually locally necessary. And that’s certainly, China’s a powerful country, it helps advance their influence. At the moment you’d say that the most impactful in political terms of these Chinese strategies is not so much on the region we inhabit but in Central Asia. And who loses out? In Central Asia, to those Chinese infrastructure initiatives, what? Russia.

Kim Beazley:                         So Russia has this relationship with China which sees Russia’s interests and influence effectively being subsumed.

Misha Zelinsky:                  That’s interesting. So you think that … A lot of people are now seeing it perhaps it’s a Cold War sort of prison, but a lot of people are seeing it as an alignment of interests between Russia and China. But you’re suggesting perhaps there are tensions that will emerge at Eurasian crossover region as China seeks to build up it’s sphere influence. Because Putin’s very concerned about spheres of influence.

Kim Beazley:                         Look, there’s no conflict of interest between the two except perhaps in the challenge to what they think is objectionable features of the rules based order. But the truth is there’s no symmetry there either. Putin just totally rejects it, the Chinese don’t. The are may feature of rules based order which they absolutely agree with. There’s no symmetry between the two of them on that.

Kim Beazley:                         It’s convenient to have that relationship with China, but there are contradiction elements of it too. The Russians built up a lot of influence and Vietnam and a lot of influence in India and South Asia. And the performance of the Chinese is causing all of our lives to be quizzical about them. And there’s no activity which when analyzed in detail to engage in which Russia does not look to complete in theory.

Kim Beazley:                         Putin may have had a triumph with his conversations with Trump and made the American president look ridiculous or as a satrap. And all of the allies of the United Stares might have been embarrassed by it. But where does it get Putin? Has it got him a relief of sanctions? Has it got him a non-engagement with the NATO powers along his border? Has it got him an American recognition of where he stands in Ukraine? Has it got him anything that actually matters to him?

Kim Beazley:                         And when you look at Russia’s situation, an economy the size of Australia with about four or five times that number of people to look after as Australia with about two and a half times out spending on defense, there’s a few people in Russia who are beginning to start to say to Mr. Putin, “Enough already.”

Misha Zelinsky:                  With a very low life expectancy evidently as well.

Kim Beazley:                         Yeah. Except the Russians are pretty courageous people.

Misha Zelinsky:                  They’re stoic.

Kim Beazley:                         They’re stoic as you say, they’re cynical. They like the fact that they’ve seen him stand up proud, take over property and the rest of it. They also want to be fed. And at some point of time, where Putin stands at the moment means they’re not going to be. So he needs those changes. If I was a Russian I’d be saying of the old lad, I’d be saying, “Oh yeah, you did real well. You poisoned our relationship with the United States, you’ve interfered in their politics in a way beyond any interference they’ve done in ours, you’ve got yourself in your mind a president elected at your own behalf. What’s on my table as a result of that please?” And the answer of course is nothing.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yes, well that’s interesting. So you talked about economics there, and I think in the old Cold War we had two separate systems that a lot of people now point to the economics being this, perhaps the destiny in terms of security. You have people that look at China’s projections in our region and then say well there’s no way the that US can compare against China’s GDP therefor game over. Some analysts will say that. Others will point to the quad. Now I’m curious to ask you about which is the alliance of Japan, India, the United States, Australia which is very nice and do you see that as a potential counterbalance in our region in terms of economic response and in security response?

Kim Beazley:                         No, I just see it as a useful engagement. We are moving. China’s not the only country rising economically. You’ll see the same set of statistics that you just quoted applied to India, show India in the second half of this century we’ll all be thoroughly dead, taking over that leadership position from China. And you’ll see a straight line projections are all terrific except there are human realities that intervene.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And India has a demographic advantage as well.

Kim Beazley:                         Yeah. That’s right. And at the moment there’s a writing America off which also doesn’t have population problems. It’s economy is going to expand. The relativities that work towards China are not based on collapsing the American position. It’s a the American position advances, US is now starting to compete in new technologies, having let it go to some degree. And they’ve just put humongous amounts of money into it. Another great triumph for Putin. Gets out the and boast about a bunch of hypersonic missiles and related technologies which he doesn’t possess. And threaten to incorporate nuclear weapons within technical strategies which he hasn’t arrived at. He may arrive at that.

Kim Beazley:                         But with his 78 billion a year that spends on defense, he just massively tweaked the tail of somebody spending 715 billion. Brilliant move. You really scored with that one. So what do the Americans say? Oh well, we better got on with the hypersonic, we better get on with a different technical nuclear weapon usable in the battlefields. We’d better get on with the lasers, we’d better get on with the Artificial Intelligence and the rest of it. He’s just invited competition for an outfit spending ten times what he’s spending on defense. Fled losers.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Which is exactly what happened in the 80s with Reagan handcrafting the Soviet Union.

Kim Beazley:                         Exactly. And we need to take a look at that. There’s an awful lot of what the Americans are doing with their massive new defense spending that I think is a bit unwise. They’re focused too much on platforms and personnel and not enough on the new technologies. Though they’re spending a lot on the new technologies. I think the objective of the 350 ship Navy works against the rapid incorporation within the platforms they do have which is about 280 of them, of some of the new technologies which they brought forward very substantially particularly in related to direct energy weapons like lasers.

Kim Beazley:                         Their demand to put another 100,000 men or whatever it is in the Army works against the Army’s clear preference for next generation technologies on the battlefield. So there’s that tension going on. But the amounts of money is so huge that they may well be able to sustain the apparently contradictory priorities.

Kim Beazley:                         So there’s all of that going on at the moment which gives absolutely no attention or focus here at all.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And Australia benefits from that because we use a lot of the same combat systems as the United States, is that right?

Kim Beazley:                         And also we are very adept in sitting down with the Americans and converting those technologies into things that are usable in our environment. And I notice for the recent meeting of OSMET that the American Defense Secretary was pointing out our membership of the industrial recognized, industrial and inventive capabilities that the US will want to partner with. So we have got the possibility of engaging a lot of these technologies given that we can’t any longer do that ourselves. Or count on getting it from anywhere else. At least we are now heavily engaged with the Americans on that front. And we have at our defense …

PART 2 OF 3 ENDS [00:30:04]

Kim Beazley:                         … the Americans on that front, and we have at our defense, science and technology organization exactly the sort of capabilities that we need to ensure that we prioritize those technologies rightly and incorporate them effectively. We’re on the verge of a [walk 00:30:18] in the next generation systems, but only on the verge of that because of the continuing relationship with the Americans and nothing Trump has done threatens that. Trump creates a difficult international environment for us. He has not created a difficult military development environment for us.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Well, that’s very assuring. Just to bring it, we’ve talked a lot about international defense policy. I’m curious to get your views on some of the things that are happening at home in a foreign policy context. We’ve had Chinese interference in our domestic affairs, and all the debates between the so-called China Hawks or the Panda Huggers, how seriously should we be concerned about Chinese interference in our democracy with various financial interference into major parties, and how hard should we be pushing back on that?

Kim Beazley:                         Most countries, and this country is now included, but wasn’t, most countries extract themselves from the contribution of other countries and involvement in domestic politics. It doesn’t necessarily work regarding the subject of illegal penetration on the scale that you saw from the United States and Russia, but there are some protections there and the protections have come in here. I think we have to be very careful here in how we handle this. We do not want to make the many Chinese Australians uncomfortable in their own country.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Absolutely.

Kim Beazley:                         It is important that they feel welcome, that they are Australians like the rest of us. We have a blessed tendency in this country not to refer to ourselves as Italian Australians or Irish Australians or Chinese Australians or Indian Australians. The Americans do that.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yes.

Kim Beazley:                         We don’t.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yep.

Kim Beazley:                         We just talk about Australians and then we may get in the conversation go down the line to look at ethnic origins, but we assume that in the end they get absorbed by the great Australian, lovely cultural system.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Absolutely.

Kim Beazley:                         We’ve got to think about that. That means that when we have a disagreement with the Chinese, and we will from time to time and we do look at the sorts of issues that come up here, we need to be polite. We need to be firm, but we also need to be polite, and we need to avoid humiliation wherever we can. The debate that we had on these various issues at the time of Sam Dastyyari put out of the show late last year. I’m not defending him. I’m suggesting that he shouldn’t have gone, but it spiraled out of that into mutual insults, and there certainly is enough to go around in the political process about engagements of the past, in a way which I could understand why Chinese government would start to look at you sideways.

Kim Beazley:                         See, you’ve got to be sensib;e about it. The Americans are the biggest investor in this. The Chinese are our biggest trading partner. Chinese Australians are critical contributors to the stability of this country and its success. We need to bear all those things in mind and grab some maturity in handling it.

Misha Zelinsky:                  No, that’s interesting because I think there’s some difficulty in how to handle the relationship. You mentioned earlier about reputational concerns that the Chinese have, but also there is a, there seems to be a tension between calling out behavior from the Chinese, be it in island building in the South China Sea, or perhaps in meddling in democracy, but it seems to be the tone that is a concern rather than the … How would we be better to manage that?

Kim Beazley:                         Adopt a reasonable tone. You can make these points without getting hysterical. The points need to be made and you want to be able to incorporate those issues in your conversations without necessarily creating massive damage to your country while you do it. One of the problems is this, and this just doesn’t apply and this issue applies in any issue, if you go out of the top and you create a situation where you were tricked and you left worse off than before when you went over the top in your response. The point is, the object of your attention is no longer the issue. You are the issue.

Kim Beazley:                         Now, how do you deal with that? Well it’s a maturity and it also means too that there are a lot of areas of politics when you’re a nation like us, which is not all powerful, you need to actually learn to manage your words and manage your approaches. We’ve done it in the past. We now have to do it full time.

Misha Zelinsky:                  I was just curious just to peek a little bit about the tension that exists, and it’s kind of the elephant in the room where we say we don’t have to choose between our secured relationship with the United States and our trade relationship with China. Can you see, what are the potential triggers where a choice may need to be made? There’s a whole, Hilary Clinton famously said you can’t argue with your banker. How do we argue with our best customer at the same time as wanting to perhaps stick with our best friend in the United States?

Kim Beazley:                         A good start is not to ask the question, and to actually look at how governments handle issues and not the commentary. Commentary has to ask the questions because there’s nothing else to say. The government doesn’t operate like that.. We decided that it was in our interest to proceed with membership of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. This is a big deal, a far bigger deal than any of the things that we’ve been talking about so far.

Misha Zelinsky:                  The Americans didn’t want us to do it.

Kim Beazley:                         The Americans did not want us to do it, but we decided, particularly with the south east Asians who are very important to us, [inaudible 00:36:45] to us, wanted us to get involved. We decided to get involved, so what do we do then? We go around saying, “Well, we’ve chosen between the US and China and we’ve chosen China.” That would be the height of immaturity, stupidity, and factually wrong. We chose to be a member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. That’s what we chose. What we did with the Americans was to say to them, “Look, we think that we need to get into this.” I used to say to them, “You look at China through the prism of the geographic relationship, through Confucian societies, Indochina.” We look at China from a north south perspective. We go through a whole variety of other cultures before we arrive at the Confucian ones. They are important to us and we take some guidance from them. We take the view that we need to listen to what they want us to do and they said that they would feel much more comfortable in that bank if we are there, so we’re going to do it.

Kim Beazley:                         What we will do is we will firstly say that we’re going to try and make the government’s terms as close to the Asian Development Bank as we possibly can, and we are going to keep you advised on each step that we take. That’s how you handle those issues. We didn’t running around asking silly questions about whether or not we’re choosing between China and the US. You do what is in your national interest. That’s what you do.

Misha Zelinsky:                  That’s interesting, so I would like to actually ask you a questions following on from that because you’ve talked a lot about the economic rise of China and the choices there. Australia has been at every war with the United States, certainly the twentieth century and twenty first century. Is that relationship too strong? Should we be more independent given that what we know now with the Iraq war and the subsequent knock on effects of that? Is there a situation where we can perhaps not necessarily go all the way with LBJ so to speak?

Kim Beazley:                         You make your own decisions. Every one of the wars you referred to we made our own decisions. There was always a factor in those decisions about, at least since World War II, about the character of the relationship we have with the United States is one of the issues that we thought through, but it was not the only issue. We thought through those issues from the perspective of our own national interest, particularly recently, our involvements in Afghanistan and our involvement in Iraq, not the original one. I would say that these are issues which we’ll have to keep on thinking about all the time. You always need to think about it from the point of view of understanding that we’re already deeply embedded in the American system, through the job facilities of which we’ve added another couple over the course of the last decade, in relation to another area of contest that need space, and therefore we’ll always making a substantial contribution to them. We need to work out whether or not we want to make more.

Kim Beazley:                         Tony Abbot, as I recollect at the time of his last latest engagement in Iraq was hardly influenced by American concerns at all. He was influenced by and trying to influence the Americans toward committing themselves because he believed that it would be fatal for the rest of us if that caliphate got underway and successfully ensconced itself in Syria or Iraq. I would have said that our engagement, and I was looking at it from the point of view of the point made in Washington while it was being discussed, not at my level. It was being discussed at other levels, but I was at least in there. It was virtually nothing to do with the alliance and virtually everything to do with the situation on the ground and our concern that the Iraqi government should survive.

Misha Zelinsky:                  That was in response to the ISIS sort of take over over parts of Syria and of Iraq, but the original decision in 2003, I’d like to ask, would you have handled that differently?

Kim Beazley:                         Yes I would have.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yep.

Kim Beazley:                         To be honest, I’m not quite sure where I would have ended up at the very, very last minute, but I can tell you what I would have been doing in the period of time when the British and the Americans and the rest of the world really was looking at what ought to be done about Saddam Hussein, and I’d be doing my damnedest to try to persuade the Americans not to do what they did because if you look at our speeches at the time, you will see that we knew exactly what was going to happen as a result of all of this. We understood of course that the Americans after 9/11, they’re pretty much a winded society, and there’s a lot of motivation around about punish one, educate a hundred.

Kim Beazley:                         We saw at the time that this was not a sensible way of doing that and that you were likely to get yourself into serious trouble if you persisted with it. I suspect that possibly at the end of the day, as the whites in their eyes time had been arrived at, probably would have redeployed the ships that were in the gulf anyway. That would have been a very last minute point, and that was after you’ve exhausted every capacity to persuade them not to. It would be a bit absurd had the ships sailing around there not engaged in what subsequently emerged.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Have been not perhaps as a starting player in the coalition of the willing, so to speak.

Kim Beazley:                         It would be a concluding point, not a starting point.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Well, that’s a good place for us to finish up. Just as a final question we ask all of our guests on Diplomates, which is, and you’re a former ambassador, so with international guests like to ask them which Australians they’d invite to lunch, but as a former ambassador I might ask you three Americans to lunch with the governor, who are they and why?

Kim Beazley:                         Well, I would love to have ex-President Obama as one of those to lunch. I’d love to have Hilary Clinton, and I would be fascinated to have added to them Jim Mattis.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Oh wow. That would be an interesting group.

Kim Beazley:                         To see what they’ve got to say about contemporary affairs. I’ve got a huge amount of time for all of them and I think that they would make, because all three of them make excellent dinner companions.

Misha Zelinsky:                  That would be a lovely, to be a fly on the wall that would be great, but look, Governor Beazley, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a fantastic conversation and all the best with the new year.

Kim Beazley:                         Thank you.