A right to develop?

The “East Asian Miracle” was the title of a 1993 World Bank report which attributed the rapid economic growth and development of Asian countries post-World War II to the success of neoliberalism. While the neo-liberal theory of development is widely held in the West, the developmental state theory poses a challenge to the Anglo-American analysis, providing an alternate explanation for the rise of economies within East Asian following World War II. 

Critics of the neo-liberal consensus argued that Asian economies rapidly developed due to the strong, centralised roles assumed by governments in economic planning. Regional leaders such as Former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Yuan Yew also reacted to the atmosphere of neoliberal triumphalism that was conveyed in the World Bank report and advocated for others to “look East” toward countries like Japan for models of economic development rather than West.

Developmental state theory argues that late industrialising nations need to take measures to catch up with advanced capitalist economies. Protection and oversight from central governments can help to created a dynamic environment for countries to develop evenly and strengthen their industrial capabilities prior to integrating into the neo-liberal global market. 

While developmental state theory provides a plausible alternate explanation for the rise of East Asian economies, the model is not superior to a democratic capitalist system. The strong role of the government in developmental states gives rise to authoritarianism. In the interests of pursuing drastic economic development, states subordinate political objectives. This means that citizens are not free to criticise their government or actively have a voice in policy development. 

The process of industrialisation enables developing states to drastically improve living standards and reduce abject poverty. Such needs are arguably more pressing than the actualisation of civil liberties in countries where access to food, water, shelter and sanitation are not ubiquitous. 

Given these considerations, it is reasonable to offer developing states a grace period in which they can prioritise national economic development above the civil rights of citizens. However, when has a state sufficiently developed to a stage where the international community can pressure them to uphold the human rights of their citizens?

In practice, the international community has had difficulty in grappling with such questions. Most notably, China lays claim to the second most powerful economy in the world while also holding developing-state status which allows it to maintain the need for international concessions and time to adequately develop. 

The right to develop is an internationally recognised right at the United Nations and has also been ratified in a number of international instruments and national declarations.

  • 1991 China published a White Paper on its right to prioritise economic stability over Western priorities of civil and political freedoms (essentially China published the view that individual freedoms, while important should not come before the interests of the collective)  
  • Right to Develop is recognised at the UN (since 1986) and this resolution and way of thinking continues to be a prominent issue cited by developing countries when discussing international issues (UN- Res. 41/128) 
  • This right is also recognised in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Arab Charter on Human Rights
  • Reaffirmed in in the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the 1993 Vienna Programme of Action and  2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Though the international community has found consensus on the existence of an international right to develop, a lack of clarity remains on when this right expires.

So long as China continues to argue its status as a developing state and the leader of the developing world, the right to develop will increasingly be used as a tool for countries to argue that authoritarian governance and centralised economies are not merely temporary but rather provide a strong alternate model to democratic/capitalist governance. This reality will result in a world that is less free, and more divided between East and West.

The Australia-UK FTA could become a blueprint for socially conscious trade

What should the Australia-UK FTA include?

1)   A Freedom of Movement Agreement (FOMA) for British and Australian citizens which could be modelled after the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement (TTTA) between Australia and New Zealand

2) Prior to the signing of the FTA, Australia should insist that the UK adopt the following amendments to its Modern Slavery Act 2015 to bring it in line with Australia’s Modern Slavery Act 2018:

2.1) to establish a publicly accessible register of all modern slavery statements submitted by businesses to promote greater accountability for non-compliance;

2.2) to mandate reporting requirements for the British public sector to ensure that supply chains utilised for tendered government activities do not facilitate modern slavery;

3) Australia should propose that existing visas granted by the Australian and UK governments with tied conditions be stripped of employer reporting obligations to strengthen the protection of migrant workers against labour exploitation;

Australia and the UK have began the initial stages of negotiating an FTA. This agreement presents an opportunity to remove unnecessary barriers that have restricted trade and travel between our countries. Sharing a rich historical and cultural affinity with one another, the FTA provides the UK and Australia with the chance to deliver an ambitious FTA that not only boosts economic growth and prosperity but also seeks to address the risks of modern slavery that arise through global trade.

In 2011, The Cameron government introduced immigration reforms aimed at reducing non-EU migration which significantly restricted Australians’ ability to work in the UK. These measures have led to a 49% decline in the number of working visas granted to Australians annually: down from 37,375 in 2005 to 19,134 in 2017.

A freedom of movement agreement (FOMA) between our countries would ease current visa barriers and grant Australians and Britons reciprocal rights to live and work abroad. The economic benefits of immigration are clear—free trade leads to a more efficient labour market and allocation of resources. This results in higher average incomes and lower prices for consumer goods. People are also freer to choose between lifestyles, jobs, political jurisdictions and environments.

This arrangement could be modelled after the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement (TTTA) between Australia and New Zealand which forms part of our Closer Economic Relations (CER) partnership. The TTTA allows citizens of both countries who meet minimum health and character requirements to travel between, live and work in both countries.

Any reluctance to accept a FOMA based on migration issues arising from the UK’s experience in the EU can be easily addressed as the proposed relationship is not analogous to EU membership. Australia and the UK are sovereign states, committed to the rule of law and able to apply strict border controls. Similarly to the TTTA, the UK and Australia would retain sovereign control over immigration and could exercise the power to reject entrants based on public safety, national security or public health considerations. 

Australia and the UK also have similar GDP per capita, meaning that pull factors that motivated citizens of poorer EU member countries such as Bulgaria (where GDP per capita is 9,272.63 USD)  to migrate to the UK in search of higher paying employment will not be a concern in an Australia-UK FOMA. Australia and New Zealand’s TTTA provides a proven framework for promoting sustainable migration between comparable developed countries that share a head of state, the rule of law and equivalent standards of living.

Despite the economic and social advantages of an Australia-UK FOMA, such an ambitious proposal is unlikely to be adopted in the short-term. A preferential visa system akin to the American E-3 visa could be established in the interim. This system would grant Britons and Australians reciprocal working rights upon receiving relevant job offers. The E-3 visa, an integral part of the Australia-US FTA, permits an annual quota of Australians to enter the US, requires minimal paperwork, and is one tenth of the cost of a comparable visa.

Alternatively, were the UK and Australian visa systems to remain unchanged under the proposed FTA, at the very least, the vulnerability of migrant workers could be addressed by abolishing tied visas such as the 417 Working Holiday Visa in Australia and the Domestic Overseas Worker Visa in the UK. Many Australians and Britons travel between our countries on working holidays, often utilising tied visas. These visas require employers to sign off on the visa conditions of migrant workers, exposing our citizens to risks of exploitation and modern slavery. For these reasons, at minimum this FTA should address the vulnerabilities of migrant workers under the tied visa system.   

Increases in the movement of goods, services and people due to the Australia-UK FTA will heighten modern slavery risks. As our countries have both enacted Modern Slavery Acts and share a commitment to combatting human trafficking, the FTA presents a natural opportunity to encourage a ‘race to the top’ on modern slavery social policy.

Under the Australian act, the Australian Public Service is required to report modern slavery statements and a central repository containing modern slavery statements is publically available. Unlike Australia, the UK public sector is not required to report modern slavery statements and modern slavery statements from the private sector are not publically accessible. Given these inconsistent standards, Australia could request that prior to signing the FTA, the UK align its laws with Australian legislation to increase accountability and awareness of links to modern slavery in British supply chains.

If the Australia-UK FTA manages to liberalise unnecessary visa barriers while improving migrant-worker protections and supply chain oversight, it will become a blueprint for socially conscious trade. 

Hope for persecuted Christians in US-Australia bilateral

The Islamic State genocide against Christians in Iraq and Syria, beginning in 2014, drew international condemnation. In 2020, Southeast Asia is the new hotspot for Christian persecution. Communism and religious fundamentalism appear to be the main driving forces of Christian Persecution. Such oppression will only be increased by the global COVID-19 pandemic as Christians are more likely to experience discrimination when seeking basic provisions in many countries.

Here are just a few examples of the kinds of persecution that Christians face in Australia’s backyard.

China 

As of 2018, the Xi Jingping’s government has implemented draconian laws on religious practices. Increased surveillance and restriction of privacy have severely constrained the religious freedoms of the Chinese people. Christians found to publically profess their faith have experienced interrogation, imprisonment and loss of property. The Chinese Communist Party is driving ‘thought reform’ with plans to retranslate and annotate the Bible so that the text is compatible with sinicization and socialism. Troubling parallels can be observed between this heavy-handed response to Christianity and Mao-era attempts to control hearts and minds.

India 

Opposition to Christianity has reached unprecedented levels in India due to the rise of Hindutva nationalism. Aid to the Church in Need reported nation-wide attacks on Christians in 24 of India’s 29 states from 2017 to 2019. Indian Christians face physical abuse, rape and murder for professing their faith. Sectarian violence remains wide-spread. However, of greatest concern is the growing impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators, engendered by the failure of authorities to address attacks on religious minorities.

North Korea 

North Korea is an exceptionally dangerous place to be a Christian. The bible is illegal and from a young age citizens are taught to worship Kim Jong-Un. Christians in North Korea are routinely deported to kwanliso, maximum security political prisons or ‘re-education’ camps. Torture, starvation, sexual assault and death are frequently reported within these facilities. CEO of Open Doors David Curry, cautioned that as COVID-19 ravages health conditions in developing countries, “North Korean Christians who are already seen as second-class citizens, traitors, and infidels” face exceptional risks.

Laos 

In Laos, Christianity is branded as a harmful Western influence which challenges the nation’s communist values. Government officials use Laotians’ hostile attitude towards Christians to justify strict monitoring of believers. Converts to Christianity in Laos face the most severe forms of persecution. Abandoning Buddhism or tribal animist beliefs is seen as a betrayal to family members and the community.

Myanmar 

The international community has rightly condemned the horrific ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Yet, the Buddhist-dominated military has also systematically attacked other religious minorities including Christians. The military routinely engage in torture, rape, abduction and murder of Christians. Efforts to force conversions to Buddhism are common. Thousands of Christians have also been displaced and forced to flee to refugee camps. As access to these regions is very limited, their plight goes widely unnoticed outside Myanmar.

Brunei 

Brunei is an Islamic absolute monarchy ruled by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. In 2014, Brunei became the first East Asian country to adopt parts of Sharia law, despite condemnation from the UN. The Sultan, along with the prime minister, has declared his vision that Brunei will be an entirely Muslim nation by 2035. All churches, including registered ones, are monitored and restricted by the authorities. Further, Islamic authorities offer financial bonuses and employment opportunities to those who follow Islam. This creates a social hierarchy that discriminates against non-Muslims.

Malaysia   

The Federal Constitution of Malaysia purports to protect the right to freedom of religion, including the profession, practicing and propagating of a person’s religious beliefs. Despite this, federal law favours the Islamic faith. Article 3 of the Federal Constitution privileges Islam with special status. Although it is more subtle than in neighbouring countries, examples of discrimination against Christians include the existence of sharia courts available to Muslims and the constitutional definition of ‘Malay’ to mean only those who profess the religion of Islam.

An opportunity for the United States and Australia

Under President Trump, the US has affirmed its strong commitment to the freedom of religion both domestically and internationally. While I was at the UN during Leaders Week 2019, the US hosted a high-level event titled ‘The Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom’. The scheduling of this event at the same time as the Climate Summit sent a clear message to the international community about the foreign policy priorities of the Trump/Pence administration.

Domestically, Trump has made a 2017 executive order to advance religious freedom as a centre-piece of his administration’s human rights agenda. The President has also taken action to ensure that Americans and American organisations are not forced to violate their religious or moral beliefs by complying with the Obamacare contraceptive mandate. Further, the Administration has dedicated $25 million to protect religious freedom and religious sites and relics around the world.

Given our shared liberal-democratic values, Australia is uniquely positioned to cooperate with the US on this serious international human rights issue in our region. With rising Christian persecution in Southeast Asia and the Indo-pacific, Australia’s strong bilateral relationship with the United States may provide a solution. As an evangelical Christian, Prime Minister Scott Morrison shares a unique personal connection with persecuted Christians in our region and a commitment to protecting religious freedoms alongside President Trump and Vice President Pence. If there were ever a time to ignite a global crusade to combat religious persecution, this would be that time.