Australia, China, The US
Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has made comments cooling the idea of Australia joining the US in containing China. This is very welcome. I thought the Foreign Minister had been too brusque in his reaction to low-level Chinese comments on the decision to rotate US Marines through Darwin. “Let me be blunt…” is not the way to launch a Foreign Minister’s response to tentative, barely-official comments. It would have been more appropriate to have begun with words like, “China is a great power…we respect China’s right to contribute to discussion of security in the Asia-Pacific…China and Australia are friends and partners and always will be…” After such emollient words, the minister could have gone on to insist that Australia’s defence arrangements reflect our long-term treaty relationship with the United States and remain ours to make.
“Putting it bluntly” is rarely the language of diplomacy, especially if you’re dealing with the great economic power that just happens to sustain Australia’s prosperity.
Gareth Evans once said in respect to China’s military strength, “Great powers do what great powers do.” In other words, a great economic power becomes, inevitably, a significant military power.
There was a lot of value in Paul Keating’s comment that it was inappropriate for President Obama to use a speech to the Australian Parliament to express hostility to China. The more thoughtful American policy would be to accept a growing Chinese role in the Pacific and to negotiate the terms and conditions that surround it. China has one beaten-up, third-hand aircraft carrier, America has a dozen state-of-the art. And the sky is falling in? Did anyone think that China would commence its rise to economic greatness and uniquely forgo a commensurate military strength? To assert its rights over an island universally recognized as Chinese territory? To defend its energy supplies?
It is patently in this country’s national interest to see in the Pacific a peaceful accommodation between the US and China. Feeding America’s chronic insecurities is not smart. And, yes, I know Chinese insecurities are even worse. The more urgent, therefore, we talk down and not up the prickliness in their relationship. Seems we have not been doing that (according to those Wikileak revelations)and why is a mystery.
As for American military on Australian soil, they should never be permanently here. That would reduce Australia to a mere Okinawa. Nothing wrong with rotating them or with ship visits, nuclear armed or not. That is what an alliance means. A treaty partner we are, unapologetically, not an aircraft carrier.
The Foreign Minister’s comments, reported in today’s Financial Review, are a welcome repositioning from the unnecessary sternness of two weeks back.