Rudd, Turnbull and Latham: Handling the China-US Issue
Notwithstanding my recent comments (see below) on how welcome it is to see Kevin Rudd calibrating somewhat the Government’s mistaken handling of Obama’s visit and our relationship with China, I think this has a long way to go. Very telling that Malcolm Turnbull, in his Edward Dunlop lecture on Monday, felt obliged to say:
While all of us galahs in the political petshop are talking about the rise of Asia, many are apparently labouring under the misapprehension that while everything can change in the economic balance in our region, nothing will change in strategic terms.
In other words, China will acquire a bigger strategic role to go with its economic growth. As Gareth Evans puts it, “Great powers do what great powers do.” In the meantime, there is no evidence China has aggressive, expansionist or interventionist instincts.
The American reaction to China, however, displays all the neuroses of the world’s most insecure empire, always imagining its enemies at work to bring it down. I recall an Australian-American Leadership Dialogue around 1999 where Rich Armitage, later to become a Deputy Secretary of State, was talking about war over the Taiwan Straits and demanding to know whether Australia would take a hand. “Are these people nuts?” was the whispered response of all the Australians.
Turnbull warned about Australian governments becoming “doe-eyed” with Barack Obama and getting distracted from the need “to maintain both an ally in Washington and a good friend in Beijing” which is, he added, “after all, our most important trading partner.” It is noteworthy, surely, that a Liberal has been able to detect this.
When did we decide to favour America’s most mistaken instincts? Do we talk down their paranoia and sabre-rattling when our leaders talk? Do we have as our goal a peaceful accommodation between the aspirations of China and the national interests of the US? Why did we allow the announcement about Marines rotating in the Northern Territory to be made in association with the US President’s strange speech attacking China? Who makes these foreign policy decisions and what discussion is there?
Mark Latham in today’s Financial Review notes that after 20 years of telling the Australian people we do not need to make a choice between security with the US and trade with China, the Government looks like it has blundered into siding with the Americans in their clumsy lurch towards containment of China.
Mark Latham writes:
Future historians will ask this simple but compelling question: how did a small trade-dependent nation on the fringe of the South Pacific ever sandwich itself between the two largest powers of the North Pacific? How did it wedge itself in the middle of the great geopolitical tension of the 21st century: the rise of China as the world’s largest economy, and the slow-sliding decline of American influence?
Just because Mark Latham makes the criticism doesn’t mean it’s wrong.