NOOSA - Chris Overland has maintained a consistent (and compelling) correspondence on the matter of China. Others have enjoined.
I believe a continuing discussion on China is necessary in PNG Attitude because of the growing importance of China as an influence – and potentially a threat - in our south-west Pacific region.
The discussion is also necessary in the context of Australia showing considerable ineptitude dealing with China in recent times, even though the communist nation is our biggest trading partner.
No doubt the nation we rely on for our defence, the United States, under the former president Trump, exercised considerable sway on us in this matter.
China is one-third of the three Big Cs facing Papua New Guinea - the others being Covid and corruption.
Given Australia’s strong association with PNG, which some people – especially in PNG - argue is weakening, we could be reaching a turning point in the strategic position of our region.
In a piece earlier this year I canvassed the grave issues democracies have with China, which Chris Overland has addressed in much more detail and, in his recent article, made another point I feel is crucial.
This is that, in accepting that China pursues a political and social path that is counter and a danger to our own democratic values and practices, the Australian our government must accept that the threat from China is unlikely to ease and is therefore is a matter we must address.
In my January essay, I expressed scepticism that the current approach of the Australian government in using ‘megaphone diplomacy’ to criticise China, and implicitly to encourage fellow travellers in the media and think tanks to do the same, was not going lead to a useful basis from which we could transact appropriately with the communist nation, on trade, human rights or any other major issue.
The condemnation and finger-pointing are leading us up a dry gully away from the diplomatic nuances that often seem so trite but are in fact the special languages that nations use to communicate.
This prosecution by Australia leads to the question of what is our end game. Are we to continue yelling at the bear or to be clever and understand how to transact more productively?
I pointed in my article out that Papua New Guinea and New Zealand had each reached their own positions on dealing with China.
PNG had decided long ago to acquiesce to China’s conceits.
New Zealand, after i a rocky relationship, just two years ago decided to pursue a workable understanding with China which also emphasised its own independent position and differing views.
In recent weeks I think I have observed Australia moving to put down its megaphone; perhaps Scott Morrison is damping down some hot issues in an election year.
But the Morrison government still lacks a coherent strategy for how the now damaged relationship can be repaired and what Australia’s longer-term position will be.
As I wrote in my earlier article, such positions are not forever. There are no permanent fixes in dealings between nations. Significant adjustments and refinements are always required.
Perhaps President Biden’s ascension in the USA will stabilise the current volatile China-USA relationship, and make life easier for Australia.
Whatever Morrison’s strategy, if there is one, there is no point shouting. It may make some people in Australia feel virtuous but it is a pathway to nowhere.
Australia – as every other country in our region and beyond – has to learn to live with China.
That’s the challenge the Australian government faces.
It’s probably the greatest challenge to our foreign policy and diplomatic practice since World War II.
I hope we are up to it.