At last an intelligent approach to China
22 November 2022
ADELAIDE - I have a huge amount of respect for John Menadue and thus accept that his recent comments, ‘Xi & Albanese: Can we seize the opportunity', on his Pearls & Reflections website, reflect his long and deep experience in dealing with China.
I also entirely agree with his remarks on the former Liberal-National Party government, which was spectacularly inept in its dealings with China, although its criticisms of China were not always entirely without merit.
And I strongly approve of the Albanese government's sensible approach to China which has been respectful and forthright, certainly not the shrill, overblown hyperbole that characterised the previous government's approach.
That said, it remains the case that China is governed by an authoritarian regime whose values are greatly at odds with those accepted as normal in democratic societies.
While this will be a source of unease and friction into the foreseeable future, it is not necessarily a barrier to having a sensible and pragmatic relationship between our two countries.
I have previously written that Australia needs to have a close defence relationship with the USA, and I maintain this is still the case.
However, it needs to be a relationship based upon mutual respect and support, not slavish adherence to the USA's foreign policy aims which are not necessarily Australia's aims nor in its national interest.
In that regard, I remain puzzled by the decision to base US bombers in northern Australia and by the apparent enthusiasm for purchasing hideously expensive nuclear submarines.
The strategic or tactical value of the latter escapes me at the moment, but I am open to hearing a plausible explanation for why it is worth spending around $90 billion (K210 billion) on these weapon systems.
Based upon what has happened in Ukraine, I think that the money might be better spent on creating a capacity to manufacture powerful of missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles.
China's leader Xi Jinping has reached out to Australia for several reasons, not least our significant trading relationship.
However an unstated reason is that over the last few years China has overplayed its hand in foreign relations and alienated many countries with which it once had good relations.
As I have repeatedly asserted, China is a very powerful country, but it is not yet a superpower.
In fact, it seems unlikely to ever achieve that status owing to the number of financial, economic and demographic problems it confronts.
The only power on earth that can hope to successfully project its military power far beyond its shores is the USA and even it is now less capable of doing so than once was the case.
China cannot do this which helps explain why Xi felt able to assure president Biden that no invasion of Taiwan is imminent.
From an Australian perspective it makes sense to be friendly terms with all countries in our region, including China. We need them and they need us.
This does not mean accepting behaviour or actions that are inconsistent with our values or national interest and this is exactly the basis upon which the Albanese government is operating.
With commendable prudence, it is taking an active role in regional defence structures like the 'Quad' whilst simultaneously maintaining an essentially friendly posture with respect to China.
In this context, I note that Albanese has recently said that the government will not support Taiwan joining ASEAN or APEC on the basis that Taiwan is not recognised as a sovereign state.
This position is consistent with that adopted by the Whitlam government long ago and no doubt brought comfort to Xi Jinping.
With a bit of luck, we will abandon the folly of buying nuclear submarines and focus our attention and resources on other weapon systems that promise to deliver much better value for money as well as be vastly less provocative to some of our neighbours.
Yeah, I agree Chris.
But thank heavens we've got Penny Wong on the case.
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 24 November 2022 at 02:36 PM
Phil, I am sure that the line you have quoted from this article is correct but find most of the rest of it quite unconvincing.
It is common for those coming from either the left or right of the political spectrum to suspect that deep in the bowels of government there are people conspiring to subvert the 'correct' world view in some way.
This idea is the origin of the concept of the 'deep state' so beloved of right-wing conspiracy theorists in the USA.
Frankly, I will only believe that our local 'deep state' has been infiltrated by sinister agents of the USA when someone can produce credible evidence to that effect. I want names, positions, career record, etc, not mere assertions that such people are lurking in DFAT.
That enthusiasts for nuclear submarines and virulently anti-Chinese advocates actually exist is not in any doubt but the extent to which they dominate policy debates is much harder to prove.
For what it is worth, my take on Albanese's approach to China is that, whilst in opposition, he could not afford to be seen to take what the former government could present as a pro-Chinese policy position.
Basically, to avoid being 'wedged' on China it was necessary to stay on message with the hysterically anti-Chinese position being advocated by Morrison, Dutton et al.
In this way foreign policy could not be used by Morrison as a weapon against the ALP.
Meanwhile, in the background, I would guess that Penny Wong and others were very quietly explaining this to the Chinese, although they probably understood the situation.
This helps explain how rapidly the incoming government could recalibrate our relationship with China to the extent that Xi Jinping would agree to meet with Albanese at APEC.
Both sides knew where they stood because of unofficial and 'off the record' exchanges that predated the last election and in which the policy positions reflected a new 'real politic' about our relationship.
This seems to me to be a very plausible explanation of what has happened but, of course, I have no proof of this.
There are however numerous historical examples of this behaviour having occurred in the past, such as US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's famous covert dealings with Chou En Lai and Mao Zedong in the 1970s.
As to those damned submarines, the navy will harbour many people who would dearly love to get to play with the latest and greatest weapon system.
They are enough to explain the AUKUS deal, no doubt aided and abetted by important figures within the US Navy and Royal Navy.
Morrison, Dutton and company would have been all to easily persuaded to buy into AUKUS without ever really understanding the implications.
Whether we will ever see these boats is, I think, still an open question. There are still formidable technical, logistical and political problems to overcome.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 24 November 2022 at 09:17 AM
You might find this interesting Chris:
I particularly agree with the last line:
"Wong has a formidable mind, she is [a] strong character, more people in the Labor Party should be heading (sic - heeding) her advice and accepting her judgement."
Posted by: Philip Fitzpatrick | 23 November 2022 at 01:42 PM