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Red Dragon Rising…Again

Things must be getting bad in Australian foreign policy circles when the perennial bug-bear, Australia’s relations with China, gets yet another run in what appears a never-ending public debate. A former Defence strategist (Hugh White) versus a former Prime Minister (Paul Keating), both trying to justify their respective position on Australian/Chinese/American relations. But ultimately Australia’s role in the Asia-Pacific is based on one truth – Australia is the only regional state with a majority European population, and relatively inclusive political and economic institutions. This presents Australia with a major problem. It can’t get close to Asian governments nor can it fully integrate with them. It is no wonder therefore, that while Canberra pays a lot of lip-service to its relations with Asia, these relations are primarily based on an acceptance that it is business and foreign investment flows that characterise Australia’s relationship with Asia, not a fondness for how the countries of Asia are governed. Even larger intakes of Asian migrants can’t fix this dilemma. Most Asian migrants to Australia want to be more Australian and buy into the political, social and economic inclusiveness that we’ve cultivated since federation (1901). Having more Chinese students or migrant communities springing up in inner city Australian suburbs might mean more and better Chinese restaurants, but it does not translate to better relations with China per se. Contemporary China is a totalitarian state and that will not change in the near future. Australia’s interest, as a market-driven democracy, is to ensure that the current Chinese political apparatus in Beijing keeps buoying our economy. Therefore, a willingness to foster the creative destruction necessary for China’s political elite to change to a more inclusive, democratic form of politics is, apart from the occasional motherhood statement, found wanting in our foreign policy documents. Our relationship with China is based upon fostering China’s internal stability, that means, keeping the status quo and managing any obvious awkwardness. Democratisation by its very nature would wreck havoc on the current friendly Sino-Australian business environment. No amount of speculation over China’s role in the world (many assuming that the Chinese politburo will simply keep power for the duration) can hide the fact that a debate about whether Australia should orientate to the ‘reality’ of Chinese hegemony in the Western Pacific, or tie itself closer to its traditional strategic ally, leads to one inescapable conclusion. America, as a European-derived market-driven democracy with political, linguistic, social and cultural similarities, will always be considered Australia’s ‘natural’ partner. Talk of Australia’s integration with Asian governments would only have merit if we reconcile ourselves with the reality that actual integration doesn’t simply require more Asian people, delicacies or goods. It would require Australia’s political elite to be more extractive and repressive. It would require Australia to become a place where a government’s hold on power becomes its central tenet. Only then could we see things from the so-called ‘Asian’ perspective and make peace with the much-lauded ‘Asian way’ of development.

By Dr. John Bruni, Director SAGE International

5 THOUGHTS ON "Red Dragon Rising…Again"

  1. red bottom on August 16, 2012 at 12:15 pm said:

    Nice read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing some research on that. And he actually bought me lunch because I found it for him smile Therefore let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!

  2. Yolanda Stadlmaier on August 16, 2012 at 5:25 pm said:

    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
    ‘Nothing is good for a nation but that which arises from its own core and its own general wants, without apish imitation of another.’

    Your blogs inspire me to look up famous quotes by people who fought the good fight without fear or favour, just like you – thank you.

  3. Steve Larkins on August 20, 2012 at 9:09 am said:

    Good article. Observing Australia’s political landscape I am not sure your penultimate sentence is already being realised. Government’s hold on power is its central tenet! What are they NOT prepared to do to hang on and what is the current Opposition leader NOT preparedto do to get there?
    Back to the bigger picture though, as you rightly point out albeit subtely is the threat posed to world security by a China that starts to lose control internally. Sooner or later the economic miracle is going to falter and with it the capacity of the Chinese government to meet the rapidly increasing expectations of its population. History tells us that a ‘first response’ measure by Governments in such a situation is to externalise a threat to take the heat off the internal ruction.
    There are those in our community who believe that ‘open’ interaction with others will some how result in an osmosis of our ideas and values to the other party until they reflect ours. That is a form of niaive social imperialism.
    Countries that observe Rule of Law , social equity and other ideals of a post industrial Western democracy are in a declining minority.

    • John Bruni on August 30, 2012 at 11:54 am said:

      Thanks for your thoughts Steve. As the old Chinese curse says “my you live in interesting times” – this is certainly something that Australia and the political parties that lead us are experiencing. Let’s hope they, and the public servants who guide them, know what they are doing.

  4. Stephane MOT on September 1, 2012 at 4:49 pm said:

    An even more sustainable editorial line could be to position Australia between China and the US, as an independent power in the Pacific, promoting democracy and fair intra-regional relations, offering third parties a new alternative.

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