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Australia’s role in the Asia – Pacific Region

November 26, 2011
English: Paul Keating in 2007 - crop.

English: Paul Keating in 2007 – crop. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“In  my  time  I  have  seen  truth  that  was  anything  under  the  sun  but  just,  and  I  have  seen  justice  using  tools  and  instruments  I  wouldn’t  want  to  touch  with  a  ten-foot  fence  rail”      – William  Faulkner  (Knight’s Gambit 1949)

Justice, balance of power and peace

 

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating said the other day that China must be welcomed into the world as a shared partner and a vital economic power, not a military or political challenge to be contained. He made a speech in November 2004 in Beijing in which he stated that he believed that China would become an economic competitor of the United States, but not a strategic competitor, and its military growth was unlikely to be about force projection.

Keating still thinks “the rise of China is one of the great events of all economic and human history and I think this will be overwhelmingly a positive thing for the region and the world”.

Whilst the White House and the Pentagon have different views, Australia seems now verbally part of the US containment policy as part of a well prepared Presidential visit to Australia.
 
The US perception is that the model from China based on communism and the ruling of a committee is doomed to fail and President Obama is speaking about this in the Australian Parliament. President Obama says: “With our new focus on this region …. We’re here to stay. … History’s on the side of the free. … By upholding core principles, we partner with democracies.”
The speech is basically saying that the United States is back and some would say we can’t help  thinking that the commentary was somehow about the old Soviet Union.
 
It should be clear that China is not the old Soviet Union and trying to contain China with new military alliances could well prove to be an error of judgement. This speech should have been held in Washington and not in the Australian Parliament.
 
Like the US needs space and being ready to defend it, China is entitled on space as well as long as the occupation of this space is not based on domination. China proves already in Africa to increase space and to make sure there is a supply of recourses for China, but all this is based on sound economic principles and a win win situation for countries being involved. As long it continues this way other countries have the benefit of China s as well, which is positive.
 
Containment of China unprovoked could lead to conflict. China need to be able to emerge, not as a dominating power but as a power contributing to both its own welfare and the welfare of other nations. Similar the US needs to play a role in the Asia-Pacific area, but based on the same principles and in concert with other powers, to watch and maintain stability and coöperation in this vital area.
 
The US position should not be based on inflated cold war sentiments being dominant some decades ago, within their stance against Communism in the former Soviet Union.
 
Let’s face it, apart from human rights issues which will be addressed in China for the better in the future, China never exposed real bad behaviour in foreign policy and their issues with the Chinese Sea are not much different from what the US feel as their entitlements close to their borders. Like the US, China is not a “saint like” country but on foreign policy “let’s not sweat the small stuff” as was once reflected in an interesting booklet, and let us “seek to understand first”.
 
The world and the US are justified concerned about the movements from both Iran and North Korea and allowing those countries getting away with nuclear military expansion would be the same mistake as was allowing Germany to rearm itself after the 1st world war. In a broader sense the US itself after the second world war has been involved in various conflicts until recently where the legitimate question could be raised why matters were not dealt with differently as those conflicts did cost millions of lives, – all part of Pentagon driven policy. The freedom in the US goes that far that when a US President is not alignment with Pentagon policy he may be assassinated like happened with President John F Kennedy in November 1963. The result was a dramatic escalation of US military involvement in Vietnam at a cost of millions of lives and like Australia followed US footsteps in both Iraq and Afghanistan, it followed US footsteps in Vietnam without ever realising that those choices in essence were ill contemplated, based on dependence and not interdependence.
 
The Pentagon at the time of former President G.W.Bush has been working on a new China war plan with the most advanced weapons being ready for use in case of conflict. The US announced only this week the creation of “the Air Sea Battle Office”, which is precisely designed how to work out how to counteract China’s growing missile dominance, its dominance in the region with fighter aircraft, new versions of fighter aircraft and warships.

Some realism is right. Whilst not being in favour for any arms race, any country is running a defence policy. The US is doing the same. What we see evolving requires the need to prevent domination of any country, the Pentagon policies included. Hence we need a region accommodating China without building a military structure around it. The US would not like it when other countries would do this at the disadvantage of the US, China does not like this at the disadvantage of China, but Australia again without much realistic contemplation is again following the footsteps of the US-based on dependence and not interdependence. Within context countries like Iran and North Korea impose a far greater danger than China and trying to contain China will only improve the chance on conflict among superpowers on those potential dangerous nations,- which is simply stupidity in the worst possible way. China has enormous leverage on those countries and seeking support and coöperation from China as an ally and not a country requiring to be contained in the dogmatic views of the Pentagon, would make the world a safer place.
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If we look at history we may hope that any US President is fully in charge of the Pentagon and it’s generals and President Obama’s message in the Australian Parliament is considerably coated with Pentagon policy, brilliantly delivered however but to be watched carefully on the implications for the region. Australia did swallow the rhetoric against China without taking the long-term view.The point is that there is already the 7th US fleet in the Pacific with bases in Okinawa and Guam, but the new message is that the US is getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan and that they are coming here. There are many Republicans in the US talking about “knocking China over” and whilst President Obama is far more moderate he represents a country showing extreme dynamics. US Congress is a reflection of at times dysfunctional Republican behaviour and taking the long view I don’t think Australia should be dragged into policies of the Pentagon which were not always that fruitful in the past. On foreign policy matters we can’t complain about China till so far where as US foreign policy could have been dealt with clearly differently on various occasions. There was once a Pacific war and we don’t need a new one! China is Australia’s biggest trading partner and China reflects an emerging power with no evidence of desiring to dominate the world as they know history. They represent a country where despite human rights issues some one and a half billion of people have been dragged out of poverty and by no means should this country be compared with the former USSR. Obviously nothing is fool-proof in history but this applies to the US as well and whilst Australia is an important ally of the US, good intentions in this area are always subject to proof and if Obama’s rhetoric will be followed by strongly driven Pentagon policies in the Asian Pacific region we may need to be perhaps on our guard of the US as well because an increase of US military activity in history was not rarely followed by US inflicted war down the line, – at times.
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Pentagon policies are stronger than US Presidents, even in the US as a democracy. Whilst President Johnson could not coop anymore with his own inflicted escalation of the Vietnam war, he resigned in 1968. The most succesful Presidential candidate opposing the Vietnam war (Robert Kennedy) was assassinated by the military wing of the Pentagon (the CIA)  and this provided a more Pentagon friendly candidate, Richard Nixon, the chance to be elected US President and continue Pentagon driven policy.
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The reflections of Australian foreign minister Kevin Rudd on the recent 7.30 News report were more of a hardline response to China and for a person with such a claimed insight knowledge of China this was not a demonstration of wise and insightful diplomacy as Australia as a middle power did change position after Obama’s visit, as it would seem.
 
As a middle power Australia should be more independent in it’s role in the Pacific as the “core values” of the US did not always seem what it could and should have been, and foreign policy of China till so far did show greater stability than what the US did if we count the wars over the last decades and the millions of deaths in military conflict. Democracy can be the core value but history did prove that democracy was neither perfect nor always carried by people who had high standards of integrity and a broader view.
 
Kevin Rudd said: “We’re not going to have any national security policy dictated by any other external power.” However the exemption seems the US and the Pentagon. Kevin Rudd represents Australian policy when he later says: “That’s a sovereign matter for Australia. We don’t seek to dictate what the Chinese about their national security policy.”
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Australia would be wise not to allow their own national security to be dictated by either the US or China. The difference is that China till so far made no efforts to instruct Australia on issues of national security but the US did.
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For the region applies that Australia as a middle power needs to play in concert with other powers and not co creating an alliance to contain a super power like China, which neither provoked Australia in any way nor provoked any other country in any significant way.

This means that it is in Australia’s interest to have both productive and friendly relations with the US and China, providing leverage and an example in better communication when those 2 super powers may get carried away with different opinions.

Whilst safe with President Obama, the US under some Republican Presidents was not always the country defending the core values of both Democracy and human rights. It would seem that there are too many ideas what the core values of a democracy should be. The majority vote at a particular time in history is not always the right choice and does not always show the right action as being clearly demonstrated in US Congress.

The development of Australia as a great middle power continuing to play the role being required, as happened in the 1980s and ’90s did include foreign policy like APEC and it’s leaders’ meeting, the ASEAN regional forum, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Canberra Commission for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, the Cairns Group etc. This should not be thrown away by a Pentagon dominated foreign policy in Australia.

Neither that we have foresight in how power will evolve in the United States Government in the years lying ahead, nor do we have foresight how power will evolve in China, but as a great middle power Australia has an obligation to maintain a pleasant and peaceful co-existence with surrounding states and a close military alliance with the US to contain China whilst not being provoked as a nation will not pay any dividend to Australia and is compromising the role Australia could play as a middle power, and as such the foreign policy of Australia at present (if not revised) could prove to be a floored one by principle and on principle with little insight in historical dynamics.

The policy of containment of China at this stage in history is wrong and without proper base, guided actually by US rhetoric and Australia should have known better. Former US Vice President Al Gore did describe in his book “The Assault On Reason” the US dynamics when George W Bush ordered forces to invade Iraq, the damage being done to the US as a democracy as Bush played the public with a fear of terrorism campaign whilst the US Senate stand mute then, like it stayed mute on various other occasions including political assassinations.

Australia should not allow “assault on reason” within the Asia-Pacific area and whilst the dynamics in Australian Parliament may show at times doubt on reason both in terms of style and quality, as a country we need to be stronger than this.

The answer to this problem is that what could have been done differently yesterday can be corrected tomorrow and only fools don’t change their mind in the course of history. New beginnings depend on endings and to make them in the right way the right time and for the right reason!

Paul Wolf

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http://paulalexanderwolf.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/we-dream-of-things-that-never-were-and-say-why-not/

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About Paul:

Paul Wolf is connected on LinkedIn. For more information about him see Google: Paul Alexander Wolf – Physician, FRACGP, DFFP

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