(Julie Bishop Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade at the release of the White Paper)
Spent a good part of the past week in Sydney and that part of New South Wales, doing touristy stuff — and being a good Vedic Hindu, eating beef steaks. But couldn’t ignore the political hub-hub in the country created by the release of the Malcolm Turnbull-led Liberal Party government’s Foreign Policy White Paper — the first update in 14 years. It is a hefty read, but a quick glance through it revealed five things to me. That Canberra (1) clearly espies the security threat posed by Xi’s China — a scary, fast moving aggrandizing giant of a nation, especially to the Indo- and eastern Pacific (meaning the Asian rim) parts, including Australia, of the Indo-Pacific (the new nomenclature for Asia- Pacific), (2) fears economic coercion and political interference in the internal affairs of the smaller states by a Beijing determined on having its way, (3) but is reconciled to increasing trade with,and seeking more investment in the extractive/mining and infrastructure sectors from, China because otherwise the country’s economic prospects arebleak, (4) is mindful of the imminent need to shore up Australia’s military capability but, owing to the limitation of its own resources, (5) will have to try and pool its capabilities and resources principally with Japan and India, and the United States and otherwise shore up the quadrilateral to take on the would-be Asian hegemon.
What’s apparent is the tension between how much to economically canoodle with the Chinese and the degree to which to militarily oppose it collectively with other nations, the only way to contain China. It is a dilemma all Asian states face because they all have strong economic/trade/investment ties with China but feel equally insecure with it around. It will centrally animate the Quad, with each of its members working out their individual solutions and Beijing doing its damndest to prevent solidarity by offering separate sweet-heart deals with each of them — its ASEAN strategy now enlarged. What’s also palpable is the concern with how Trump’s America will behave.
To-date Washington has been a pussycat. During the 2016 presidential elections campaign Trump promised that on day one in the White House he’d declare China a “currency manipulator” — a serious charge that would have automatically tripped a whole range of punitive countermeasures. A year later none of this has come to pass. Instead, we have Trump’s grand daughter, Ivanka’s child, serenading the Xi’s in Mar-e-Lago during the latters’ visit with a poem in Mandarin, and regaling them when the US President was in Beijing recently, with a videoed performance of a song again in Mandarin, which Xi promptly hailed as by “a Number One pop star”. Are the Trumps then preparing for a world 50 years hence when Mandarin will displace English as the universal lingua franca? And, what does that say about the US’ reliability as “strategic partner”for India?