There Is No “Independent” Foreign Policy Choice for Australia

Lambert here: If Trump did, in fact, hang up the phone on Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, he expressed the power relationships involved with bracing clarity. This post works through the implications.

By David Llewellyn-Smith, a regular contributor at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, and The Drum. He is also the co-author of The Great Crash of 2008 with Ross Garnaut. He edits MacroBusiness. Originally published at Macrobusiness.

From The Lowy Institute’s Sam Roggeveen:

The alliance has been through worse moments than last weekend’s already infamous phone call between Prime Minister Turnbull and President Trump. Clearly, this was an extremely tense discussion – perhaps no Australian leader has ever had such a hostile encounter with a US president. But although it sounds cold to say it about the 1250 poor souls trapped in the middle of this argument, the stakes were not particularly high.

…So it’s tempting to think that this will pass, and that an alliance as deep as that between the US and Australia can survive such spats. But there are three reasons we should be reluctant to be too reassured by history.

The first is that those reassurances about the stability and strength of the alliance are made in a political environment in which no alternative to Australia’s present alliance arrangements has really been contemplated.

…So Australia’s political class has no conception of what a more self-reliant Australian foreign policy might look like, and no language in which to describe it. No wonder they think (hope) the current arrangement will endure.

The second reason to think that the Trump-Turnbull call represents more than a passing tiff is that the political systems of both countries are presently weaker than they have been since the alliance was signed, and more vulnerable to forces which have little regard for political-class shibboleths such as the alliance and the “rules-based global order”.

…The third reason to suppose that the alliance is more vulnerable than it looks is that it has never before faced the international challenge it faces today.

The Cold War was no cakewalk, but compared to China, the Soviet Union was a small economic power which could not come close to matching the US and its allies militarily in the Pacific.

And when the USSR collapsed, supporting the alliance became even easier, requiring Australia mainly to make tokenistic military commitments to the Middle East. But in China, the US now faces a true economic peer competitor with a military home-ground advantage.

…Now we have to seriously contemplate the idea of taking sides in a war between two nuclear-armed powers, one our ally and the other our biggest trading partner.

So yes, it was just a phone call, and the storm will pass. But in the background, history is moving against the US-Australia alliance.

All fair points. But the problem is deeper and older than Roggeveen conceives and this goes to the heart of his failure to frame the question in the light of reality. Australia has never run a “self-reliant foreign policy” not out of choice. Our first one hundred and fifty years of foreign policy was as a British Colony. Foreign policy was simply an extension of legal, cultural, military and economic dependence. Soft and hard power were in alignment.

The next seventy years we relied upon a different liberal imperial overlord, the United States. Again soft and hard power were in alignment. There was no choice other than to embrace it just as most other Asian nations did. We were advantaged at least by the new order being “liberal”, favouring democracy and multi-lateralism but that was not not some natural order of things. It was the predilections of the imperial centre.

So, what happens if we give away membership of that liberal empire? We’ve already done it in some large part by selling everything not bolted down to an autocratic China, taking for granted that benevolent US overlordship would be there forever.

We can try to generate some new liberal order by ourselves. Australia’s greatest strategic thinker, Coral Bell, wrote a decade ago that Australia should aim for a “Concert of Powers” structure to manage the emerging giants of the region. That would have been a system in which many middle powers entangled the giants in a rules based regime that shared power. That would have offered independence. We could still aim for some loose web of democracies in Europe, India, Japan, Indonesia and Brazil. That’s what Lowy’s chief Michael Fullilove reckons we should do, via the FT:

Australia will also need to prosecute a larger foreign policy. It cannot look at everything through an alliance prism. It needs to strengthen relations with Asian powers such as India, Japan and South Korea and do more with like-minded European partners such as the UK and France, which will supply the next generation of Australian submarines. Australia also needs to defend international institutions, such as the United Nations, towards which Mr Trump is ill-disposed.

And I agree. But let’s face it, we’ve ignored this option for a long time and the world is not going that way. Rather, it is going the other way, with “strongman” regimes spouting sovereignty popping up in China, Russia, the US and SE Asia. In that environment, without hard power to back up our soft power effort, it’ll be very difficult. Perhaps, we could build an enormous military of our own to generate hard power independence. Perhaps a nuclear capability. To be honest, given our size, it’s not very likely!

In the absence of that countervailing force, then, if we elect to turn away from the US and ANZUS then what we are most likely going to achieve is to accelerate the rise of a new imperial order. The economic dependence at the heart of Chinese soft power will engulf the country.  We won’t be “independent” or self-reliant, our foreign policy will be set in Beijing.

And it will go further. Client states tend to take on the political economy trappings of their imperial betters. We can already see this in parts of SE Asia and Africa where Chinese power is reshaping the political economy in its image. That means Australian democracy would be in severe jeopardy (unless Beijing decided to let us keep it but why would it given its plan is clearly to keep it away from home?)

Just imagine for a moment if in ten years an independently-minded political party ran for office with popular support but Beijing disapproved so it parked an aircraft carrier in Sydney harbour for a “friendly” visit as it made it gently plain that the offending policy platform might result in Chinese investment finding NZ more attractive. Is that election going to be free? It wouldn’t even get that far. Chinese soft power would have already derailed such a party via its plentiful local stooges. We can already see this at work among the grasping mavens of the political class.

Let’s not kid ourselves here. We can do our best to find a multilateral solution that preserves an independent outlook but it is basically a figment of the US’s liberal empire. Without ANZUS, a new and different empire will rise in its place and occupy our choices.

So, what to do? Play the Trump game. Japan is well ahead already, via Reuters:

Japan is putting together a package it says could generate 700,000 U.S. jobs and help create a $450-billion market, to present to U.S. President Donald Trump next week, government sources familiar with the plans said.

The five-part package, to be unveiled when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits Trump on Feb. 10 in Washington, envisage investments in infrastructure projects such as high-speed trains and cybersecurity, said the sources, who declined to be identified as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Investing in overseas infrastructure projects dovetails with a key plank in Abe’s growth strategy, which is to export “high-quality” infrastructure technology.

Japan will invest 17 trillion yen ($150 billion) in public and private funds over 10 years, the sources said. That would include helping develop high-speed railways in the northeastern United States, and the states of Texas and California, and renovating subway and train cars.

The package also includes cooperation in global infrastructure investment, joint development of robots and artificial intelligence, and cooperation in cybersecurity and space exploration, among others.

The government may tap its foreign exchange reserves account to fund part of the package, the sources said.

It may also get funding from megabanks and government-affiliated financial institutions, as well as the Government Pension Investment Fund, the Asahi and other newspapers reported.

America First, peeps, cough up.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in Australia, Globalization, Guest Post, Japan, New Zealand on by .

About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you for this post, Lambert.

    I worked briefly on capital adequacy reforms with David in 2009.

    It will be interesting to read what Australian readers and Clive make of the post.

    Kevin Rudd was interviewed on the Fake News Network last week and thought that the relationship would continue as before. He referred to the hundredth anniversary of US forces joining Australian forces on the western front. That made me wonder if Australia, and this is not meant offensively, is mentally ready to evolve away from its Anglo-Saxon cousins.

    The UK is in a similar position, but appears to be doubling down on the “special relationship”. Over the week-end, the media was hysterical about Lillibet Saxe-Coburg not being amused about the invitation to her fellow Scot and German for a state and what Charles will say about climate change. The pair will do what they are told by Treeza.

    1. Clive

      I think that’s spot on about the UK being in the same sort of position as Australia now finds itself in — and that we’re pinning our hopes (unwisely, many might feel) on that old tabloid and desperate-government stand-by, the “special relationship” with the US.

      I’d go further. While Trump has lobbed his various boulders into the previously fairly calm (settled on the surface, anyway) waters of international relations, diplomacy and the previously-established order — and what has all been now thrown up in the air very quickly could end up coalescing back into their old forms just as promptly — I think that *all* smaller countries must now either realign themselves to a new power block. Or, if they want to continue their historic alliances, they’ll find (as Australia has discovered much to its apparent chagrin) that the rules governing the relationship have been changed.

      Japan, for example, could pick China or the US — but has chosen the US, I couldn’t ever see that going any other way, there’s too much baggage with China and while there’s a fair amount of baggage with the US too, the Japanese are much better at playing the US than the US thinks they are (the US is stunningly inept but un-stunningly predictable in their consistent underestimation of Japan’s gamesmanship).

      Most of the rest of ASEAN will pick China (although Singapore will possibly pick the US).

      Britain (well, England and Wales anyway, Scotland and NI are a tad more complicated) will pick the US. We had a choice between aligning better to the EU but even if we pretended for a moment that the Brexit vote had never happened, there’s too much ill-will there for that to have made any sense. The only thing that makes me hesitate a little over saying that ties to the US (firmly on the US’ terms; I doubt they’ll be all tea and cucumber sandwiches) are inevitable is that possibly closer relations with China might seem to offer more than being a US satellite (client) state. But that notion suffers from the “funny brown people in far away places” ignorance that the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office has never failed to demonstrate — much to Britain’s cost.

      So, smaller countries of the world, pick your poisons. As you say Colonel Smithers, that may entail having to consider Anglo-Saxon cultures needing to ditch their cultural heritages — not voluntarily, necessarily — to adapt to new geopolitical realities.

      1. Anonymous2

        I am doubtful the UK gets a choice. I reckon DT tells TM how it’s going to be and she just has to lump it if she doesn’t like it. The US has too many levers over the UK for there to be any other outcome.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        Clive, thats a terrific overview of a really complex subject in just a few words. The rise of China has led to a lot of countries trying to ride two horses at once – keeping on good terms with Uncle Sam, while grabbing as much loot as they can from China. I think Australia is the most obvious example of a country where this is causing possibly insurmountable strains. If Trump is serious about provoking a breach with China then many countries in the Pacific region, including Australia, will be forced to make an unpleasant choice (odd isn’t it that neutrality never seems an option). I wouldn’t be quite so sure as you are though that most will chose China. My feeling is that there is a deep gut level mistrust of China among many Asian countries. One reason I think so many Asian countries have been happy to be under the US umbrella is, quite simply, that the US is a long way away physically and culturally, so it never feels quite as oppressive as being under a very big, very close, very overpopulated neighbour like China. I also think that one of the biggest problems though which China and Japan have in common if they extend beyond their shores, is that culturally both seen to find it very hard to put themselves in other cultures shoes. Both can be guilty of extreme tone-deafness when dealing with their neighbours. This is I think the prime reason that most Asian countries will usually, when the crunch comes, choose the US.

        What you say about Japan is very true. The Yoshida Doctrine still holds, but as that Wikipedia page I link to shows, its a doctrine that is thoroughly misunderstood. Japan has always seen the US as a rival for which it has reluctantly ceeded military dominance in favour of an overt policy of economic aggression. Japanese ‘pacifism’ has always been misunderstood outside Japan, although I suspect some of its neighbours like the Koreans understand only too well what it means.

        I think one reason for the success of US Imperialism has always been, paradoxically, its incompetence. It has historically been very easy for countries, most notably the Gulf State monarchies, to manipulate and use US military cover for its own purposes, so they are the preferred overlord for many autocrats. The US has been busy fighting other peoples wars across Asia and the Middle East for decades now. The previous Saudi regime had it down to a fine art. The Chinese, like the French and British before them, don’t have the resources and riches to waste, so if they want wider geopolitical dominance will have to be smarter than the people they dominate, not just richer or better armed. I suspect they know this full well, even if they have their own misconceptions and problems.

        1. witters

          “I also think that one of the biggest problems though which China and Japan have in common if they extend beyond their shores, is that culturally both seen to find it very hard to put themselves in other cultures shoes. Both can be guilty of extreme tone-deafness when dealing with their neighbours.”

          You mean, unlike the US?

          1. PlutoniumKun

            The US is unique in the modern world in having the wealth and resources to be able to survive one or more complete F*** ups and still thrive. The Iraq war, for example, would have destroyed most empires in history, as would the Vietnam War before it. So the US can, at least in the short and medium term, be as stupid as it wants to be. Other ambitious powers don’t have the same luxury, so they have to be much more careful.

      3. River

        the Japanese are much better at playing the US than the US thinks they are (the US is stunningly inept but un-stunningly predictable in their consistent underestimation of Japan’s gamesmanship).

        Couldn’t agree more, especially underestimating the Japanese. The only non-European nation to get out from under the unfair treaties and move from mandated feudalism to defeating a European power in 40 years, then dominating the Pacific Rim for a short time 40 years later. This is not a power to casually disregard.

      4. VietnamVet

        “rest of ASEAN will pick China”

        Things change in half a century; but having spent time there, I would say that the Vietnamese will never voluntarily be a vassal of China. Nor, the other Chinese tribes that moved south. The Khmer, Malays and Karen have a history of Chinese tribes seizing their land and dominating their towns. Singapore is 74.2% Chinese. The city depends on the kindness of its neighbors for water and food. The USA can bumble around all it wants, spread money and keep the Chinese out. The real problem is after the next financial crisis. There will be no reserve currency. If we are lucky, the USA will peacefully retreat to Hawaii and England; after all, the King and Queen reside in Buckingham Palace. Australia and New Zealand will be on their own.

  2. integer

    Trump’s presidency just puts the power dynamic that was already visible, even if the edges were a bit blurred, into harder light and sharper focus imo. It will also properly expose how Australian politicians have allowed half the country to be sold to China (as mentioned in the article) for reasons involving political expediency and greed. Australian politicians, much like their US counterparts (though admittedly not to the same degree), have been playing a game in which very little regard is given to the long term interests of the population they purport to represent, and I’m all for the greater Australian public gaining some clarity about their representatives’ deceitful and disingenuous ways at this point.

    Did I mention how much I dislike loathe Australian politicians?

  3. oho

    not an australian. But it sounds like the Australian Establishment wants a seat at the Adult Table.

    Why bother? Enjoy the benefits of geographic isolation. Be a warmer, more gregarious version of Switzerland.

    You all don’t owe the Queen or America anything anymore.

  4. RabidGandhi

    The next seventy years we relied upon a different liberal imperial overlord, the United States. Again soft and hard power were in alignment. There was no choice other than to embrace it just as most other Asian nations did. We were advantaged at least by the new order being “liberal”, favouring democracy and multi-lateralism but that was not not some natural order of things. It was the predilections of the imperial centre.

    Good thing they waited for Gough Whitlam to pass before publishing this tripe.

    1. RUKidding

      Ha! Indeed, and to think that Gough isn’t all that long gone, either. I gagged over that one.

      I first arrived in Australia in late ’70s not all that long after the CIA Coup that got Gough kicked out (for, among other things, attempting to oust the CIA station at Pine Gap). I can well remember when Bob Hawk finally was elected as the next Labour PM (after years of Malcolm Frazier) in ’83. One of THE very things that happened was that Hawk was directed to visit Uncle Sam toot suite, which he did within about 48 hours of being elected. I think he stayed about 24 hours in DC before being shipped back downundah.

      We all figured that the Reagan Admin said to Hawk: “Two words, Bob: Gough Whitlam. Now: buh bye.”

      I doubt that Trump has any kind of historical perspective on the USA relationship with our “cousins” downundah, and it’s unclear what Bannon knows, either. Clearly, however, they expect Australia to STFU and toe the line.

      Most of my friends are leary of the China, as much as they find Trump repugnant.

      1. RBHoughton

        Its not just facing China as the author suggests. China’s neighbors know her well whilst their own experiences with the west have been violent, usually unpleasant and expensive. It would require some really amazing improvement in what the West has to offer to outweigh the attractions of what China has to offer – mainly trade and increasing wealth.

        We have seen the Philippines recognize that her inferior national status results in the arrival of abusive diplomats and soldiers none of whom are amenable to Philippine Law. More recently Cambodia, a crucial swing country in South East Asia, declined to participate in anti-China war games that the US had planned.

        Australia will not be an initiator of change. On the one hand Oz politicians feel they have finally hit the big time as one of the five eyes, on the other they see themselves as isolated from all their neighbors as suggested by the arrival of US fighter jet squadrons with sufficient range to only attack Indonesia. Australia’s main friend in Asia has been Singapore and that’s because Singapore is reliant on Oz to provide facilities to fight Malaysia should it be required. So a plank in Oz Asian policy appears to be against Indonesia and Malaysia, two huge Muslim countries

        The assumption underlying the author’s views on China are that democracy is the only way to run a country. He should know that China operates an immense survey system that is constantly checking all the provinces for popular opinions on everything. It just goes on and on. As a result the central government is better informed of national opinion than most western countries which labor under the supposedly fair system of representative democracy.

        The thing is in a representative democracy there are millions of hoi polloi and a handful of governors whilst in China there are millions of hoi polloi and a handful of governors. Plus ca change.

        1. RabidGandhi

          The assumption underlying the author’s views on China are that democracy is the only way to run a country.

          The author’s assumption with that assumption is that the US favours democracy. I hoped my Whitlam reference would disprove both false assumptions, but there are so many other examples of US contempt for democracy from the region (Diem, Marcos, Suharto…) that I hoped merely mentioning Whitlam’s name would suffice.

    1. Clive

      You might think so, but try living in a small country. It changes your perceptions. I’ve lived in the U.K. of course but also Japan. Japan is more populous but has a lot less habitable land and neither of us are easily self sufficient in food production or energy resources. Militarily too, we’d both get our asses whipped in a ground assault with little possibility of defending our respective land masses for long. Both are islands which allows a certain aloofness than if you have land borders (NI and the Republic excepted but that doesn’t really count, not like — say — Poland’s unenviable assortment of neighboring states or near neighbors).

      Suddenly, you get to thinking how you need allies or a much longer and broader reach. That’s why we both had our respective goes at empires. But empires are too high-maintenance to be viable long-term solutions. That’s why we are both almost subliminally tied to you guys. It’s not necessarily because we feel love, but we definitely feel need.

      Impossible, though, to truly understand if you live somewhere that has four time zones.

      1. RUKidding

        somewhat similar with Australia which is a really really big continent-island with a pretty small population. Having lived there and spent a fair bit of time there, it’s hard to see how they can go it on their own. Australia simply doesn’t have the manpower to be on its own. So it’s not a really simple situation, no matter what resources one might have.

      2. RBHoughton

        Japan’s imperial history since 1890s is littered with deceptions and pre-emptive strikes. Its rare to see a clear declaration of intentions but foreigners uncovered the Tanaka Memorandum which underlay Japanese policy in 20th century. That memo to the Emperor proposed seizing China and using its population to provide the agricultural and mineral productions that Japan required on her way to world government. They failed in that attempt but has the memo been repudiated, I wonder?

      3. different clue

        Five time zones, if we remember to count Alaska and Hawaii. Which we really should remember to count.

  5. Bill Smith

    “we’d both get our asses whipped in a ground assault with little possibility of defending our respective land masses”

    In Japan, in a conflict with China there would have had to been huge setbacks before that – for that to even become a possibility.

    1. Clive

      Ya think? The vast majority of Japanese inhabited areas are well within conventional ordinance (shells fired from battleships) range. Hundreds of thousands of fatalities and at least a million casualties within a coupe of days as a minimum without anyone having to leave the comfort of their vessels. Once that softening up had been completed, a landing would seize control of the major assets within a week. A land campaign counterinsurgency by Japan’s army would incur massive civilian collateral damage.

      The U.K. would not fare much better.

      Compare and contrast with the U.S. You could target the eastern seaboard and toast New York, possibly Washington and Florida but try for the Gulf Coast too and you’d have impossibly stretched supply lines. Try California and while Los Angeles would be an easy picking, you’d have a war on two fronts. Even if you took that risk, all of flyover would be safe and secure. You’d need an air campaign — but it would take hours to get to Chicago from any carrier in either the Pacific or the Caribbean even in a fast bomber. And, as even the US has shown in Syriafghaniraqistan, you can’t win by air power alone.

      I know it’s hard to imagine geography that is an order of magnitude different that you’re used to, but it is a mistake to apply a spatial awareness that simply isn’t even remotely a valid comparison. The US has never been invaded. If you live in a country where one’s grandparents vividly recall being bombarded by an enemy who occupied another country a dozen miles away, you’d be much more conscious of the risks and subsequent need for allies others would think not once, not twice but a hundred times before messing with.

      1. River

        The US has never been invaded.

        Not true, we Canadians torched the Whitehouse in 1812! Ya! Score!.

        Sorry, duty of every Canadian to bring that up. Despite the fact that Canada wasn’t formed yet, it is part of the national character to consistently annoy America with that fact.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          True of course – but maybe the more appropriate example is that in WWII the worst the US suffered on its soil was a few tiny Japanese balloon bombs and a stray German torpedo that put a dent in a harbour wall. The US is completely invulnerable to invasion by way of its sheer size and location. Which is why us Europeans find the level of fear of ‘abroad’ to be so bizarre. A very large chunk of the worlds population live in areas with larger more dangerous neighbours (or a reasonable perception of them being dangerous), with nothing but a few mountains or a river or even just a notional line across some fields to protect them. It leads to a very different mentality.

        2. Clive

          Maybe make it into a postage stamp — a photoshopped White House in flames or something like that. We put the battle of Waterloo onto anything imaginable, so some commemoration coffee mugs might also be in order.

      2. Patrick Donnelly

        Tsunami weapons destroy most cities and kills many civilians on the coasts. Even Chicago goes down, depending on the clathrates in Lake Michigan …. Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Pacific. Freighters with explosives or else nukes, sunk to the correct depth over likely clathrate deposits.

        Denver survives as does Utah.

        Thanks, USA, for making sure everyone knows about it!

  6. glmmph

    As an Australian I am not optimistic that we are capable of having a coherent and/or effective foreign policy. It is often joked that we should watch international trends, cause we’re going to be doing the same in ten years’ time. In local politics this is almost certainly the case. Australia has not had a recession (technically, at least) for the last 25 years. Post 2008, when the rest of the world wobbled, we were busily gearing up as the raw material supplier to China’s own stimulatory response. This has given the political class a false sense of bravura, or at least of their own competence. Meanwhile, the forces of neo-liberalism that drove both Brexit and Trump are very much alive and active in Australian society, with the move to greater inequality, the deterioration and deliberate running down of public goods, and the destruction of the social compact that gave rise to stable employment and a hopeful future. That is, the false god of market efficiency is slowly destroying the very structures of society that make market efficiency possible.

    Australia’s foreign policy is set from within its domestic political framework. Both the major parties (in a two party preferred system) are now bleeding votes due to their inability to grapple with the real issues facing Australia’s voters, and have seen their share of the national vote drop below 40%. The process is a bit technical, but this does have a destabilising effect on the government as it will be forced over time into ever increasing accommodation of minor parties and independents. The upshot of this, at least domestically, is that our political class is not going to be soaring above the clouds devising international stratagems while having to continually check their own arses.

    The big question is, could this change? The ten year rule-of-thumb is interesting, because in theory it gives us time to avoid the train-wrecks we see happening elsewhere. The simple answer to this question, unfortunately, is no. This is really a factor of a slow moving Overton window, and a refusal by our political class, including the partisan media (which is most of the media) to lift their head above the political parapet and work out what is really going on. This is a reward for effort thing, the current system over-rewards for inaction (the whole small-target thing) until the system blows up in their faces, and, of course, no-one ever sees that coming.

    1. integer

      This has given the political class a false sense of bravura, or at least of their own competence.

      Which is crazy since it was Rudd and Swan, who were both endlessly mocked and generally despised by the political establishment, that saw the GFC coming and took the necessary actions to allow Australia to dodge that bullet. I mentioned above that I loathe Australian politicians, however those two (Rudd and Swan) did a good job imo.

  7. SeanL

    What matters is the underlying sentiment of the Australian population which over time shapes the actions of politicians and consequently policy. Even before Trump, the Iraq wars, the GFC, gun deaths and neoliberalism has made the accusation of being too ‘American’ an increasingly more potent political attack.

    When it comes to China Australia lead the way with Whitlam (1971), well before the USA. China is viewed very favourably in Australia. On par or more favourably than the USA. Which makes it much easier for Chinese soft-power to be effective.

    It’s ironic that Trump trashed the pro-US (conservative) Liberal Party, increasing the likelihood of the pro-China (socialist) Labor Party to form the next government.

    The unusual & deep connection between Australia and China I think is summed by the story of Jack Ma and a family from Newcastle (north of Sydney).

    And yes, I’m from Oz.

  8. Oregoncharles

    “Just imagine for a moment if in ten years an independently-minded political party ran for office with popular support but Beijing disapproved so it parked an aircraft carrier in Sydney harbour for a “friendly” visit as it made it gently plain that the offending policy platform…”

    This already happened, only the US was the imperial power. A couple of decades ago, Australia elected a left-wing Labor premier with independent ideas. The CIA went to work, and he was overthrown, specifically by the Crown representative, within a year or two. Obviously I no longer remember the details, but I’m sure others here will. Apparently Labor learned its lesson; they’ve been very tame and neo-liberal since. They’ve also lost a lot of elections.

  9. Oregoncharles

    ” That would include helping develop high-speed railways in the northeastern United States, and the states of Texas and California, and renovating subway and train cars.”

    Just a few years back, Oregon was planning to develop its own, dedicated high-speed rail line at least up and down the Willamette Valley (beyond that, the people get thin on the ground, though Ashland and Medford would doubtless appreciate a better connection to the Valley.) If Washington could connect that to Seattle and maybe Vancouver, we’d be well on the way to a West Coast system. Jefferson, the mountains that straddle the border, is a barrier to connecting the whole thing, though.

  10. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

    I live in wonderful Sydney (10 years) but was raised a Yank so will chime in with a few opinions.

    Australia is a mine with nice beaches. The economy is one giant property bubble, advanced by the central bank of course but the entire media is controlled by a few companies whose main interest is the property listings on their websites. Rupert Murdoch calls the shots (an Australian but who notably lives very far away). The banks are just property bubble enablers, personal debt is already among the highest in the world but they fall over themselves for more. The Parliament is the enabler with ridiculous “negative gearing” rules that give tax breaks for borrowing more than a property is worth, many times over.

    But what’s my point? My point is that the hard, visible diplomacy (alliances, conferences, militaries) may be less important than the soft influence the Chinese have across the globe through their foreign property and business acquisitions. “Overseas Chinese” whether they are in Singapore or Vancouver or Paris or Sydney, are a nation-state of their own.

    Australia’s main geo-strategic interest is to line up with the nation that keeps the sea lanes open, of course that has been the Yanks but China is getting more relevant in the region. The second geo-strat of course is to wonder when the 260 million impoverished Muslims living a boat ride away to the north (Indonesia) might decide to come for a visit. But the birthrate among Muslims already here in Oz is high enough to where they will be the majority in the country by 2050 anyway.

    Very few people know that MI5 and the CIA partnered for a coup in Australia in 1975 when the prime minister, who had already pulled support for the Vietnam War, threatened to close the CIA’s listening post at Pine Gap. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that again.

    1. Patrick Donnelly

      Harold Holt, too?

      Julia Gillard was put in over Kevin Rudd as he spoke Mandarin …. her faction has several who seem to haunt the US embassy!

    2. RUKidding

      Mentioned the CIA coup up above. Arrived in Sydney in 77 or 78. It was very tough being a Yank downundah in those days, I can tell you. I copped heaps of sh*t for the CIA Coup. It isn’t well known, but there was a movie about it called The Falcon & the Snowman.

      Your description of some of the issues is very apt. I still spend a fair bit of time there. I suspect over time, esp if us Yanks keep up this insane nonsense, that Aus may hew more to China. There’s certainly a ton of business and Ag ties already.

      1. RBHoughton

        I looked for that movie but only found a story of two American boys who sold secrets to Russia. There’s a book of the same name.

        1. RabidGandhi

          Based on the exploits of Christopher Boyce who found out about the Whitlam coup, and in vengeance sold CIA communications to the Soviet embassy in Mexico.

  11. Waking Up

    Japan is putting together a package it says could generate 700,000 U.S. jobs and help create a $450-billion market, to present to U.S. President Donald Trump next week, government sources familiar with the plans said.

    Just curious…are Japanese citizens happy about this “investment”?

    What would the #1 reason be for developed countries around the world to maintain an alliance with the United States?

    1. Paul Greenwood

      Japan is an island off China and Russia – it spent the first half of the 20th Century waging war against them both and invading both. They have not forgotten.

  12. Kfish

    Another Aussie here. Most Australians are politically apathetic and accustomed to the idea of being a colony to a larger power. UK was first, then America; there’s a bit of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately in that relationship. Most people, if they think about it at all, think we might be able to get a better deal out of China since they buy so much of our stuff. Very few people have thought about the impact of different imperial cultures on the Australian political freedoms (including me, up to now). France, we ain’t. For the sake of the ANZUS alliance, we put up with a nuclear-powered vessel in Sydney harbour which NZ refused to host.

    Most people here who think about it at all think that China’s rise is inevitable. The Chinese who come here for the education and the property investment are mostly welcome. Every so often the nationalist element makes a fuss about the enemy of the hour (today, Muslims; yesterday, Vietnamese, Greeks, Italians, Chinese, German and Irish) but it rarely rises above the level of background racism that Australia is fairly well-known for.

    Re: the Indonesians; there was a brief period of hysteria in the mid-90s when John Marsden wrote his series, “Tomorrow When the War Began” about teenage kids fighting an invasion of ‘outsiders’. Paul Keating tried to expand the Australian sense of Asia during his term (I learned Indonesian in high school as a result). These days, it’s that place that buys our live cattle exports and gets pissed off when we tow refugees back into their waters, and occasionally hangs our citizens for drug dealing.

    My personal perspective on Indonesia invading us? There’s a lot of people up there, but most of them want to stay where they are (mostly Java). The Indonesian government has been encouraging migration to Aceh with mixed results. Australia is geographically huge, as in larger than most of Europe, and mostly very dry with poor soil. People used to farming the tropics on volcanic soil are going to have a rough time further south than say, Townsville.

  13. Paul Greenwood

    Never realised Turnbull was so sensitive. When he represented Peter Wright on Spycatcher he was obnoxious and abrasive. Now he’s one of those ultra-sensitive Australians like Shane Warne ?

  14. Patrick Donnelly

    Australian scientists developed Variola directly from the DNA. The treaty against biowarfare can always be denounced……

Comments are closed.