CHINA II: by Michael Danby, Carl Ungerer and Peter KhalilNews Weekly
Falling into the trap of an Asian Munich
, October 16, 2010
Bowing to Beijing would be the modern equivalent of the Munich agreement, say Michael Danby, Carl Ungerer and Peter Khalil.The history of the past century has been the history of the rise and fall of successive authoritarian and totalitarian empires.
Germany under the Kaiser, then under Hitler; Japan under its militarist generals; and the Soviet Union under Stalin, then under Brezhnev: all threw up military and ideological challenges to the liberal democratic states. All were ultimately defeated.
Along the way, however, all these regimes found no shortage of apologists in the Western democracies. Legions of academics and writers spent the 20th century wringing their hands and telling us that the weak, decadent, declining democracies could not possibly hope to resist the virile power of the dynamic, efficient totalitarian states and should not even try.
Their warning was always that we should accommodate the rise of totalitarianism, that we should betray our friends and allies to the dictators, and that we should cut whatever deal we could with the dictators to save our own skins. Winston Churchill famously defined an appeaser as one who kept feeding a crocodile in the hope that it would eat him last.
The ultimate symbol of this betrayal of Western interests and ideals is the 1938 Munich conference, where Britain and France sold out their allies the Czechs to Germany in the hope of avoiding conflict, but whose certainty they only accelerated.
But call it a Canberra Munich moment, for that is what the Australian National University's Hugh White has produced with his Quarterly Essay
, "Power Shift: Australia's Future between Washington and Beijing": a masterly statement of the case for appeasing the newest manifestation of the totalitarian challenge, the People's Republic of China.
Professor White's "explanations" of China's recent aggressive manoeuvres, both military and verbal, against the long-established presence of the US navy, and for that matter the Japanese, South Korean and even Vietnamese presence, will buttress the increasingly confident military-political commissars of the Communist Party in Beijing. White even insists that democratic Australia should in effect abandon its own values by adopting his policy of disengaging from the US and accommodating China.
This is what White means when he says in his Quarterly Essay
: "No more lecturing China about dissidents, Tibet or religious freedom."
No serious analyst equates China's communist regime with Hitler or Stalin. China is and deserves to be a great power, and we welcome the enormous economic and social progress China has made since 1976.
Australia, like the Asian region as whole, must find a way to live in peace and mutually beneficial co-operation with a newly powerful and prosperous China.
But these considerations do not alter the fact China is run by a regime whose sole priority is the preservation of the power and privilege of the Chinese Communist Party ruling caste. The CCP is ruthless in the methods it uses, both internally and externally, to preserve itself.
China is not an expansionist power in the traditional sense, but it is a totalitarian power that seeks to extend hegemony over its neighbourhood as a means of protecting itself. For strategic and economic reasons, it supports and protects another club of dreadful authoritarians, such as North Korea, Burma, Sudan and Zimbabwe.
The principal counterweight to Chinese hegemony in our region is the US and its system of alliances with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Australia. It is in Australia's most vital strategic interest that the US presence in our region is not weakened or undermined.
This is not because we seek to thwart China's legitimate aspirations and interests. It's because we are a liberal democracy whose interests are best served by a stable, prosperous region in which all countries evolve towards more democratic forms of government, as is indeed happening, most notably in Indonesia.
That is an ambition the US shares and China does not.
It may be unworthy of consideration by the Canberra mandarins, such as White, but the US, for all its faults, is after all a democracy like us.
Ultimately, most Australians have no difficulty in clearly seeing the fundamental difference between a vibrant, pluralist democracy such as the US and an authoritarian, one-party state with its 20,000 internet police, one that summarily jails Catholic bishops and HIV activists.
Like Sovietologists of the past, with their analysis of an inevitable triumph of the Soviet Union, White can imagine nothing better for the Chinese people.
Rather then merely bowing to a resurgent one-party state, shouldn't we look to a process of China transforming into a non-belligerent, liberal democracy?
Recently, General Liu Yazhou, a two-star Chinese General, warned the Chinese Communist Party that China must embrace a liberal democracy or accept a Soviet-style collapse. General Liu is the political commissar of the National Defence University and claimed that "if a system fails to let its citizens breathe freely and release their creativity to the maximum extent, and fails to place those who best represent the system and its people into leadership positions, it is certain to perish". (See General Lui's full comments in "China must reform or die", Sydney Morning Herald
, August 12, 2010).
It is encouraging and courageous that some in China still believe in this path.
Hugh White says the US should abandon its primacy in the region. Presumably he wants it to eventually abrogate its treaties with Japan and Australia, withdraw its troops from South Korea and its navy from Asia, and stop Taiwan acquiring the means to defend itself.
Any one of these would be a disaster for our region. Together, they would amount to an Asian Munich and the "Finlandisation" of Asia as each country sought to protect itself by doing a deal with Beijing at the expense of its neighbours. They would be a betrayal of all the region's people, including the Chinese people.
Ultimately such a betrayal would fail anyway, as appeasement never actually appeases dictators; it only makes them more confident and aggressive.
The maintenance of the US alliance system in Asia is vital for the continuance of Australia's security as expressed by prime ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating: "Security in Asia, not from Asia."
Australia certainly needs to find a way to live alongside a powerful and prosperous China. We do that best by building our mutually advantageous economic relationship, by staying loyal to our friends in the region, by assisting the US to maintain its role in the region, and by standing by our belief in democracy and human rights for all countries, including China. We don't serve anyone's interests by trying to appease the present regime in Beijing.Michael Danby is federal Labor MP for Melbourne Ports and has served as chairman of the parliamentary foreign affairs subcommittee. Dr Carl Ungerer is director of the national security program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). Peter Khalil, formerly of the Brookings Institution, is an adjunct associate professor at the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney. A shorter version of the above article appeared in The Wall Street Journal (Asia) and The Australian.