FOREIGN AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Prime Minister Gillard kowtows to China
, May 14, 2011
During her recent overseas trip, Prime Minister Julia Gillard visited Japan, South Korea and China, before jetting off to London to represent Australia at the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.
The incongruity of Julia Gillard, a professed republican, attending a royal wedding was matched only by the fact that she was accompanied by her partner, Tim Mathieson, and that the royal wedding guests included, prominently, Elton John and his homosexual partner, David Furnish.
In light of the fact that the US President was not invited to the wedding, and Australia was already represented by our head of state, the Governor-General Quentin Bryce, Ms Gillard’s presence was little more than an expensive photo op.
Of more significance was her visit to China, now Australia’s largest trading partner, particularly as she did not take her Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, a person who speaks Chinese, served in diplomatic missions in China, and can at least claim some expertise in dealing with China.
Australia’s relations with China are inevitably ambivalent. It is in Australia’s long-term interests to protect its trading relationship with the rapidly growing China market. We wish to be seen as a reliable and competitive supplier of raw materials which are necessary for the massive Chinese economy.
While Australia currently has a privileged position in relation to China, because of the development of our massive iron ore, coal, natural gas and bauxite deposits over the past 40 years, the international mining companies are rapidly moving to open huge new mines in Africa and South America which will challenge Australia as a preferred supplier to Chinese industry, and may end the mining boom on which our prosperity depends.
At the same time, Australia is firmly part of the Western alliance, led by the United States, which provides a security net for countries like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, and, more broadly, around the world.
On the other hand, China is ruled by a one-party dictatorship which brooks no internal opposition and ruthlessly suppresses any sign of dissent. Additionally, the Chinese Communist Party is the main international benefactor of some of the most odious regimes in the world, including those of North Korea, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Burma.
China has repeatedly used its UN Security Council veto to defend these states which conduct some of the most brutal violations of human rights anywhere in the world. Additionally, as China’s economy develops, it is rapidly expanding its military machine. It currently has over 1,000 short-range missiles targeted on Taiwan, an independent state of about 22 million people which has never been part of the People’s Republic of China.
It is developing a blue-water navy, allowing China to project power throughout the South China Sea, which washes the coasts of the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia, and, beyond that, into the Indian Ocean.
Among recent developments is China’s announcement that it hopes to launch its first aircraft carrier later this year, and a new Chinese-designed fighter jet, J-15, is reportedly nearing completion. The J-15 is expected to be capable of operating from the new carrier, named the Shi Lang, after a 17th-century admiral who conquered Taiwan.
During her recent visit to Beijing, it seemed that Julia Gillard was blissfully unaware of this. Having raised the issue of China’s suppression of human rights with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, she then indicated that she wanted to increase Australia’s military co-operation with China.
There was a very interesting exchange in an interview between the Prime Minister and the ABC’s Jim Middleton, on April 28. Middleton asked, “You discussed defence and security with [President] Hu Jintao. Did you express any concern about the relative lack of transparency surrounding China’s rapidly increasing defence budget and the risk that that poses for misunderstanding, for suspicion, accidents and for conflict, too?”
Gillard replied, “The discussion we had on defence cooperation was one of noting that defence cooperation between our two countries has been increasing.… There have been some — limited admittedly — but some examples of joint exercises, including a live fire exercise, and we have seen Chinese ships in Australian ports — and that may well occur in the future.
“We … said we were open to further cooperation,” she said.
If these words mean anything at all, they will send a chill down the spines of Australia’s long-term allies in north Asia, who view the growth of China’s military power with deep concern, if not alarm.
At a time when US military power is stretched to the limit as a result of its ongoing military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the American economy is increasingly dependent on capital inflows from China, the tide of events is already turning in favour of the Beijing regime.
The last thing we need is for Australia to slip imperceptibly into Beijing’s orbit.