View from The Hill: China challenge is the issue of the moment in Australian foreign policy


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Two contributions made in separate forums in Parliament House on Tuesday captured the sharp cross-currents in the China-Australia relationship.

At the Australia China Business Council’s “Networking Day”, Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye reiterated that China “never interferes in the internal affairs of other countries”, let alone engaged in “the so-called infiltration of other countries”.

The ambassador delivered little-disguised criticism of Australia. To dispel “the clouds” over bilateral relations, “the two countries need to have more interactions and inclusiveness, with less bias and bigotry… less cold war mentality”.

Over in the Coalition party room Liberal senator David Fawcett, chairman of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, also had a forthright message, urging the cabinet to put security concerns at the forefront in considering the Chinese company Huawei’s push for a slice of the action in the 5G network build.

The government’s attitude to China’s protestations that it doesn’t interfere is one of, “it would say that”. Its view of claims by non-state companies such as Huawei that they have no connections with the Chinese regime is much the same.

For both sides of politics, the China policy challenge is to strike the right balance in a bilateral relationship now infused with Australian suspicion and openly-expressed Chinese irritation.

If Labor wins the election Penny Wong, now shadow foreign minister, will be shouldering much of that responsibility.

In her speech at the business forum, Wong criticised the Turnbull government’s management of the relationship and said “a more considered, disciplined and consistent approach is required”.

So how would a Labor government handle things? Wong outlined six “operating principles” that it would use:

  • A clear understanding and articulation of Australia’s national interests, which included the country’s security and prosperity, regional stability and constructive internationalism.

  • Acceptance that we live in a disrupted world.

  • Acceptance of China “as it is, not as others might perceive China to be or as China itself might represent itself”.

  • Acknowledgement of how important and beneficial China’s emergence as a major economic power has been to Australia and the world.

  • Pursuit of an integrated approach to the many strands of the relationship.

  • A commitment to working constructively with China and others in a regional framework.

Australia and China were very different culturally, politically and socially, Wong said.

“The important objective is to prevent differences from becoming disagreements, as far as possible. And when disagreements do occur, they must be managed with intelligence and tact,” she said.

“To the extent possible, Labor will work towards ensuring that our political relationship works on the same basis as our economic relationship – respect and trust based on dialogue and understanding. Respect and trust don’t just happen. They have to be built and maintained, and that’s what we intend to do”.

Of course it is easier to say how things should be managed than to manage the often tricky realities.

In his address to the forum, Malcolm Turnbull did not dig down deeply to those realities. He kept his references to differences to the easier, less sensitive ones. “Sometimes you’ll get issues at a fairly granular level,” he said, and referred to the problem with imports of Australian wine. “We went to work to ensure that that could be resolved and indeed so it was”.

Turnbull also suggested the reality wasn’t always as it was portrayed. “Sometimes in the media there is always going to be an emphasis on differences, on conflict, on problems”.

It was a superficial speech – which can be defended on the grounds that it can create more trouble than it is worth to be too blunt in public about the actual problems. Also, Turnbull regarded it as a business occasion rather than one for a more formal foreign policy presentation.

The crack at the media was, however, a cheap and not very honest shot. The media is often simply saying publicly and directly what the government is saying privately or more obliquely. It’s notable that Andrew Hastie, Liberal chair of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee, recently put on record (under privilege) allegations against business figure Chau Chuk Wing, partly on the grounds of giving some backing to media outlets that are being sued over stories about him.

On other fronts this week, Huawei has been lobbying MPs to try to convince them it is as transparent as it claims, while Hastie’s committee is preparing its report on the legislation – which the government wants passed next week – for a register of agents of foreign governments and other foreign political interests.

The Australia-China relationship involves walls and whispers, as well as all the rhetoric about trust and respect.

Meanwhile the Lowy Institute’s annual poll, Understanding Australian Attitudes to the World, released Wednesday, suggests ordinary Australians are less galvanised by the China debate than the decision-makers.

“Australians remain remarkably sanguine about foreign interference in Australia’s political processes following the furore over Chinese-linked donations to Australian political parties, politicians, and institutions. Foreign interference remains a low-order threat in the minds of Australians, who are almost equally concerned about US influence as Chinese influence,” Lowy’s executive director Michael Fullilove writes in his introduction to the poll, done in March with a sample of 1200.

“Foreign interference in Australian politics” was seen as a “critical threat” by 41% – behind terrorism (66%), North Korea’s nuclear program (66%), climate change (58%), cyber attacks from other countries (57%), the prospect of a severe downturn in the global economy (50%), and the Trump presidency (42%).

Although the debate has been all about China, the poll found what concerns there were appear to be focused on foreign influence generally, rather than specifically Chinese influence. Asked about influence from both China and the US in Australia’s political processes, 63% expressed concern about China and 58% concern about the US.

In other findings relating to China

  • 72% said the Australian government was “allowing too much investment from China”. In 2014, the figure was 56%.

  • 46% believed it was likely “China will become a military threat to Australia in the next 20 years”.

  • But 82% said China was more of an economic partner to Australia than a military threat to it.

  • 81% believed it was “possible for Australia to have a good relationship with China and a good relationship with the United States at the same time”.

The ConversationIn their attitudes to China, the Australian public may be alert but they’re not alarmed.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Response to rumours of a Chinese military base in Vanuatu speak volumes about Australian foreign policy



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Reports that China plans to build a military base in Vanuatu seem to have little substance at this stage.
EPA/Jerome Favre

Michael O’Keefe, La Trobe University

Rumour has it that Vanuatu has agreed to a Chinese request to establish a military base. The substance of this rumour is highly speculative at the least and disingenuous at most. Regardless of the truth, the fact that it raises alarm about the threat of Chinese military expansionism speaks volumes about Australian foreign policy, particularly toward the Pacific.

On Monday, Fairfax Media reported that “China had approached Vanuatu” about setting up a “permanent military presence” – in other words, a base.

The article went on to speculate about the dramatic strategic importance of the “globally significant move that could see the rising superpower sail warships on Australia’s doorstep”. Furthermore, this Chinese base “would … upend the long standing strategic balance in the region” and would likely be followed by bases elsewhere.




Read more:
When it comes to China’s influence on Australia, beware of sweeping statements and conflated ideas


Multiple international media outlets have syndicated the story. Much of the coverage alluded to military threats and a shift in the strategic balance. The language is reminiscent of Cold War bipolarity: “their” gain is “our” loss.

On face value, this sounds like a serious geostrategic issue for Australia. But on close examination, the threat is more apparent than real. An indication of which is that nowhere are Chinese or Vanuatuan interests in provoking this form of strategic competition explained.

From the beginning, every assertion was countered by one of the primary players. Multiple representatives of the Vanuatu government have been at pains to deny the story. For instance, Vanuatu Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu was quoted as saying:

No-one in the Vanuatu Government has ever talked about a Chinese military base in Vanuatu of any sort.

As the story spiralled out of control, he then told SBS News it was “fake news” concocted by a Fairfax Media journalist.

Multiple Chinese government sources have denied the story and also described it as “fake news”. China also has assured the Australian government that the story has no validity.

In the original article, it was noted that talks between China and Vanuatu were only “preliminary discussions” and that “no formal proposals had been put to Vanuatu’s government.” So given these caveats, and the comprehensive denials, this raises some serious questions about why this rumour was newsworthy in the first place.

So where did it come from? Presumably Fairfax Media would only have acted if the information was from a highly placed Australian government source that could be verified. Presumably this unnamed source has leaked sensitive intelligence, but it is curious that no Australian Federal Police investigation has been announced.

This has been the past practice from the Turnbull government in relation to national security leaks, and there is no sign the government is at all concerned about this leak.

In contrast, it has used this rumour for megaphone diplomacy against both Vanuatu and China. For example, after accepting the Chinese government’s denial, the prime minister said:

We would view with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific island countries and neighbours of ours.

And it was the latter rather than the former statement that was covered by many media outlets.

This is very telling. Canberra is clearly sending signals to Beijing and Port Vila that it maintains significant strategic interests in the region (and is a message not lost on other Pacific capitals).

This concern is not new as Australia practised strategic denial in the South Pacific against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. More recently, speculation about Fiji’s relations with China and Russia was raised. But megaphone diplomacy with Fiji has proven unsuccessful in the past.

This approach simply rehashes colonial tropes about Pacific Island Nations being economically unsustainable, corrupt, and easily influenced by great powers. This is reinforced by China’s alleged influence borne from budget support, and capital and aid flows into the Pacific.

What these colonial stereotypes fail to acknowledge is that the foreign policies of Pacific Island countries have matured. Vanuatu is a committed member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), eschewing formal military alliances and entanglements with great powers. The lesson of Fiji’s strong stance against Australian sanctions is that it too has created an independent foreign policy. Neither country will be easily influenced by foreign powers, including Australia.




Read more:
Why do we keep turning a blind eye to Chinese political interference?


Returning to the “truth”. It is true that China’s influence in the region has grown dramatically in recent years, especially during the sanctions years from 2006 to 2014, when Canberra attempted to isolate Fiji.

It is also true that military diplomacy is a key element of China’s foreign policy approach (to the Pacific as in Africa). A final truth is that Vanuatu has a high level of debt dependence on China and is a major beneficiary of Chinese aid. However, this does not mean that Vanuatu is being influenced into accepting a Chinese military base.

At some stage, Vanuatu might very well sign an agreement that allows transit and refuelling of Chinese vessels, as is commonplace in international relations. As Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop told Radio National: “these sorts of visits are normal for many neighbours around the world.”

The ConversationIf so, then all we have learned from this episode is that old colonial habits die hard, and the chances of dispassionately dealing with the geo-strategic rise of China are narrowing.

Michael O’Keefe, Senior Lecturer of International Relations, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Foreign Policy White Paper finally acknowledges world power is shifting



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China’s rise in power has changed Australia’s foreign policy outlook.
Reuters/pool

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper released today cannot be accused of understatement.

Navigating the decade ahead will be hard, because as China’s power grows, our region is changing in ways without precedent in Australia’s modern history.

That’s the point. What we are witnessing is “without precedent” in Australian post-second world war history, during the various tremors that have unsettled the region from Korea to Vietnam and beyond.

Despite all of that, there has been nothing in our experience like China’s rise in all its dimensions.

The changing of the guard?

The much-used word “disruption” hardly does justice to the impact a modern China is having on age-old assumptions about a regional power balance in which US military superiority would prevail, come what may.

Starting with the above declaration, the white paper – a year in the making and more than a decade since the last such effort – does a reasonable job in laying out Australia’s choices in a new and challenging environment.

In this regard, we are spared an impression that policymakers are seeking to cling to the old order in which the US was paramount and suggestions to the contrary smacked of agnosticism about American power and influence – even an incipient anti-Americanism.

Those days – described in a 2003 white paper that underestimated the velocity of China’s rise and sought to adhere to age-old certainties about US paramountcy – are over.

Here’s the 2017 white paper on the end of the age of certainty for Australian foreign policy:

Powerful drivers are converging in a way that is reshaping the international order and challenging Australia’s interests. The United States has been the dominant power in our region throughout Australia’s post-World War II history. Today, China is challenging America’s position.

There is nothing profound in the above observation. It’s simply a statement of fact.

What is clear is that policymakers in Canberra are hedging their bets. They cannot be sure the US will remain invested in a wider security role in the Indo-Pacific, and one that will be long-lasting.

This prompts observations like the following:

The government recognises there is great debate and uncertainty in the United States about the costs and benefits of its leadership of the international system.

US alliance remains strong

However, for the foreseeable future the US will remain the “bedrock” of Australia’s security.

Interestingly, Labor’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Penny Wong, addressed alliance issues on the eve of the white paper’s release.

In an important speech, at a moment when Labor itself is debating how to frame its adherence to the alliance, Wong was at pains to encourage a sense of realism about what America might – or might not – be prepared to do in the event that Australia’s security was challenged.

She spoke at length about mutual obligations under the ANZUS Treaty that are misinterpreted as a blanket requirement for the US to come to Australia’s assistance in extremis. Put simply, what is required under Articles III and IV of the ANZUS Treaty is a commitment to consult.

In the final analysis, the 2017 white paper cannot be read separately from the 2016 Defence White Paper. This laid down a reinvigorated commitment to Australia’s ability to assert power in the Indo-Pacific via a significant investment in its maritime capabilities.

Leaving aside whether you agree with spending upwards of A$50 billion on 12 new French-sourced submarines rather than less expensive alternatives that could have been bought off the shelf, the defence paper foreshadowed an Australian foreign policy that recognised a more challenging environment, and thus the need for a more robust approach.

In this regard, the foreign policy paper speaks of “shifting power balances” in an era of “greater rivalry”, and calls on the US to remain “strongly engaged in the economic and security affairs of the region to help shape its institutions and norms”.

The paper also acknowledges challenges inherent in Australia’s policy of maintaining a balance between its alliance relationship and its management of relations with China if both the US and China cannot be persuaded their own interests would be served by preserving regional harmony. The paper adds that “this is not assured”.

In the decades ahead we expect further contestation over ideas and influence, directly affecting Australia. It is imperative that Australia prepare for the long term.“

Our place in the region

The white paper’s emphasis on the need to bolster regional friendships and alliances is a clear reference to moves by the Turnbull government to resuscitate a quadrilateral security dialogue with the US, Japan and India. The Rudd government shelved this on the grounds that it would appear to be a grouping whose aim was to contain China.

In its latest incarnation, the “Quad”, as it is known, clearly has a hedging purpose. But whether it develops past an agreement to consult and perhaps conduct joint military-to-military exchanges will depend on circumstance.

In other words, China’s regional assertiveness will dictate the extent to which Australia and its like-minded partners collaborate in seeking to balance China’s inexorable rise.

The Quad’s critics regard it as an unhelpful diversion, unnecessarily antagonistic to China. Its supporters see it as a prudent step to bring together functioning democracies intent on preserving regional security.

What would seem to be more productive would be a consensus involving the US, China, Russia, the ASEAN countries, Australia and New Zealand in an East Asia Summit agreement on regional security arrangements, much like the Helsinki Accords.

An encouraging aspect of the unclassified version of the white paper (a classified version will use starker language) is that within the constraints of bureaucratic language it provides a fairly direct challenge to China to live up to its commitment to a rules-based order.

So it encourages China to “exercise its power in a way that enhances stability, reinforces international law and respects the interests of smaller countries”.

This implies that China’s recent behaviour does not meet this standard.

Finally, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Australia’s policymakers have more or less come to the view – reluctantly – that US leadership in Asia is on a downward trajectory, and there is little point in pretending otherwise. The question is how fast, and to what extent will China continue to assert itself.

In his introduction, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sets the tone for the next phase of Australian policy in a way that recognises these realities. “Australia,” he writes, “must be sovereign not reliant.”

The ConversationIf that’s not an acknowledgement of a disrupted security environment in which power relationships are shifting, I’m not sure what is. The 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper makes progress in coming to terms with that reality.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper offers more wishful thinking than concrete ideas


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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop launch the long-awaited foreign policy white paper.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Susan Harris Rimmer, Griffith University

A white paper has many purposes and audiences. There are, for example, the other government departments, ministers, opposition, internal staff that have to breach the silos and understand the Grand Vision.

The 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper will be snatched up by the diplomatic community in Canberra, analysed to a hair’s breadth and cabled around the world. This white paper, after a long pause and significant uncertainty created by the presidency of Donald Trump, attracted strong domestic interest outside the usual “business and boffins” types that follow the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio.

These disparate audiences usually mean careful phrasing. This white paper is a little different: it is certainly filled with the usual “risk…but opportunity” stock phrases, but at moments is also unusually blunt in tone and stark in its delineation of options. For example:

The Government is publishing this White Paper to chart a clear course for Australia at a time of rapid change.

It goes on to name a most significant change:

The United States has been the dominant power in our region throughout Australia’s post-Second World War history. Today, China is challenging America’s position.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull addresses the Trump in the room in his foreword:

More than ever, Australia must be sovereign, not reliant. We must take responsibility for our own security and prosperity while recognising we are stronger when sharing the burden of leadership with trusted partners and friends.

But whom should we trust?

The question of what we should do is relatively clear, and uncontroversial:

  • promote an open, inclusive and prosperous Indo–Pacific region in which the rights of all states are respected;
  • deliver more opportunities for our businesses globally and stand against protectionism;
  • ensure Australians remain safe, secure and free in the face of threats such as terrorism;
  • promote and protect the international rules that support stability and prosperity and enable cooperation to tackle global challenges; and
  • step up support for a more resilient Pacific and Timor–Leste.

The question is how we should do it. The guidance in the white paper sounds remarkably like that Australia should just keep being its awesome self – strong economy, strong borders, strong institutions (like parliament?) – and everything will turn out fine. That sounds more like wishful thinking than a foreign policy plan. Trying not to be the grass that gets trampled when elephants fight is not a plan.

The closest the white paper gets to a plan is to double-down on the US relationship, and trust that the Trump administration is a blip. Turnbull has just spent an extended period in Asia with Trump, attending the Asian Summit Season. Can he really be as confident as this document sounds?

Still, the white paper has to land somewhere, and that the US will wake up to itself soon is a defensible place to land. Acknowledging “friction” between our stronger engagement with China and our “different interests, values and political and legal systems” might be the best we can do at present.

Chapter two is probably of the most interest to the reading public – it is an excellent synthesis of all the complexity DFAT faces daily, although the climate chapter must be the rosiest version of facts possible. There is surely a top contender for understatement of the decade in the section headed “An Environment Under Strain”:

The coming decade will likely see an increased need for international disaster relief.

Generally speaking, the climate section is underwhelming. Other nations and international organisations, such as the EU Global Strategy, have underlined the strategic risk climate poses to the conduct of foreign policy in a clear-sighted and comprehensive manner.

What is also missing is the will to invest in diplomacy. What will Australia do if US global leadership conflicts with our desire for China to take a stronger role in regional security, which it must, given time?

A white paper ignites a domestic conversation about foreign policy, and this one is certainly substantive and to be welcomed. But there is little point in a Foreign Policy White Paper if it largely apes the Defence White Paper and the viewpoint of the intelligence community – as this one does. It should align, certainly, but it should also add value, the perspective gained from experienced statecraft about non-traditional security threats and relationship-building. When it comes to diplomacy, the government has to “live within its means” (bah), but defence is be described as “strong” or “substantial” no less than nine times.

What if geographic proximity to a rising Asia is not enough to ensure our own rise? What if increased defence spending doesn’t placate the US, and chokes off more creative options to integrate into the region?

There is more depth in the trade section of the paper, perhaps reflecting the increasing dominance of the trade agenda over the other parts of DFAT. The economic vision of the paper is clear – we will maintain an open economy and manage the winners and losers from this policy. “Strength through openness” is a strong narrative:

The Government will continue to work hard to ensure community support for our openness to trade, investment and skilled migration._

As a voter wading through a Queensland election at present, I can attest that the federal government has a serious job getting that narrative through to ordinary Australians. Moreover, the hard sell on trade continues with little acknowledgement that Australians outside the business community might have valid concerns about human rights or gender equality issues arising out of trade negotiations.

Other notable features

The promising governance innovation of MIKTA (Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey, Korea and Australia) is missing from the document, and seems to have been restructured out of existence. Mexico and Turkey are not mentioned at all. The focus on Indo-Pacific is clear. This is understandable, and the ALP’s “FutureAsia” policy means this is now a welcome bipartisan focus. But Bishop’s investments in innovative pivotal power diplomacy should not be abandoned.

The “cumbersome” United Nations is treated with a level of ambiguity and grudging acceptance. Australia will run for another Security Council term in 2029. Nonetheless, there is a encouraging focus on supporting international law and the rule of law.

In a breakthrough from the previous white paper in 2003, there is a section on gender equality. It is expressed as a development issue rather than a strategic foreign policy issue, and comes at the end of a 100-page plus document. But it is still a step forward. And before the poor old Great Barrier Reef and Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and the Pacific, all of which surely deserve deeper treatment than is offered here. But at least our neighbours score a chapter to themselves and a spot as the fifth priority.

It is worth looking at the section on “soft power” at the very end of the document, an important addition. It covers science diplomacy, sports and creative diplomacy, international education, digital engagement and people-to-people links, as well as the New Colombo Plan.

The ConversationIt may feel like an afterthought, but much of Australia’s way through the maze presented in the white paper may in fact stem from better investment in these areas of statecraft and a stronger nation brand in pursuit of our five new priorities.

Susan Harris Rimmer, Australian Research Council Future Fellow, Griffith Law School, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

USA Foreign Policy Failure in Afghanistan and Iraq?


Article: Massacre of Christians Around the World a Result of US Policy?


The following link is to an article that suggests that massacres of Christians around the world are a result of US policy? What do you think? Certainly there are some attacks that are linked to what the US has done in some countries, such as attacks because of US troop action in Afghanistan burning Korans, etc.

For more, visit:
http://thenewamerican.com/world-mainmenu-26/asia-mainmenu-33/11443-christian-massacres-a-result-of-us-foreign-policy