Sunday 22 September 2019

Friends disunited. Oz caught between the dragon and the eagle

As Oz PM Scott Morrison visits the US, it’s worth looking back at the video above of the debate between two thinkers on China-US-Australia relations: Hugh White from the ANU in Australia (and an old colleague of mine from my ONA days) and John Mearsheimer, professor at the University of Chicago. It’s over an hour, but well worth the time, as it’s such an important matter for we Aussies.

It’s  very tough for Australia. We have to balance trade with China and its growing regional power, against traditional security arrangements with the US. The US is the global hegemon and China a would be regional hegemon. Therein the seeds of conflict and even war, according to Mearsheimer.

Hugh’s views is we need to keep both China and the US at an arms length, close ties to both, but not committing to the interests of either. “Not China’s interest, not America’s interest, but Australia’s interest”.

Mearsheimer’s view is that that’s not possible. We will have to make a choice between the US (and security) or China (and trade), if not now, then in due course. But we will have to make the choice. And if we choose China then we will be America’s enemy.  He makes a powerful case. As does Hugh.

For my part, I’ve always been on Hugh’s side on this. To pursue a strong independent Australian  foreign policy, with security strengthened through a powerful defence force.

As for fears of China using trade to punish us should they consider we are too close to America we need to remember that China doesn’t buy from us to do us a favour. They do so because we provide the best  commodities at the best prices. For them o shift sources of commodities they now buy from us would harm them as well. Moreover, China has equity in many Australian exporters, further constraining their ability to punish, even should they wish to do so.

And also recall that even though most Australians think we ride on the back of commodities, overall the bulk of our economy is in services not digging stuff out of the ground.

Related: In today’s Post. US and Australia grow apart [webarchive]