A new world order is emerging and Australia has some decisions to makeSep 13, 2022
Australia’s world is changing. With the decline of US hegemony, a new world order is emerging led by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the BRICS and the Eurasian Economic Union. Will the Albanese government choose to realign with this new world order, or will it maintain its alliance with the fading hegemon of North America?
Like a lot of people in Australia, I celebrated the end of the Morrison government in May of this year. They had gone from one awful non-policy to another without showing the least appreciation of how truly awful they had become. The recent revelations about the additional ministries the prime minister had awarded himself, mostly without the least inkling of this to his ministerial colleagues, only compounded the sense of horror.
Hopes were accordingly elevated that the new prime minister Anthony Albanese would not be as bad as his predecessor. The initial signs were encouraging. His ministers seemed to quickly grasp the importance of the task they faced. For the most part they showed a willingness to listen to advice and to make decisions that were based on their perception of what was good for the country, rather than the individual interests of the members, or the political gains to be had from favouring one part of the country over another, or one factional interest over another.
Hopes were accordingly high that they would show the same need for a fresh approach to foreign policy. It is in this area that one feels the greatest disappointment in their decision- making process. With each passing day it seems that the influence of the previous government, of both major political persuasions, weighed most heavily.
There were a number of signs that rather than showing a fresh approach, the new government has simply adopted the policies of its predecessor, with the same casual disregard for Australia’s vital interests that was such a dominant characteristic of its unlamented predecessor. This was reflected in a number of policy positions that the new government seamlessly adopted to make it very difficult to distinguish its actions from that of its predecessor.
The first of these was the attitude toward China. It is acknowledged that the new Foreign Minister Penny Wong shows some differences to her unlamented predecessor. The two parties are at least talking to each other again. It was one of the more shameful aspects of the previous government that they had allowed the relationship to become so bad that the respective foreign ministers were not even talking to each other.
There is still some way to go before relations are fully restored. Australia seems to have lost sight of some simple facts about China. It is this country’s largest trading partner, taking approximately 40% of Australia’s total exports. But the importance of China extends beyond mere trade. It is both an important source of foreign investment, featuring among the largest investors in the Australian economy, and also an important source of foreign students, upon which the Australian University system has become increasingly dependent for its financial survival.
China is also the leading force in a new economic system that is gradually replacing the old one that was so dependent on the United States dollar. It is a trend that is hardly acknowledged in Australian media, but an increasing number of countries are ceasing to use the United States dollar as their unit of international trade and increasingly trading in their own currencies. It is perhaps the most significant contemporary economic trend, and it is led by Russia and China who both have powerful reasons for reducing the role of the United States dollar in their international trading relationships. One small sign of this development is that the vast majority of the world’s nations have refused to follow the United States-European lead embargo on Russian trade.
This embargo, advanced at the beginning of this year in the confident expectation that the collapse of the Russian economy would rapidly follow, has instead proved catastrophic for the European nations. Their inflation figures are now almost universally in double digits. Because the Russians have effectively frozen most of their supply of gas to Europe, with the recent closure of Nord Stream 1 following the incredibly ill-advised German embargo on Nord Stream 2, having devastating consequences. Europe is now literally facing being frozen this winter. Russia’s energy supplies have been seamlessly diverted to other parts of the world. The Russian rouble, again contrary to European expectations and hopes, is at its strongest level for many years.
The Albanese government joined the Europeans in imposing sanctions on Russian trade. This extended to extremely petty decisions, such as refusing to broadcast the Russian news on Australian television. Quite what they expected to achieve by this small-minded gesture is difficult to fathom. There was after all never any cessation of United States television as that country engaged in one illegal war after another, usually with the uncritical support of its Australian ally.
The fundamental fact is that the world is changing, with the relative decline of the United States hegemony being the most significant factor. In its place a new world order is emerging, led primarily by an array of international agencies, including the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the BRICS combination of nations and the Eurasian Economic Union. Recently BRICS has had a number of countries applying for membership, including Argentina, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The last mentioned of these is perhaps the most significant, as membership of such an organisation is clearly incompatible with continued membership of NATO.
The changes are symptomatic of a fundamental realignment in the world’s countries. The days of United States – European domination are rapidly ending. The question will be whether Australia chooses to realign itself with the New World order or whether it maintains its alliance with the fading hegemon of North America.
James O’Neill is a former academic, and has practiced as a barrister since 1984 — first in New Zealand and then, since 2002, in Brisbane. He writes on geo-political issues, with a special emphasis on international law and human rights.