Not much for Australians to feel ‘relaxed and comfortable’ about in US policy towards China.

Apr 8, 2021

Many of the problems in our relationship with China are of our own making – the consequences of our own inept diplomacy – and we should seek to resolve them bilaterally.

Attempting to resolve them by snuggling up closer to Uncle Sam and miscellaneous US allies with different agendas and history will only make matters worse.

The most significant event for Australian foreign policy watchers since our last Bulletin was undoubtedly the 18 March US-China summit meeting in Alaska.

The way this was handled, including the diplomacy that preceded it has brought reassurance to many, especially those who hanker for a more traditional approach to US foreign policy. Lowy Institute Executive Director Michael Fullilove, for example, said that “Biden’s approach feels a bit like a return to George W. Bush’s Asia diplomacy”, and said that the US, Japan, India, Australia meeting that preceded it “was a welcome sign that the most capable like-minded powers in Asia are moving closer together”.

Readers of this Bulletin will not be surprised that we at Australians for War Powers Reform are not at all reassured by the prospect of a return to the diplomacy of the George W. Bush era, informed as it was by the hegemonistic thinking of the ill-fated Project for the New American Century – thinking that led to the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. The legacies of both of those ill-conceived adventures are with us to this day.

Nor do we welcome the notion that Australia has anything to gain by getting involved in the machinations between Modi’s India and Xi Jinping’s China – what is in that for us? And taking a longer-term view of the history, ideas of India and Japan, and of course the US, recruiting allies to support them in their various issues with China, have a long history – see for example this account by Gregory Clark, who was involved in some of that history. In viewing that history, we need to take a balanced picture of it, and not fall for the simplistic spin emanating from Government spokespeople – contrast the pictures presented here by Foreign Minister Marise Payne on the one hand, and former NSW Treasury Secretary Percy Allan. As Professor Allan spells out here, we targeted China before they targeted us.

Our overall take on this situation is:

  • Many of the problems in our relationship with China are of our own making – the consequences of our own inept diplomacy – and we should seek to resolve them bilaterally; and
  • Attempting to resolve them by snuggling up closer to Uncle Sam and miscellaneous US allies with different agendas and history will only make matters worse.

More generally, at this fraught time, we need to approach all regional issues with a very clear-eyed view of where Australia’s national interest lies.

This editorial was republished from Australians for War Power Reform 31 March 2021.

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