Thursday 25th of April 2024

behind the diplomatic drapery .....

behind the diplomatic drapery .....

Australia should tell Obama we take a different view on China.

As China's power grows, the Asia we have known is passing into history, and a new and very different Asia is taking shape. Barack Obama's visit is a key moment in that transformation, because he is coming here to promote America's view of how the new Asia should work.

America has a lot at stake. For 40 years it has been the region's uncontested leader. Now China wants to lead instead, and is trying to ease America aside. That means the era of uncontested US primacy has passed. This is a big loss for America, for Australia and much of Asia, but it is the strategic price we must all pay for China's economic miracle.

There are two competing visions of Asia's future now. China's vision is that America will slowly fade as a strategic power in Asia, leaving China as the region's new uncontested leader. America's vision is that Asia will divide into two camps, with China on one side and the rest, under US leadership, on the other. It hopes that if the rest of Asia stays strong and united by America's side, China will eventually see the error of its ways and join the US-led camp as well, thus restoring America's uncontested primacy.

Of course neither Washington nor Beijing describes their vision in such blunt terms. But behind the diplomatic drapery, these are clearly the plans to which each side is working. Washington has suddenly woken up to the magnitude of China's power, and now understands that Asia, not the Middle East, is where it faces its most decisive challenge. That's why Obama is making this trip. He is here to persuade America's friends and allies to sign up to Washington's vision of Asia's future.

At APEC in Hawaii, Obama promoted the economic element of his vision. His Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative is aimed at building a new economic framework in Asia that includes America's friends and allies and excludes China. It is not clear that is a good idea. Now Obama is coming to Canberra to promote the political and strategic element of his vision. He wants to draw America's loose network of Asian allies and friends together into a more unified military coalition to confront China's growing maritime power. That will be the underlying message of his speech to Parliament tomorrow, and it is the symbolism at the heart of the announcement he will make about US military training in Darwin.

Practically and operationally, the new rotational training deployments for US marines mean very little. Symbolically and strategically they mean a great deal. They show Australia's willingness to join America's military coalition against China. And make no mistake: this is all about China. For 40 years, despite our close alliance, Australia has been careful not to line up militarily with the US against China. That is why the Darwin announcement is so significant.

More broadly, taken together with Julia Gillard's enthusiastic embrace of his Trans-Pacific Partnership, the new military arrangements signal Australia's support for Obama's overall vision for America's role in Asia's future. For Obama, this is an important win.

But is it a win for Australia? That depends on whether Obama's vision will work, and on what the alternatives are. For his vision to work, three things will have to happen. First, a lot of China's Asian neighbours will need to decide that siding with America against China is in their interests. None of them want to live under China's shadow, and all welcome US support, but none want to make China an enemy. Keeping them on side will be harder than it looks.

Second, America itself must decide whether taking China on like this is worth the cost. Economically, Obama's vision of Asia's future makes no sense, because America is as interdependent with China as everyone else. And strategically, Americans will have to decide whether they really are willing to back all their Asian friends and allies in any fight they pick with China. A small stoush in the South China Sea could become very costly and dangerous for the US.

These are issues that Americans themselves have not clearly addressed. Few of America's political leaders, pundits or the public at large have yet come to grips with the new geometry of power, and the hard choices America now faces.

Third, for America's plan to work, China will have to be persuaded to accept US leadership in Asia even as it overtakes America to become the richest, and hence ultimately the most powerful, country in the world. That seems highly unlikely. And if China pushes back rather than comes around then America's vision of Asia's future does not lead us gently back to the era of uncontested US primacy. It pushes us brutally forward towards a new era of unbridled strategic rivalry - a new Cold War, or worse.

If the only alternative to America's plan to perpetuate its primacy in Asia is China's vision of its own uncontested leadership, then we might reluctantly accept a new Cold War as the lesser of two evils. But these are not the only possibilities. A new Asia could evolve in which China exercises more power and influence than it has before, but does not dominate, and in which America no longer exercises primacy, but still plays a large and vital role. In short, an Asia in which the US and China share power.

This should be Australia's vision of Asia's future. We do not want to live under Chinse domination, but nor do we want to be squeezed by US-China rivalry. That is why, having given Obama a respectful hearing, we should explain why we take a different view. That is what good allies do.

Hugh White is professor of strategic studies at ANU and a visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute.

whoops .....

A satellite ground station in Western Australia is being used by the Chinese military to help find Australian and US navy warships, an expert on space-based espionage says.

Professor Des Ball says the government may have inadvertently acted against the national interest by allowing China to use the ground station at Mingenew to track Beijing's space satellites, The Australian reported on Wednesday.

"This ground station would help China's space-based listening devices more precisely locate the electronic emissions from aircraft carriers, destroyers and other navy ships," Mr Ball told paper.

"We're talking serious stuff here."

DC on the molonglo .....

from Crikey .....

We're not in Canberra any more -- welcome to DC on the Molonglo

Crikey Canberra correspondent Bernard Keane writes:


Our imperial overlord wings his way into Canberra today. Let us hope he finds all is satisfactory when he surveys one of his most loyal vassal states. Canberra isn't quite in lockdown as of writing, but from about lunchtime on the barriers will go up, the roads will start being closed and even the press gallery coffee cart will be sent packing, presumably on the basis that ... well, who knows, really.

The Secret Service -- or at least those still employed after the shock-scandal-debacle Vangate revelations in The Daily Telegraph today -- will have the run of the place. Like Mephistopheles's Hell, the president is always in America, no matter where he is, travelling in a tiny projected bubble of the United States.

So too the Washington press corps, who'll be put up at the National Press Club made over to more closely resemble their homeland, complete with copious doughnuts and clocks set to US time. There's not that many cultural difference left between Australia and the US -- we're less friendly but have better food and coffee, and don't use our streets as a vast outdoor mental health ward -- so temporarily erasing the last few for our distinguished visitors isn't that big a deal.

The hallmarks of all such visits by heads of state are of course theatre and formality, but a presidential visit is now accompanied by almost kabuki-like levels of ritual. In particular, there's the elaborate display of fawning from the commentariat. Invariably, the likes of local State Department representatives Michael Fullilove and Greg Sheridan shuffle forward, heads bowed low and hands reflexively reaching for the forelock, to explain how important the US-Australian relationship currently is. Critical to such encomia are incantations like "Asia-Pacific engagement".

It is a matter of utmost necessity that each presidential visit be portrayed as the start of a new period of US engagement in our region, ending a previous, regrettable era when Washington had its head turned by other parts of the world.

This time around the enthusiasts have been joined by Kim Beazley, apparently our ambassador to Washington, but whom one could be forgiven for thinking sees his job more as representing Washington's interests in Australia. "He'll arrive in a country that truly loves him," Beazley gushed about Obama to his local rag, The Washington Post. The Post also quoted extensively from the Lowy Institute about how enthusiastic Australians were about the United States having military facilities here.

While it was nice of the Lowy Institute to speak on our behalf, polling data suggests otherwise. With Obama scheduled to reveal what has already been detailed to the Fairfax press (to the visible chagrin of Greg Sheridan), that the United States will be using a Northern Territory base as a permanent training facility, Essential found this week that only 18% of voters wanted us to become closer to the US, a fall of six points since the issue was last raised with voters in March.

Throwing open Darwin to thousands of Marines on a regular basis would seem to fit the bill of closer relations with the Americans.

On the other hand, 35% of voters want us to have a closer relationship with China, a rise of three points since March. In fact, voters favour closer relationships with several countries over closer ties with the US, including India, Indonesia and Japan.

The numbers on China will doubtless please local Beijing apologists such as Hugh White, who are forever urging us to welcome our new Chinese overlords.

That Australian foreign policy doesn't have to be informed by a reflexive reductivism to deciding which superpower we should be cosying up to appears an unpopular notion among policymakers here.

It's a contrarian school of thought represented most notably by Kevin Rudd, who as prime minister was inexplicably convinced we could walk and chew gum simultaneously on foreign policy. This complex position left many confused, particularly once they realised he wasn't the Sinophile he'd been labelled as early on.

Still, such complexities are best forgotten about now as our enthusiastically pro-American leader welcomes the President and we become, if only for 24 hours, DC on the Molonglo.

statistics, lies and funny polls...

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in September that the pact represents “a clear signal to the Asia-Pacific region that the United States and Australia are going to continue to work together to make very clear to those that would threaten us that we're going to stick together.”

Australians like Obama and the U.S.; a summertime poll showed that 55% of Australians approved of allowing U.S. forces to be based in their country, and 82% said the 60-year old alliance between the two nations is important to Australia's security. It's along way from Vietnam, where – under U.S. pressure – the Australians sent nearly 60,000 troops off to war, more than 500 of whom never came home.

Read more:

Polls seem to be elastic... unless they are subject to humidity and the way the wind blows... These polls here bear no resemblance to those mentioned above:
Essential found this week that only 18% of voters wanted us to become closer to the US, a fall of six points since the issue was last raised with voters in March.

bullshit .....

The United States President, Barack Obama, has taken aim at China over everything from human rights to regional security in a provocative speech to the Australian Parliament to underscore America's intention to increase its presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Addressing a joint sitting of Parliament this morning, Mr Obama said as the tide of war was receding in the Middle-East and Afghanistan, America was "looking ahead to the future we must build".

"Let there be no doubt, in the Asia-Pacific in the 21st century, the United States of America is all in," he said.

Mr Obama said the US was a Pacific nation and its military, along with Australians, had fought and died in the region and its mission now was to promote security, prosperity and human dignity.

"Americans have bled with you for this progress and we will never allow it to be reversed," he said.

"That's what we stand for, that's who we are, that's the future we will pursue in league with our allies and friends with every element of American power.

"The US always has been and always will be a Pacific nation."

The military build-up announced last night by Mr Obama and the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was a response to the rising power of China and India.

In comments this morning, Mr Obama said it was in the interest of both Australia and the US to witness the rise of a peaceful and prosperous China.

"We've seen that China can be a partner from reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula to preventing proliferation."

The US would seek more opportunities for co-operation with China, including "greater communication" between our militaries to promote understanding and avoid "miscalculation".

"We will do this even as we continue to speak candidly to Beijing about the importance of upholding international norms and respecting the universal human rights of the Chinese people."

He took aim at Beijing's poor record on human rights, free trade, intellectual property theft, its refusal to fully float its currency and the lack of freedoms granted to the Chinese people.

"Prosperity without freedom is just another kind of poverty," he said.

"The currents of history may ebb and flow but over time they move decisively in one direction.

"History is on the side of the free."

Even before Mr Obama spoke, China and Indonesia expressed concern at the military build-up announcement and the message it sent.

Starting next year, US Marines would be based near Darwin for six months every year, with the numbers to reach 2500 by 2016.

In addition, American military aircraft - including bombers, fighters, tankers and spy planes - will increase their use of the Tindall Air Force base. Further down the track, US ships and submarines will use the Stirling naval base near Perth.

Ms Gillard said said "the expanded co-operation we have announced will see our alliance remain a stabilising influence in a new century of regional change."

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, played down negative reaction from the region, saying there was no cause for alarm.

"The US-Australian alliance is about promoting good values, not about threatening anyone," he said.

"....promote security, prosperity & human dignity .... upholding international norms?"

Try selling that crock in Iraq or Afghanistan or to the detainees at Guantanamo or Baghram. Try selling it to the Palestinians or to the victims of your cluster bombs & pilotless drones around the planet.

What a phoney: with Gillard & the rest just as bad ... makes me want to puke ... arrogant prick.

Yanks Go Home & Stay Home!!!

all hat, no cattle .....

Frankly, I'm gob-smacked. I'm stunned by the sweet softness of it all. Talk about pomp and circumstance. The lightning visit to Australia by POTUS - the President of the United States - was nearly all pomp and convenient circumstance.

In a year, Barack Obama may have been voted out of office, a one-term wonder, which will make his appearance in Canberra last week even more of a strategic eye-blink.

In his typically gracious speech to federal Parliament on Thursday, nearly everything the President said was reactive, a response to events moving faster than America's ability to shape them, yet you would never know this from the speech itself or from the coverage and analysis, which made a media mountain out of a strategic molehill.

Like every modern POTUS before him, Obama embodied America's innate sense of its right and need to determine the shape of world events: ''As President, I have therefore made a deliberate and strategic decision: as a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future ... ''

Exactly the opposite is happening. It is Asia which is playing a larger and long-term role in shaping the United States and its future.

The decision to place a higher priority on Asia is a reaction to a rapid power shift and the relative decline of Europe. The US, weighed down by debt, is largely a spectator in the unfolding economic crisis in the European Union, while the world's major bloc of creditors, in East Asia, led by Japan, is beginning to desert the euro zone. Decisions by Asian investors will have more direct impact on events in Europe than policy pressure from Washington.

The President also spun reality around when he told Parliament: ''We have made hard decisions to cut our deficit and put our fiscal house in order and we will continue to do more, because our economic strength at home is the foundation of our leadership in the world ... ''

Who is he kidding? The US fiscal house remains in disorder. Policy is beset by political gridlock. The federal budget deficit is on track to be 11 per cent of gross domestic product, unsustainable. Sovereign debt is more than $US14 trillion, or about 94 per cent of GDP, and still rising. Under Obama, US sovereign debt increased by $US3.5 trillion in just two years. The US has resorted to printing money on an historic scale.

(The supposedly fiscally responsible Republicans have been up to their necks in this. Under President George W. Bush, US sovereign debt soared from $US5.7 trillion to $US10.7 trillion in eight years and the current Republicans in Congress are obstructionist.)

POTUS also short-changed his Canberra host on the issue on which she has staked her political future. In her introduction, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, inserted this reference: ''Confident we can secure clean energy and combat climate change too, working together, taking our part in global action ... ''

What she received in return from POTUS was: ''We need growth that is sustainable. This includes the clean energy that creates green jobs and combats climate change, which cannot be denied ... As countries with large carbon footprints, the United States and Australia have a special responsibility to lead ... [and] make unprecedented investments in clean energy, to increase energy efficiency and to meet the commitments we made at Copenhagen and Cancun.''

Support for a global carbon trading scheme has died a political death in Washington, so Gillard is committed to increasing the cost of Australia's energy in support of a global carbon trading regime that does not exist.

Similarly underwhelming was the announced upgrade in military links between the long-standing allies. The changes are organic, incremental, modest and logistical. They involve the establishment of no US bases in Australia.

Even so, there will be negative consequences from this visit for Australia's relationship with its most important trading partner, China. Under the governments of Kevin Rudd and now Gillard, this relationship has gone backwards. Pragmatism has replaced rapport. Rudd irritated Beijing in exactly the same way he irritated his own parliamentary party, by lecturing them. Last week, Gillard merely became the latest Australian prime minister to perform a good rendition of star-truck supporting actor to American power.

Thanks to Rudd and now Gillard, Beijing will be entitled to conclude that Australia is a price-gouging opportunist with no real empathy for China's sensitivities and the immense domestic challenges that Beijing faces, and that Australia also has a deep-seated commitment to American global military supremacy.

It will have been noted in Beijing that much of the speech by POTUS was impliedly about the need to contain the Communist Party of China, especially when he reached the moral high-point of his speech:

"Certain rights are universal - among them, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and the freedom of citizens to choose their own leaders ... Other models have been tried and they have failed - fascism and communism, rule by one man and rule by a committee. They failed for the same simple reason: they ignored the ultimate source of power and legitimacy - the will of the people.''

The most important geo-political aspect of Obama's presidency for the Asia-Pacific region are his suppleness of mind and his personal knowledge of Indonesia, a nonentity to every prior American president. During the past decade, Indonesia's economy has surged and its democracy has been consolidated. Obama understands the significance of this, even if the average Australian does not. So the real meat of his journey to this region took place in Bali while the symbolism took place in Canberra.

the others are a pathetic lot...

Yes, er... John...

This article above, though, was written by the new Miranda Devine of the SMH... Paul Sheehan... and I don't agree with most of it... So Obama may be a one term wonder... So the Greens are ruling the future of this country... Good... But one has to also scratch the offering from the Yankee republicans... Ohmegod... We're in trouble.. Big trouble...  At least Obama tries to assert a particular position whether one agrees with it or not... On the other side of the ledger, we get the godly bible bashing riff-raff, who on most days would not know the difference between a stick and a dog unless there was money in throwing the stick and a greedy prize for showing off the dog at a dog show... For them, the rest of nature is worthless, of course, since there is no show nor first prize for the best stand of trees left alone in the wild... and nature is full of mozzies.

If the average Australian does not have an idea of the "Indonesian" economy, blame the Aussie media that is more intent in "educating" the public about the peachy butt cheeks of this or that starlet rather than exploring what we're doing right and what we could do better — and without blaming the government for our own failures...


Grow up, Paul Sheehan....

thanks, but no thanks ....

Hi Gus,

I regret to have to say that, these days, I don't actually see many points of difference between Democrats or Republicans, nor our Labor or Liberal/Country equivalents.

No matter where I look, all I can see is the same self-interested, lying, cheating, deceitful & dishonest, self-serving bastards, no matter which side of the trough they're feeding on.

Whether it be in the US, Europe or here, the ordinary "man in the street" is no longer represented on the political stage by anyone, except where it might be a matter of convenience in serving a larger political agenda.

It used to be that if we were too critical of politicians & public servants, we were at risk of being accused of being cynical. Well, I'm proud to say that I am cynical & I believe that most Awstraylens feel the same way about our so-called "leaders" .... I wouldn't piss on any of them if they were on fire. None of them has a principled bone in their bodies .... none of them can lie straight in bed & the only interests they serve are their own & that of their corporate sponsors, including the media.

I will no longer defend politicians because they might be the "lesser of two evils" .... it's excusing them that encourages them to be even worse. As far as I'm concerned, crook is crook & corrupt is corrupt, & it doesn't matter what label you're wearing at the time.

Ask yourself Gus: who is worse .... George Bush because he was instrumental in torturing detainees at Guantanamo Bay or Barack Obama, who promised to close Guantanamo Bay, but lied?


indeed ....

Hi Gus,

FYI below ........

Last week, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, sought to take the heat out of the gay marriage issue. In an opinion piece in the Fairfax press, she announced she would offer Labor MPs a conscience vote if a private member's bill was presented. In the same article, the PM supported a recommendation from the 2010 National Review of the Labor Party to trial a new preselection process designed to engage the community.

These two interventions are connected, in ways few have noticed. To understand how, we must start with the conscience vote. Between 1950 and 2007, the Australian Parliament settled 32 questions with conscience votes. Many of these were social issues, or the personal medical ones that so preoccupy the Christian church. They included votes on family law, marriage, sexual relationships, including gay relationships, and abortion. The five most recent, held during the Howard years, canvassed euthanasia, stem-cell research and the abortion drug RU486.

In recent years, there's been a disconnect between the public's view on such issues and those of our elected representatives. More than 80 per cent of Australians support dying with dignity, but in 1996, the bid for legal voluntary euthanasia was soundly defeated.

While the removal of the health minister's effective veto over RU486 sailed through thanks to the women's vote, stem-cell research barely squeaked home, despite broad public support. This week's Nielsen poll found high levels of support for gay marriage among the electorate - even 50 per cent of Coalition voters want gay marriage legalised - while Australian Election Study data shows 58 per cent of Liberal Party candidates and 83 per cent of Nationals want it outlawed.

Conscience votes don't happen because issues of conscience arise. If this were the case, there would be free votes on war. Instead, as political scientist John Warhurst explains, parties allow conscience votes ''largely because of a desire to avoid damaging splits''. It's only when an MP feels strongly enough about an issue to threaten to cross the floor, that a conscience vote may be triggered. In 2005, John Howard was forced to allow a conscience vote on RU486 when Liberal MP Sharman Stone threatened to cross the floor.

The church is consistently credited with forcing conscience votes, but what this really means is that its relentless pressure on Christian MPs pushes them to threaten ill discipline and, voila, a conscience vote is born.

Where does this leave all of us? Given the long history of both major political parties using conscience votes as a self-protective safety valve, it seems safe to assume this will continue. This means that if we want to have influence on the sort of questions that go to a conscience vote, and what is decided, we'll need to have more say over the kinds of candidates who run, and are elected.

Not only should we be told a candidate's view on such issues, but we must use this information to inform our vote, even if this means cursing both houses and voting for a minor party that binds members to its platform position.

We must also seek to influence who runs for office in the first place, which takes us back to the Prime Minister's announcement of her support for US-style primaries. We should support her on this because having a say about who runs for highest office, not just who wins, might take us one step closer to influencing critical votes on matters of conscience.


Of course, yet we're in the throng of having to choose between bad and worse... thus, sometimes, bad does not seem worse...

The alternative is to have a revolution... But even these days, the craddle of revolution, Europe, is between the paws of banks such as goldman sucks or whatever... And a revolution in Australia? Most of the 99 per cent would not know how to bake a cake without buying a premix in a supermarket aisle or getting a slice already sugared from MacDonald...

We're doomed...

a new amerikan outhouse .....

The former Liberal prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, says the new American marine "base" near Darwin is a mistake, and that Australia's grovelling to Washington is hampering ties with Asia.

In a strongly worded submission to the federal government's white paper on future relations with Asia, Mr Fraser has criticised Australia's subservience to the US as a product of misguided assumptions America offers a security guarantee.

"Over 20 years now we have given the impression of doing that which America wants," Mr Fraser writes.

"We seem to believe that our security can be best assured if we do what we can to win brownie points with the US. This is a mistaken assumption.

''No country can really win brownie points with great powers. Great powers follow their own national interests and we should follow ours."

Mr Fraser is highly critical of the deployment of US marines in the Northern Territory, saying it fuels Chinese concerns over a policy of containment. He also dismisses claims by Labor and the Obama administration that the presence of the marines does not amount to a "base".

"For America to say that 2,500 troops do not constitute a base is nonsense, indeed a fabrication," Mr Fraser writes.

"In military terms, a base does not have to be bricks and mortar. If 2,500 troops are stationed in a particular place then the language makes it quite plain that they are based in that place. It is a base.

"To say that they are just passing through and that it is not a base is deceptive and misleading. It sends the wrong message, not only to China, but to countries like Indonesia."

He told the Herald he was also concerned Australia would lose more of its independence in Asia should the US turn Cocos Island into a base for unmanned surveillance drones, as reported last month in The Washington Post.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, commissioned a white paper last year guided by the former head of Treasury, Ken Henry, titled Australia in the Asian Century.

Mr Fraser said he had only decided to put his thoughts on paper after the marines' presence in Darwin was announced and reports of plans for a US military presence in the Cocos Islands emerged.

In his submission, he said he was not against the US alliance but for Australian independence.

He said in assessing what to do in the future, Australia should conscious of our history and a dependence on Britain before World War II: "We believed that Britain would be able to secure our future," he writes. "It never occurred to us that Britain would be so preoccupied, so beleaguered, that in a situation of emergency she would not be able to help."

US Marine 'Base' Is A Mistake, Says Fraser