14 March 2012

new directions in strategic policy?


With the appointment of Bob Carr as Australian Foreign Minister, we have an intellectual in that post, as well as a formidable political force added to the parliament.

More serious papers are pointing to the overriding issue of the imbalances and uncertainties in relations with the United States and China.

Here are some of my comments:

[1] in commenting on former ambassador to China Geoff Raby's views as reported in the Financial Review


I found the decision to locate US forces on Australian soil as part of a containment of China disturbingly contrary to national interest as well as puzzlingly at odds with past Labor Government attitudes to unilateral US force presence or action in Australia from Whitlam forward.
Perhaps three things were in play:
-Rudd's essentially 20th century conservative-activist diplomatist approach
-Rudd's capacity to smother the cabinet in words, the absence of alternative critical faculty on foreign affairs within the Labor Party (mirroring the coalition), and
-concern to leave no room for the coalition to get round the Labor Government on the right on foreign policy (much as since Hawke),
Carr brings reflective and family multicultural image to foreign policy and will not be easily trampled by pressures from wherever. A major asset in relations with the US has been our reliability privately and effectively to present a different and sane view to bolster the arguments of sensible people in Washington when American leaders get strange ideas of what to do. This was evident when Reagan was taking office and wanted to adopt aggressive China policy. See the archives.
In 1980 Fraser's Cabinet decided that we should actively pursue a broad-based relationship of value to any future Chinese government, in its own right. Howard didn't get the sense of the whole relationship, mind basically on the money. We haven't got back from there - but must, swiftly.
·  [Reply]

Dennis Argall
formerly ambassador to China
Mar 6, 2012, 11:38AM
 [2] Letter to editor of Financial Review, regarding this editorial


I was puzzled by this reference in your 14 March editorial "Caution needed on US/China":

"But Australia should not be overconfident about being able to be an honest broker between two such large powers and should be careful to also nurture relations with other Asian countries so it can work in concert with them to ease whatever US-China tensions do arise."

Both those options seem too complicated and a bit away from how it's done. 

We have in the past had a history of being valued in Washington by people wanting reinforcement for sensible argument when an American Administration goes weird on China, as seems to happen. As also in the past we have had a reputation with China of refusing to speak 'for China' but to speak for ourselves. One of the great values in our relationship with both, when well served, has been capacity to resolve issues without resort to a lot of noise. Senior Chinese officials in the 1980s spoke warmly of this to me: "You always fight hard for your own interests, but you don't make it so public like the Americans. Thank you."

In recent years there seems to have been a shift to noisiness in our China policy. I stay with the wisdom of the 1980 Fraser cabinet decision to build a broad and mutually beneficial bilateral relationship valued by any future Chinese regime. A perspective lost in the Howard years - focussed on the money -  and muddied by the silly (but sadly serious) militaristic cant of more recent times. This amazing statement in the 2009 Defence White Paper has to be pulled down:

"The United States will remain the most powerful and influential strategic actor over the period to 2030 - politically, economically and militarily. Its strategic primacy will assist in the maintenance of a stable global strategic environment."

Strategic planners in defence have no greater prescience than those in financial markets. It's wishful thinking, not just at a political level but at a force structure level where having special toys depends on being in a deeply integrated defence relationship with the United States. 

I agree with your editorial that this is an important challenge for Carr. But the answer is not in trying to put all the eggs on the scales at once, it is to measure and deal with the issues with a concern to build all the best aspects of relations with rising Asia and sustain all the best aspects of relations with the relatively declining West. 

I hope Senator Carr takes home a copy of the venerable and valuable Satow's Guide, cherishing especially his remark...
"These then are the qualities of a good diplomatist. Truth, accuracy, calm, patience, good temper, modesty, loyalty."
Sir E. Satow, A Guide to Diplomatic Practice  (Longmans, Green & Co. London & New York, 1917) p. 451 http://books.google.com.au/books?id=KWAUAAAAIAAJ&q=truth#search_anchor accessed 24 February 2012.

which needs to be the cornerstone of our foreign dealings.

Dennis Argall
formerly Ambassador to China. 

[3]  Letter to Editor (limited to 200 words) of The Age, regarding this article by Dick Woolcott

Dick Woolcott's "How a US Ally can be Friends with China" makes the case. 
 I don't know how we improve general public attitudes towards and conduct when in Asia in an age of universal travel, but government must be more conscious of how ordinary Australians shape our image. 
Key to our official relations with both China and the US, when well served, has been capacity to resolve issues without resort to a lot of noise. Senior Chinese officials in the 1980s spoke warmly of this to me: "You always fight hard for your own interests, but you don't make it so public like the Americans. Thank you."
We'’ve become noisy.
In 1980 the Fraser cabinet decided to build a broad and mutually beneficial bilateral relationship valued by any future Chinese regime. We lost the broad view in the 90s. 
This fantasy statement in the 2009 Defence White Paper has to be pulled down: 
“"The United States will remain the most powerful and influential strategic actor over the period to 2030 - politically, economically and militarily.”"
We can build the best aspects of relations with rising Asia and sustain those with the declining West. 
Dennis Argall, formerly Ambassador to China.