22 September 2012

pivotal strategic moment

I said in an entry in this blog on 10 August that we are now in what seems the most important pivotal moment in Australia–China relations. It seems also the case with Australia's relations with the United States, though we don't seem to know it and, still largely asleep, may slide into an absurdity in our alliance with the US.

I was astonished today to see that a report of views of Edward Luttwak, commending our support of an American policy of containment of China, filled half of the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald, notionally a very sensible old Australian newspaper.

I wrote to the Herald thus:

Your Luttwak front page
I am astonished that you would give the front page to reporting Edward Luttwak's views on the containment of China. To have him enter the debate regarding Australia's relations with China and the United States should cause reflection on where we are going in supporting foolish American strategic policy.  
Since the 1970s he has spouted a dangerous nonsense far to the right of Henry Kissinger. He sees international relations as bizarrely abstract, a duel between great enemies, with all the countries in the middle proxies or pawns. He certainly has no real notion of Australia or Australian policy as other than a manipulable. He does not know, does not really have regard for Australian interests.  
He speaks not of China but himself when he writes, as you quote: "The Chinese are autistic in dealing with foreigners, they have no sense of the 'other','' he said. ''They think they are incredibly brilliant strategists as if they had been conquering other nations, when in fact it's been the other way around for 1500 years.''

The notion of containment of China is a huge strategic error. It could not work and as a frame of mind can only aggravate issues in the region, establishing hostile mindsets, reversing trends towards the construction of diplomatic and political infrastructures for development and the resolution of disputes.


There is another disconcerting development today, with reports that a State Department spokesman has said that the the US-Japan treaty covers the Senkakus, islands called such by Japan, also claimed by Beijing and Taipei, known in Chinese as the Diaoyu Islands. Wikipedia provides some account of the territorial dispute, Japan regarding the islands as having been terra nullius at Japanese occupation at the time of the China-Japan war of 1895, Chinese governments claiming otherwise. There has been a considerable escalation of tension in relation to these islands and claims to them recently. The importance of the disputes arises from contest for seabed resources. ASEAN countries, Korea and Russia as well as China and Japan are in the mix of this. The best current resource on this subject is Geoff Hiscock's new book, Earth Wars: The Battle for Global Resources available on paper or Kindle or from iTunes. 

Bringing the US-Japan Security Treaty in and in this way is serious. The Americans, in pre-election mode, seem to be racing ahead on this issue. Also as if they were still repaying for the Acheson 'doctrine' of 1950, thought contributory to the Korean war... or imagining that global security still works as imagined to work then.

The texts of US-Japan and ANZUS treaties are here

Everybody rushes to Articles IV and V of ANZUS, Art V of US-Japan, the bits referring to military support, but really ought to spend a little more time on Art I, this the first sentence of Art I of the US-Japan Security Treaty: 

The Parties undertake, as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international disputes in which they may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.

We should be saying to the Americans that we would not consider ANZUS to apply in the case of US at war with China over Diaoyo/Senkaku islands. If the Americans want to say 'we are just upping the stakes' then that would be folly of the first order, to live or die regretting. 

20 September 2012


There is now a great blathering about Australia and China in the media, perhaps it will eventually come to something coherent, but Dennis Richardson's comments (summarised here), which veer into loose language and thus into inappropriate political argument by a senior official, tend to sustain feuding rather than coherent perspective. More and more it appears we have in the discussion a general ignorance of both US and Chinese strategic policy, trapped like some Dostoevskan double, projecting our own whims and fantasies about what those countries may be and may want.

I should stay away, do other things... but to this discussion at Club Troppo - part 1 and part 2, I offered comments, here, here and here. It's curious to join discussion in what is some sort of 'club', with academic base, you have a sense in relation to much of the discussion that you are very much an outsider in a university tea room conversation.