Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Paul Kelly, Grande Dame of Australian journalism, makes a case for foreign policy in today's Australian.
Some times the bleeding obvious does need to be re-stated for those in the cheap seats.
It is best to state some home truths. Australia's most important single relationship is with the US, a proposition that is neither new nor unique. Ask official strategists in London, Moscow, Beijing or Tokyo what relationship is the most important for their country and the answer on each occasion will be the US. This is not rocket science

Then there is
Australia's single most important regional relationship is with East Asia.

What the hell is a "regional relationship"? For that matter, who is in the region? Are we having a relationship with ourselves? Does this explain Howard's need for glasses?

Kelly's access to the top can also be revealing
The centrality of integrating our Asian and US ties shaped the foreign policy of [former Prime Ministers] Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke and Keating. In the ABC television series 100 Years, I asked each of them whether Australia would have to choose between Asia and the US. Hawke and Keating insisted no such choice would be needed but Fraser said that Australia, eventually, will be forced to choose and that it must choose the side of China.

So the next time you see Malcolm looking compassionate over asylum seekers, remember he wants to line up with the people who are a big part of the reason the asylum seekers are coming here.

Kelly has forgotten some history
It is about perceptions just as much as reality. Australia has had a series of problems in Asia under the Howard Government in our exclusion from regional groupings. Was the reason for such exclusion because of our ties with the US? No. The explanation for such exclusion lies in our problems with Asia, not our success with the US.

I must have missed it when ASEAN voted us in as members while Keating was running the show. And we all must have misinterpreted the values represented by Malaysian Prime Minster Mahathir Mohammed when he blamed his countries financial woes on "Jewish speculators". I suggest the reason we have a problem with Asia is because the whole idea of "Asian values" has been proven to be a farce; they know it, we know it, and the markets of the world know it. Asian countries lined up behind us when we went in to East Timor to kick some Asian Values arse.

Since I'm not a diplomat, I can't use the correct geo-political phrases to make this sound nice-nice, but here it is. We don't have to join Asia, and they manifestly don't want us to. They want to join us, and big time. We are stable, democratic, rich and regionally powerful. We trade with the world, delivering desirable products at competitive rates that are not about to change.

Asian countries send their children here to be educated, their rich come here when they are sick. We have nothing to apologise for, and nothing to ask for. Is there any doubt that they will continue to buy our products and services? Come here for holidays? Buy Sydney real estate as off-the-books bolt-holes? World countries set up their headquarters in Sydney for very good reasons. Mainly so they know that the President's son-in-law's personal trainer is not allowed to show up and demand a job.

Australia and the US remain the model to strive for, not the applicant at the door. As long as the refugees are swimming this way and foreign aid goes the other way, and as long as we remain the biggest functional democracy in the place, then our foreign policy should be predicated on a simple formula: they want to join us. The more we are like us, the more they will want to be like us.

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