Australia has an opportunity right now to emerge from the shadow of a moribund American imperium and become an independent centre of influence in South East Asia.
It is a narrow window of opportunity the squabbling children who call themselves our leaders probably don’t even recognise. But it’s there, beckoning us to act.
A Clinton presidency would have brought with it a predictable continuation of brinkmanship with China, ambivalence about Japan’s future in the region, and a continuing bulwark against North Korea. Europe policy would have remained the same, and territorial resource-based confrontations would have continued to protect US-based corporate interests. Our present leaders probably would have seen no need to reassess Australia’s foreign policy settings. Because we have always supported these foreign policy settings without examination.
With Trump all bets are off. The man has no foreign policy credentials, meaning we can expect impulse and petulance to play a large part as more sophisticated leaders manipulate his weak spot: a monumental narcissism that requires continual fondling. Vladimir Putin recognised this early and has played it superbly. Trump islikely to continue his gravitation toward him as a gratification of his ego needs. Combined with Trump’s anti-Chinese rhetoric, any US Russia rapprochement might leave China out in the cold, feeling vulnerable and pressed to adopt a more aggressive posture. Worse than Europe, which has been equally snubbed, but is now the mainstay of Western civilization again, and probably knows it.
There’s little evidence Trump knows where Indo China is located on a map, and possibly the same is true for most other South East Asian nations.
All these factors suggest potentially dangerous policy voids in the coming four years that nevertheless also represent opportunities. If Australia can think beyond a traditionally unquestioning support for US imperial policies.
This isn’t left-field, wishful thinking. Former prime minister Paul Keating told the nation that we need to put our alliance with the USA in a less reverential perspective and act on our own national interests first. I confess that I regard Keating as our greatest living PM, possessed of intellect and insight far outstripping each of his successors. But I also began saying what I’m saying here in October, as a response to observing Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte’s China overtures.
Trump’s actions are as unpredictable as his passions, but it seems likely that Australia could benefit substantially by working right now to build a bridging position. Bridging better commercial and diplomatic relations with China at the same time as creating for itself a position to bridge the gap between China and the USA four years down the track. The same is true of Europe south of the English Channel.
Australia’s China policy should be balanced at the outset by unconditional ties with Japan, including support for Japan’s re-militarisation as one of a series of checks and balances on Chinese power in the region.
Australia might also care to be more of a friend to Indo Chinese nations looking for non-American avenues to acquire Western technology, practices, and partnerships. That’s a loop back to Europe, and, eventually, to Australia’s value to the USA.
None of these obviate the need to address a long-standing impasse with Malaysia, and to work faster at cementing more neighbourly relations with Indonesia not based solely on security and refugees.
Need it be said that Australian policy in relation of Melanesia and Micronesia is a vacuum waiting to be filled by interests not necessarily well inclined to our own.
I suspect the present government will settle for the same approach preached by John Howard in the same forum as Paul Keating – an unwavering focus on America’s imperial colonial skirmishes and US military spending. Howard was never more than a dullard, and he may not be aware that his ‘special’ relationship with GW Bush is history. But he at least had control of his party.
Turnbull is dangerously close to being rolled by the reactionaries in in the Liberal Party of Australia, with help from atavists in the National Party. He may be a smart man, but his brains aren’t on display while he’s pursuing the sole policy of talking up a budget catastrophe that must be addressed by making the poor even poorer, stripping healthcare, and extending perks for the already wealthy.
It should be pretty obvious to anyone who can read budget papers that this non-existent budget crisis is a malicious cover for wealth redistribution to the wealthy, but also that it could be fully written off by foregoing just one or two of the next generation US bombers we’ve contracted to buy. The ones that will probably never fly. The ones whose cost is a shamelessly open tribute payment, for no visible return, to the American imperium. If the quid pro quo is access to intelligence, the question should be what the benefit is to Australia of that intelligence were we not pursuing America’s colonial interests rather than our own independence.
Of all the politicians in Canberra, Turnbull is intelligent enough to see that he comes across as a banana republic autocrat rather than a Western leader when our neighbours look at our arrogant, inward, isolationist focus, and add it to the shameful xenophobia on display in our offshore concentration camps. Camps that appear to be our sole visible foreign policy.
By acting now to address all the potential Trump gaps in foreign policy, Australia could be the bridge not just to a more stable future, but to a position for Australia well exceeding its economic clout and population size. All for no more cost than allowing indolent technocrat bureaucrats to do nothing in diplomatic postings around the world.
But if we miss the opportunity, ignore the vacuum, or turn our back on the potential chaos, created in our region by the buffoonish and incompetent Trump, we can count on the reality that someone else will exploit them to their own advantage. Most likely to our lasting disadvantage.