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Sending a message to Gillard about the new cold war


For some time, US President Barack Obama has been engaged in conversation with China's President Hu Jintao about the direction and pace of reform in Beijing's economic policy and acceptance of intellectual property standards. 

Both leaders represent goals and interests that are both worthy and not so worthy. Obama is attempting to recreate jobs for dispossessed Americans, while Hu Jintao wants to keep China's industrialisation on track so that hundreds of millions of Chinese will continue to rise from poverty. But Hu Jintao appears prepared to break the established international rules, and Obama is beholden to the wealthy Americans who call the shots. 

Because the pace of China's response is not acceptable to the US, it is possible the conversation will die and a new cold war will begin. The US Jesuit peace activist John Dear wrote in an email to Eureka Street at the weekend: 'This is the beginning of the end for you all.'

A cold war would end the friendship with China that Obama refers to in his speeches. It would promote fear through military coalitions, force deployments, proxy wars, espionage, propaganda, arms races, rivalry at sports events and technological one-upmanship. This serves the interests of neither side.

Australia will be a significant player in any cold war that eventuates between the US and China, with the positioning of 2500 US Marines in Darwin by 2017. The strategy is part of Obama's effort to protect US jobs and intellectual property rights, and is not necessarily in Australia's interest. For example, satisfying demands of the wealthy US pharmaceuticals lobby is likely to lead to higher prices for generic medicines here.

It is regrettable that the Gillard Government has set Australia on this unexpected path. This has occurred not only without an electoral mandate, but also in the absence of national debate. 

If large numbers of Australians are worried about the threat to Australia's sovereignty posed by a few thousand asylum seekers arriving by boat each year, surely they would have wanted to be consulted on the use of Australia's territory in a potentially game changing US posturing exercise against China.

Australians taken aback by the precipitousness of last week's announcement will want to send a message to the Government. The best way to do this would be through media and community debate that embodies the spirit of the conversation between Obama and Hu Jintao that urgently needs to be preserved. Good conversation clarifies what each side is about, which is necessary before differences can be resolved.

US Christian social justice advocate Jim Wallis recently identified some of the qualities of productive conversation in an Open Letter to the Occupy movement.

I would advise you to cultivate humility more than overconfidence or self indulgence. This really is not about you. It's about the marginalised masses, the signs of the times, and the profound yearning for lasting change. Take that larger narrative more seriously than you take yourselves.

It could well be that the actions of Obama and Gillard in setting up the Darwin strategy are in fact about themselves, specifically their re-election in 2012 and 2013 respectively. 

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: Obama, Gillard, cold war, Hu Jintao, China, USA, Jim Wallis, Occupy



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Existing comments

In your previous posts, Michael, you were not concerned there was no mandate for the carbon tax. Why should there have been one for the US basis?

John Ryan | 21 November 2011  

Get your story straight. The fact that China and China alone has squandered years of goodwill speaks a lot louder to the ASEAN neighbors than any sound bites from Obama.

stentor | 21 November 2011  

Michael, Thanks for another thoughtful article. To say that the behaviour of the Gillard government is "regrettable" is like saying Hitler's policies post 1933 were alarming. Gillard's "diplomacy" in the past week is outrageous and totally unacceptable. Hopefully, all peace loving Australians will convey this message to our fearless "leader" in the next election.

Andrew | 21 November 2011  

This most timely and incisive comment on a reality that seems so sadly to escape public perception.
How do we really get that message across?

Jim Bowler | 21 November 2011  

I would rather see the actions of Obama and Gillard in setting up "the Darwin strategy" as the outcome of a thorough examination and study of the plethoric multiplicity of inter-acting variables that constitute the international relations between nation-states in this complicated technological world.

Re-election of the two leaders may have played a part but in the great scheme of things I don't think either leader would risk a "cold war" with China for another stint in their respective governing hot seats.

Uncle Pat | 21 November 2011  

Unfortunately, more than any other Western country Australia has progressively tied itself closer to the United States which by its actions is taking all steps it coniders necessary to contain China. There is a serious risk of eventual armed conflict between the US and China which will necessarily involve Australia. As a nation we seem incapble of ridding ourselves of a no longer appropriate dependent mindset.

Jim Ingram | 21 November 2011  

'It could well be that the actions of Obama and Gillard in setting up the Darwin strategy are in fact about themselves, specifically their re-election in 2012 and 2013 respectively'. Perhaps, but would it have been any different if Abbott had been in the Lodge instead of Gillard?

Ginger Meggs | 21 November 2011  

Methinks you are all delving too deeply into this arrangement. President Obama said clearly that the main purpose of the US military presence would be for humanitarian purposes - to help out in the next earthquake, flood or tsunami. Until there is any evidence otherwise, let's not be over-suspicious about espionage and propaganda and cold war scenarios. Too many James Bond movies John Dear.

AURELIUS | 21 November 2011  

I think we could all too quickly jump to conclusions about the new developments in the Aus-US alliance. Maybe the issue is not solely related to these in relation to China. I would be inclined to listen closely to the concerns of our Asian neighbours. Commentators have pointed out that while the Asia Pacific nations are heavily engaged with China for economic growth and stability, they still in fact rely on the strategic umbrella of the US for their overall security. As for a new cold war, one might also surmise from various public messages broadcast from the US in particular that America and China are already in a state of de facto hostilities over massive cyber attacks by the latter on the former. Prudence would also demand that we monitor closely the movements within the Chinese Government and the PLA which would indicate attempts by the radical Maoist remnant in both to take advantage of China's rapid economic growth and power combined with military modernization/expansion to project aggressively Chinese power and influence. While no doubt both Obama and Gillard will get an electoral bounce out of the latest deal, maybe there is a much more serious intentionality at work here.

David Timbs | 21 November 2011  

If the actions of Obama and Gillard in setting up the Darwin strategy is for their re-election in 2012 and 2013 is true. Then in regards to Gillard it is understandable. She will want to win a majority of voters. And who is this majority? Australians who welcome the presence of American armed forces in the Northern Territory and keep the strong USA and Australian Alliance.

Ron Cini | 21 November 2011  

The fact that all Australian citizens were ignored in Julia's rush to get into bed with Warlord Obama will never be forgotten by this citizen.

The woman and those who support her have the vision and wisdom of a house brick.

Australia will pay a heavy price for this betrayal.


David Grayling | 22 November 2011  

I agree with the comments that we have followed for far too long tied our foreign policy to that of the USA. This policy has resulted in us participating in wars that are not our concern and which are immoral, such as Vietnam, Iraq, and the continuation of the war in Afghanistan, long after its initial objectives of driving out the Taliban and getting Osama bin Laden have been achieved. While I agree that we should treat USA as a friend it should not be to the extent of giving up our right to form our own foreign policy on morally justifiable grounds and for our own benefit. We should approach our relationship with the USA, as also with China and any other country, as a friendship of adults who can give each other good reasons why we follow a different policy from them and who do not shrink from giving them reasons why we think their policies are wrong, if we think that necessary in the interests of friends.

Tony Santospirito | 23 November 2011  

Michael's got me discombobulated this time. I thought that Mr Obama was more concerned with China's "slow pace of response", in beginning to treat its impoverished and suffering citizens as human beings. We all agree that China"is prepared to break the established international rules", especially those pertaining to the human rights of its people.We might be a bit tetchy about our sovereignty, that's understandable, but we have to suck it up, and remember that it's not about us but about the solidarity which exists between two of the world's most just and beneficent societies, Australia and the USA.

Claude Rigney | 23 November 2011  

When does Australia grow up? It seems we cannot make up our mind and continue to bow to Mother England and try to be the obedient nephew to Uncle Sam. It would be nice for many of us to see Australia grow up; become independent, strong, proud and neutral.

Beat Odermatt | 25 November 2011  

Not unexpected; an appalling decision,so thoughtlessly taken.
I have no wish to be in the trenches with Julia and Kevin either side of me.

Gray Lindsay | 25 November 2011  

Thank you Michael. Very well put. Firstly, to Beat: we of Australia do not bow to Mother England. In reality, that colonial practice ended in 1901, and cemented in after WW2. Get it?! We still however do the "all the way with the USA" thing, which concerns me much. I agree with Michael. I do not feel more secure because thousands of American troops will be stationed near Darwin. I feel less secure. And it is high time we of Australia stopped bowing to the US vis a vis every military venture they are minded to. We can and should make our own decisions, focus on our region, in our way. We know this Asia Pacific region well, most of which comprises third world and developing countries. They need us. We need them. And we certainly need China. What we do not need is to become another major military base for the USA.

LouW | 26 November 2011  

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