The way I act don’t seem like me / I’m not on top like I used to be

I tend to find that a blogging ennui sets in when in New Zealand. I have no idea why – perhaps the weather, the heavier food, the extended social routes, the lack of a personal working space, or perhaps just because.

In 2012 I’ve spent some 2 1/2 of the 4 months to date in the country and blogged very sporadically.

I think I’m just making excuses.

So, here I am back in South East Asia and you immediately get the urge to scribble again. I guess sitting in the midst of an aspiring cold war with the potential to go hot on the edges does focus the mind somewhat. I don’t think it will – go hot that is – but you do sometimes wonder if there are those beyond the region who would like nothing more.

Two things came at me – both Asia-centric yet globally significant – which I had a mind to say something about, and to link because they’re clearly related.

Will Robertson sent me this piece from the Australian Marxist Left Review – not a site I frequent often but perhaps should  – written by Tom Bramble, entitled Australian Imperialism and the rise of China.

Setting aside the intertwined talk of class warfare and the like (and in particular the last couple of headlined sections in the piece) it’s a pretty decent analysis of the rise and future rise of China, with more analytical substance than most of the supposedly informed bluster found endlessly in the digital and physical pages of Bloomberg, The WSJ, The Economist and other more centre-right Western journals.

Most especially I like the way it looks at the Australian military posturing towards China and the way it conflicts badly with its necessary economic stance, and the impossibility of the place the anointed land finds itself in as it tries to reconcile the past with the accelerating reworking of the future by the Asian explosion.

The money-shot in the piece is this (and, once again, you can treat the class conflict notations therein as you wish):

Nonetheless, the fact remains that Australia is currently not forced to choose between the two sides. The US and China are not about to go to war with each other. Why then is the Australian ruling class positioning itself so aggressively towards China? At some level this question cannot be answered by reference to material facts and interests which would suggest a more balanced approach or some hedging of bets. Australia’s hawkish posture can only be understood at the level of ideology and the ruling class’s perception of itself as a white redoubt in Asia defined by its dependence on another “white” power. As Hugh White argued, even pressuring the US to make more space for China would involve a confrontation with Australia’s “oldest and deepest foreign policy principles”:

We have always believed that our security required the domination of the Western Pacific by an Anglo-Saxon maritime power… We can hardly imagine what it would be like to live in an Asia that is not led by the US. All our history and instincts therefore incline us to push the US to contest China’s challenge and maintain the status quo for as long as possible. Yet our interests and our future should incline us to push the other way.

To the extent that even today the ruling class conceives itself, and thereby promotes amongst the population at large, the notion that Australia is essentially a European country, while the vast bulk of trade is with Asia and an increasing proportion of immigrants come from Asia, is testimony to the resilience of ruling class ideology even when faced with changing facts on the ground.

This doesn’t end seem to end well for Australia at the moment, as it confronts but refuses to recognise the impending reality that is Asia in the next few decades.

Thinking about that, I returned t0 this story a few days ago in the Bangkok Post. It’s pretty important, partially because it doesn’t beat around the bush and indicates a growing regional pragmatism that the west seemingly misses. We don’t do pragmatism that well, but it’s the essence of Asian interaction – that and face.

The essence of the story is that the three Thai military chiefs, plus the Minister of Defence went on a dedicated trip to Beijing last week.

Thailand has, since the end of WW 2, been a solid US ally in the region, but:

“We wanted to convey the message to China that the Thai armed forces assign importance to China. We’re like a close relative. As for the United States, we are a close friend. We cannot pick one over the other. We still keep close ties with all the superpowers for the balance of power. But under the present circumstances, we have to stay closer to our relative than the close friend who is far away,” a high-ranking source at the ministry summed up the trip.

Of course there are other reasons for the journey – the Thai/Cambodian scrap for example, but the greater significance of this trip lies with the fact that Thailand has been named repeatedly by the US as one of the nations most nervous about supposed Sino military flexing – such flexing being a prima-facie given reason for US counter-flexing, not least with Australia as a partner. The Western flexing – a modern Third Opium War in the making – is to nobody’s advantage aside from perhaps the military-industrial monoliths and those that benefit from that (perhaps I’m edging closer to Tom Bramble than I thought). Certainly, nobody in Asia including China gains an advantage. It’s not pragmatic. Here, we just lose no matter who wins the war.

I wonder what the Wall Street Journal has to say about this…..


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

May 05, 2012 at 06:05 PM

Glad you’re back blogging. That was a fascinating post.

George D
May 05, 2012 at 08:05 PM

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Australia (and by extension NZ – since NZ hasn’t had an independent foreign minister with confidence in his own ideas in the last 15 years) that countries exist not to line themselves up as subjects of a second cold war, but as independent entities whose interests are prosperity and security. Simple enough to grasp, but the world really does look a little different in Canberra and Wellington (it really does).

May 05, 2012 at 09:05 PM

Yeah, I agree George. The idea of sidling up to take part in the US’s endless confrontations to gain fiscal (and political) advantage seems stuck in those capitals, perhaps because so few actually notice them and they desperately wish they would.

May 07, 2012 at 10:05 AM

I suspect there is a A deep-seated cultural fear of reprisal for colonisation at play in the NZ psyche: if and when the US declines, it goes, New Zealand will necessarily be brutally colonised in a 19 Century way by the ascendant foreigners because that’s what Europeans did when they had all the guns, germs and steel. History, the fact that the Chinese have no history of imperial behaviour outside of the middle-kingdom, doesn’t seem to mitigate it.

Of course the Chinese have strategic interests in our dairy industry; we have strategic interest in their dairy industry also, and so far they seem extremely willing to allow us to invest in it without imposing the sort of anti-competitive market restrictions that, say, the European Common Market imposes.

Incidently, we just sold off about 100 years of intellectual property in respect of apples, in the form of ENZA, to the Germans. If there was a news story I missed it. There wasn’t any outrage, and comparatively that was a much more significant sell off than the Crafar farms, one with arguably little benefit to our economy.

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