Between the Wolves

The Lowy Institute’s latest report features some interesting data regarding Australia’s perception of China and America. In particular, that our confidence in President Xi to do the right thing has dropped to 38%, but our confidence in President Trump to do the right thing has dropped to a measly 20%.

(I’m surprised it’s that high.)

As America rattles its sabre at Iran, China continues to over-build its influence in the Pacific and Africa, and throws its weight around in the South China Sea. Both are engaged in a potentially crippling tariff war and Australia stands between them, tugging at their coats and saying: “Guys! C’mon guys!”

Because that seems to be the extent of our diplomacy, while always seeming to err on the side of the Americans (whom we trust only half as much as the Chinese).

The problem for us is that China and America are our two most important trading partners and we can’t afford to upset either of them while our current prosperity depends on them.

That’s right – prosperity.

The great fortune of Australia is that we are a tiny little population (by world standards) occupying a vast land mass bulging with minerals. The quarry we call home also just happens to be incredibly beautiful and is a safe, strong democracy (for now) – which makes it a desirable tourist location. Add to that the fact that we are a comparatively clever country, and it all adds up to Australia being (approximately) the 12th biggest economy in the world, shared by just 25 million people.

That is the secret to our prosperity.

And yet it’s all being jeopardised by our geopolitical and trading position – approximately halfway between two slavering wolves.

If we want to protect our livelihoods, and maybe also enhance the safety and happiness of the rest of the world, it is time we started to use our influence to moderate the behaviour of America and China. We need them both and we need them to get on.

As far as America is concerned, we need to assert our independence. Does that mean tearing up the ANZUS Treaty? Probably not, but we should never go running into American wars just because we’re allies. If that maniac Trump wants to start WW3 in Iran we should be the first pulling him back. Our loud and public disapproval might just be enough to give him pause for thought.

It might help with China also.

I suspect they see us right now as America’s bumbling sidekick, but if we showed our independence of America (especially when America is acting so irrationally) then China might see us as an individual voice rather than just another tuneless tenor in the US choir.

The actions of both America and China are destabilising the world right now at a time when the most powerful nations are needed to show leadership. The problems of the world, including climate change, overpopulation and massive economic inequality are getting worse and leading us down a slippery slope towards oblivion.

I reckon we’re screwed within two decades unless we get our noses all pointing in the same direction to resolve these problems, and us just tugging at the coats of the wolves is not helping.

Both America and China need us, for now, so now is the time we must assert ourselves to convince them to use their strength to help turn it all around.

What we most need is vision and if the Americans and Chinese can’t see the possibilities for themselves then we will go up in both of their estimations if we at least have the guts to throw some light on the problems.

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