Time for Australia to emerge from its foreign-policy adolescence

Is culture destiny? Or is geography destiny? These are the existential questions Australians have to grapple with as they ponder their future in the Asian century. As they think over these questions, they would do well to plunge into Peter Hartcher’s new Lowy Institute Paper The Adolescent Country.

Hartcher does not address these existential questions directly. But they form the sub-text of much of what he talks about on Australia’s future. Like many other leading Australian public intellectuals, he worries about the impact of any rivalry between China and US on Australia. In theory, as a staunch American ally, Australia should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the US. In practice, Australian economic interests would be badly damaged if it gets into any confrontation with China.

Australians will soon calculate, as many Asians already have done, that while America may be around for another hundred years, China will be around for the next thousand.

This creates the ‘predicament of proximity’, Michael Fullilove’s phrase which Hartcher adopts in The Adolescent Country. He is right in saying that Australia has credibility with both Washington and Beijing. To maintain this credibility, Hartcher has wisely advised his fellow Australians to get out of the ‘followership’ of America and exercise ‘independent judgement’.

Sadly, the Australian Government has not heeded Hartcher’s advice. Indeed it is doing the opposite.

Recently, when China announced its initiative for an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Washington DC responded by campaigning ferociously against it. It would clearly serve Australia’s national interests to see the AIIB succeed, as regional cooperation in Asia would create a more stable geopolitical environment in its ‘proximity’. In addition, the massive infrastructure projects funded by the AIIB would enhance Australian exports. Instead of exercising wise independent judgement as suggested by Hartcher, Australia crouched into its usual position of ‘followership’ and succumbed …read more

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