Shallow cabinet fails to note China threat
NAPOLEON warned the world to beware the sleeping dragon, fearful of what might happen when it woke.
That dragon was China and now it is waking. Last week, President Xi Jinping signalled his intent to become president for life and eclipse Mao Zedong’s authoritarian rule over the world’s most populous nation even as it extends its tentacles into every corner of the Pacific. Hamstrung by his grave lack of judgment, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t appear to recognise that it is time to replace his current Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, with a serious person less obsessed with Instagram.
Turnbull has gutted his front bench of experienced talent in favour of placeholders and opportunists. The everdescending public opinion polls reflect his success in that arena.
Of senior ministers though, Bishop is the one whose flaws are the most obvious because of her desperate need to place herself in the public eye with her boyfriend, Manly man-abouttown David Panton.
Panton, who has been pictured with Bishop at the UN but more usually appears at celebrity events such as the Portsea polo, football matches, society balls and gala events, is counted as “family” by Bishop, making him eligible for taxpayer-funded travel.
With households struggling to meet power bills inflated by the government’s greenerthan-green devotion to inefficient solar, wind and hydro, this couple swanning about is not a good look.
Bishop lacks the depth to deal with the currents buffeting Australia’s interests. China needs to be addressed by someone with credibility.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim to have a new unstoppable nuclear capability is also alarming and even though the Russians are notorious for bragging about unproven weaponry, Bishop should be talking about this potential threat.
Australian diplomats at the pointy end of her department narrowly missed a car bomb in Kabul on Friday. They were lucky but were also in a minority in a bureaucracy more concerned with promoting Islamist fashions favoured by the Taliban and other bomb makers. Perhaps the Taliban were unaware how hard the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been pushing their anti-female agenda.
Both major political parties in Canberra and the Greens have been too paralysed by non-issues such as homosexual marriage and salacious gossip to deal with the big stuff.
China is also our top trading partner, accounting for almost a quarter of all two-way trade in goods and services, while Japan and the US come a distant second and third with less than half of that amount each.
But that’s no reason to ignore the dangerous manner in which China has been splashing largesse around the Pacific.
As it happens, I landed on Niue a few months ago, an island nation between Tonga and Samoa with a population of 1600, all of whom have access to New Zealand passports.
China has handed Niue about $43 million. That’s a lot of loot and there will be a rendering of the account, as there has been in other Pacific nations which have accepted Chinese largesse. Of course, when China’s influence in the Pacific was raised in January by Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Minister for International Development and the Pacific, DFAT gave her the cold shoulder. Fierravanti-Wells was concerned that Pacific Islands may be taking on unsustainable Chinese bank loans and that some Chinese aid programs funded useless buildings, white elephants and “roads to nowhere”.
The state-controlled Chinese media were highly critical and Bishop gushed about Chinese aid supporting sustainable economic growth.
But New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters appeared to endorse FierravantiWells’ views about some Chinese aid projects (though he was concerned about the method of her delivery) last week in Sydney. He told a Sydney Institute audience that NZ would boost aid spending and beef-up its diplomatic presence to reassert influence and possibly back away from Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. National security realists in Australia and the US were pleased that at least one person in the Turnbull government could see what’s happening.
If Bishop can lift her eyes from the fashion magazines for a moment, she might care to examine a report delivered to the US Armed Services Committee last month.
Its author, Professor Aaron L. Friedberg, is a former deputy assistant for national security affairs in the Office of the US Vice President and a former research fellow at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. He is now professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University.
Friedberg warns that the strategy the US has been pursuing towards China for the past 25 years has failed. As a result, the world now faces a nation whose wealth and power are rapidly growing but whose leaders have interests, values and objectives fundamentally different from those of the US. He cautioned that Beijing is now pursuing a wide-ranging, “whole-of-government” strategy that threatens the future security and prosperity of the US and its democratic friends and allies. A new strategy is needed to mobilise the various instruments of the US and those of our partners.
No one on either side of Australian politics has appreciated his warning. If Turnbull hadn’t hollowed out his front bench he might have had some talent to call upon but he doesn’t have any Alexander Downers to tap.
Saying that Bill Shorten’s Opposition is in an even worse position — which it is — doesn’t cut it. Turnbull has to start tackling the big issues once he gets the giddiness of Mardi Gras from his system.
Malcolm Turnbull’s selfie with President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping.