Shal­low cab­i­net fails to note China threat

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - OPINION | OURS & YOURS - PIERS AKERMAN

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.

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