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The stable doors are open

By Bruce Haigh - posted Tuesday, 16 November 2010


The horses have bolted; black, white, red and pale are on the move. The United States with all the careful deliberation that pertained to the invasion of Iraq has decided to contain China. A week of significant change has largely gone unnoticed by a star and bangle struck Australian media. Still, perspicacity is not a strong point of a greying and self-satisfied Fourth Estate, more concerned with the state of the property market than the state.

Just in case it has escaped notice there is a race on to tie up resources - oil, mineral, land and water. Africa is being carved up once again and from Mongolia to Mauritius mining companies are exploring. More ominously major corporations are buying up water worldwide, including Macquarie Bank and in this they have the backing of suspect World Bank, charged with US backed private enterprise zeal.

China is concerned to diversify and protect its supply of raw materials. Trade and security walk hand in hand for them; as it does for the United States.

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Forget AUSMIN, something happened inside the US Administration six weeks ago. A god almighty brain freeze, that saw all other foreign policy issues shrink in importance, a sudden panic that saw matching and containing China of more importance than Afghanistan and the messy and ill fought war on terror.

Taken for granted by members of the A Team for years, even though we have turned up for all their games, we couldn't believe our ears when Hilary Clinton came to sound us out. Yes, yes, we are ready for closer co-operation. Anything you want, anyway you want it. Never mind that team captain Obama was chatting up Indonesia and India at the same time and their Australian Ambassadorial team runner was telling us on national television that the people of Fiji are important and need nurturing, for in them lie the seeds of democracy; that was a first, I cannot recall an American diplomat in Australia mentioning the importance of a stable and democratic Fiji.

Being described as democratic or on the path to democracy, is the new US code for ally or potential ally. Note Obama referred to India as democratic and Indonesia as having achieved significant democratic reform.

Make no mistake, a truly Nineteenth Century grab for influence, resources and power is underway between the US and China and we have just been co-opted onto the side of the White Horse of the Apocalypse.

Canberra academic, Hugh White, made a courageous and, as it turns out, belated attempt to generate debate on the foreign policy alternatives available to Australia, squeezed as we are between the ambitions of China and the fears of America. Writing in the last Quarterly Essay, "Power Shift, Australia's future between Washington and Beijing", Hugh White sets out options for Australian policy makers to consider.

He summarised this paper in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, on the 8 November, "Striking a new balance", which read more as a plea for commonsense and national interest than the dispassionate paper he produced for Quarterly Essay before a predatory US came stalking.

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Nothing of any substance was announced at AUSMIN. Closer defence, space, storage, supply and home porting drifted to the ceiling like so many party balloons, but no details. In fact US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, said he was going home to work them out.

In addition to aircraft, trucks and armoured vehicles, will Australia be asked to store nuclear, chemical and biological weapons? Will we be asked to host facilities that can launch these weapons?

Once again we have been launched as USS Australia; the first launching was in 1942. The US views us as a food and minerals producing aircraft carrier. The lines are being drawn for the war in the Pacific. Hilary tried to spin, in part, what appears to be a non negotiable package as a co-operative effort to meet natural disaster in the region, just don't mention New Orleans.

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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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