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Managing an Asian future and an Anglosphere past in 2014

By Reg Little - posted Thursday, 28 November 2013

The five eyes of the Anglosphere, which are the surveillance activities of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, are symbolic of many difficult issues that are likely to confront the Abbott Government during its first year in power. Australia’s Anglosphere past is rapidly being overtaken by its Asian future. Yet, despite half a century of economic good fortune and bold rhetoric, Australia has neglected almost all the necessary action.

A comfortable sense of Anglosphere superiority has enabled Australia to mouth an Asian future rhetoric and yet learn little that is meaningful about Asian languages, cultures, strategies, traditions or future intentions. This is apparent in much of the media coverage of Australian relations with Indonesia.  

The gravity of the situation is most evident in the widespread transformation of the global economy. It is apparent in the severe decline in Western financial fortunes, the loss of productivity in the “advanced” world, the pace of the peaceful rise of Asia, the transfer of educational excellence and technological leadership from West to East and the emergence of alternatives to the post-1945 international institutional structures, which have long privileged Anglosphere interests. It is also evident in the manner in which the Chinese Yuan is beginning to replace the American Dollar at the centre of trading and financial settlements. Preparations for the G20 Summit in Brisbane in November 2014 will need to navigate carefully amongst these emerging divisions and tensions in the global community.


How will a man who has a deep sense of the past benefits of the Anglosphere manage relationships that can suddenly become liabilities? One possible liability has been revealed in the naïve, unquestioning acceptance by successive governments of the authority and competence of the Anglosphere intelligence establishment. Was there no one with responsibility who could do a quick, intuitive cost benefit evaluation of the possible gains and losses inherent in bugging the private family conversations of Indonesia’s leaders. In the contemporary world, the Anglosphere can no longer assume that it has an inherent and secure leadership position in either personal or technological security.

More seriously, problems with the contract for Australia’s intended F35 purchase, together with other international military and political developments, raise questions about American leadership in military technology. Such questions are almost as taboo as questions about intelligence activity.

Yet, perhaps the most serious of all Anglosphere liabilities is the widespread evidence that Australia’s political, diplomatic and academic establishments are incapable of asking questions about the manner in which global dynamics are compromising the authority and credibility of Anglosphere thought culture. Most of the economic, legal, political and value doctrines (often referred to as “universal values”) so successfully promoted by the Anglosphere over recent centuries are coming into question. Western corporations, democracies and ideals are being tarnished by conspicuous failures and by the appearance of successful rivals that pay little serious deference to Anglosphere certainties.

As a result, the soft strategies of the “Communist” Chinese and other “Capitalist” Asians, whose peaceful rise has been accompanied by the bankruptcy of the Anglosphere and by the sidelining of the European Enlightenment’s “universal values”, go largely unremarked and almost totally unstudied. The Orwellian thought culture of the Anglosphere allows no dalliance with those of exotic and “inferior” traditions.

Australia’s new political leadership will be obliged to address these long neglected issues that are fundamental to the nation’s future, although they may continue for a little longer to be dismissed as marginal in the Atlantic heartland of the Anglosphere. In a sense, the Abbott Government has had the good fortune to be alerted at the beginning of its term to the importance of these issues.

The November 2014 Brisbane G 20 Meeting ensures that Australia needs to navigate carefully between the lack of acuity amongst the five eyes of the Anglosphere and the shifting strategies of Indonesia and other Asian neighbours. In a transition grouping like the G20, the Government’s reputation and authority will be determined by the manner in which it advances, or bungles, the daunting transition from an Anglosphere past to an Asian future.  


How will a Prime Minister whose pride in the Anglosphere is balanced by his serious and tactful approach to Australia’s closest major neighbour address this multitude of dilemmas? On the positive side, a crisis of this type can serve to educate in a manner unlikely to have been initiated by bureaucratic advisors. These have long been trained to advance their careers by following the customs, thoughts and actions of the Anglosphere. For a community with an inevitable and unavoidable Asian future, strong political leadership is essential to correct this bureaucratic weakness. Otherwise, neglect can only lead to an exponential growth in neighbourhood crises as Australia fails to make good on its rhetorical promises and loses touch with its dynamic neighbourhood.

On 20 November 2013 Philip Dorling wrote in the Melbourne Age, under the title, "PM must get on the front foot to save dire consequences":

In all the drama of the past 24 hours almost everyone has missed the fact that the document that confirmed the Defence Signals Directorate's targeting of the Indonesian President merely used that as one example of intelligence that could be obtained through access to the new 3G mobile phone networks springing up all across south-east Asia.

Australian officials must now know that their worst-case scenarios are likely to play out - a media-led striptease of Australian espionage in east, south-east and south Asia. The diplomatic and political consequences will be felt far and wide.

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About the Author

Reg Little was an Australian diplomat from 1963 to 1988. He gained high level qualifications in Japanese and Chinese and served as Deputy of four and Head of one overseas Australian diplomatic mission. He is the co-author of The Confucian Renaissance (1989) and The Tyranny of Fortune: Australia’s Asian Destiny (1997) and author of A Confucian Daoist Millennium? (2006). In 2009, he was elected the only non-ethnic Asian Vice Chairman of the Council of the Beijing based International Confucian Association. His other writings can be found on his website:

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