By Denis Bright
Having increased its majority in the US Senate at the Mid-term elections on 6 November 2018, the Trump Administration can claim a partial mandate to excuse the Democratic Blue Wave in the US House of Representatives.
For Australia, this is a dangerous time in our foreign policy as the mainstream media cheers on the Trump Administration’s antagonism towards China. Long forgotten is President Xi’s quiet diplomatic role in demilitarising the Korean Peninsula which was on the brink of armed conflict a year ago.
Anticipating a daring strategic engagement between Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the US to counter Chinese strategic and economic influence in the South West Pacific, The Washington Post made the following impromptu observations:
Morrison will meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday, when Abe makes a flying visit to Darwin between a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Singapore and the weekend’s meeting of leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Papua New Guinea. Abe will become the first Japanese leader to visit Darwin since the bombing of the northern Australian city by Japanese forces in World War II.
Morrison will then hold meetings with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence during the APEC meeting in Port Moresby. Pence will use the northern Australian city of Cairns as his base for those meetings amid concerns over security in Papua New Guinea. It’s expected several other APEC leaders will also stay in Cairns.
Trade and investment will be a major focus of Morrison’s meetings with Abe, who will use his Darwin trip to also visit Japan’s biggest ever foreign investment, the $40 billion Ichthys gas project in which Japanese firm Inpex is the majority shareholder and operator. The project, which pipes offshore gas from the northwest Australian coast to Darwin, began its first shipments of liquefied natural gas to Japan last month.
The air-brushing of Australian history merely requires an apology of sorts from Shinzo Abe for the bombing of Darwin in 1942. This can be dismissed as a nasty relic from a militaristic phase in Japanese history which was ended by the US occupation of Japan in 1945.
Tony Abbott commenced the air-brushing exercise at the East Asian Summit in Brunei in 2013:
Tony Abbott has declared Japan Australia’s “closest friend in Asia”, elevating the former World War II aggressor past both China and Indonesia as he continued his regional charm offensive.
Mr Abbott met the conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the 18-member East Asia Summit being held over two days in the tiny sultanate of Brunei.
The talks between the two leaders were described as “exceptionally warm” and covered a range of topics from trade to security, with Mr Abbott effectively endorsing Japan’s re-emergence as a strategic power.
While the precise language was not released, it is understood Mr Abbott used the talks, one of many such bilateral meetings since attending the APEC and East Asia Summit meetings, to establish relations and to arrange more exchanges at a later time.
Tony Abbott’s outrageous utterances in Brunei were a severe insult to the eighteen members of the East Asia Summit which included China, Indonesia, India and Russia.
The folly of foreign policy through such populist media frames can be expected to continue in eyewitness news reports of Shinzo Abe’s visits to both Darwin and the APEC Summit. This is the diplomatic risk of the New Century for an accident-prone Scott Morrison on the world scene. Meanwhile, US Vice-President Mike Pence will stay on the diplomatic sidelines and commute from Cairns to Port Moresby to attend the APEC Summit.
In this diplomatic farce, the PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neil has offered to play the role of peace-maker in the media war between the US and China:
Papua New Guinea’s Foreign Minister says the country will do all it can to ensure there are no conflicts between China and Australia during the APEC summit.
The leaders of China and Australia are about to arrive in Port Moresby for the event, amid tensions between the two countries over influence in the Pacific.
The PNG Government maintains it wants to stay out of the geopolitics that threaten to engulf it.
Australia, China and the United States are all jockeying for position in the region, and several aid and development announcements are expected to be made in coming days.
This will likely include an internet and electricity program for PNG being backed by Australia.
This weekend’s summit has taken on heightened interest as countries vie for favour and influence in the Pacific.
There is little reality in the media coverage of the forthcoming events in Darwin and Port Moresby as Australia seeks to play a vital new role in a dangerous phase global diplomacy which is far more serious than the price of the next electricity bill. Indeed, the federal LNP has staged the whole charade for domestic political gain and the Trump Administration is following a similar agenda while staying on the sidelines while Australia appears to take the real initiative.
During the Wentworth by-election, the federal LNP gave its game plan away by supporting an aside from David Sharma at Bondi Beach about the possibility of moving the Australian embassy to Tel Aviv. In the insular minds of federal LNP leaders and loyal members of the Trump Administration, diplomacy is just another stage for domestic politics.
Prime Minister Morrison’s faith in the old western world order distorts the history of Asia and the South West Pacific Hemisphere. Thriving civilisations bloomed while Europe was in the Dark Ages. The evidence extends from the Great Wall of China to relics of the Hindi Kingdoms of South East Asia, the monuments of Easter Island and Australia’s own history as an indigenous civilisation.
It has not dawned on the apologists for Western Imperialism in Asia, that APEC Countries might have anticipated the game plan of both the federal LNP and the Trump Administration.
One of the most naïve assumptions is that Japan can be used as a pawn in a dangerous balance of power game across our Indo-Pacific Hemisphere.
That long diplomatic handshake at the APEC Summit in Beijing back in 2014 was part of a new rapprochement between Japan and China. It also extended to a cooling of old disputes between China and India, Vietnam, Taiwan and South Korea. If this meant a cooling of relations between China and North Korea this was of little consequence to China.
The Washington Post made a better assessment of the significance of this visit:
Kim arrived Tuesday for his third visit to China in the span of three months, meeting with President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in the heart of Beijing.
The visit comes a week after President Trump met with Kim in Singapore and a day after the United States confirmed that it will cancel what Trump called “war games” with South Korea scheduled for August. News of Kim’s trip came just hours after Trump threatened China with tariffs on $200 billion in goods.
On Tuesday evening, Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, were welcomed by Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan. Photos from the event show Kim and Xi shaking hands in front of a row of Chinese and North Korean flags-a visual echo of Kim and Trump’s much-photographed handshake in Singapore.
Xi reportedly praised the outcome of the Singapore summit, calling it an “important step toward the political solution of the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue,” according to the party-controlled press.
The worst excess of the Washington-Canberra diplomacy is an assumption that Japan can be used as a bargaining chip in a global diplomatic game which is really focused on domestic politics.
With the conservative government of Shinzo Abe holding a commanding majority in the House of Representatives and in recent opinion polls, China has offered Japan a positive role in the Belt and Road Initiatives in the interests of sustainable economic development and demilitarisation in Asia.
This is potentially a better offer for Japan than a continuation of the Cold War Diplomacy and economic dependence offered by the Trump Administration in its efforts to Make America Great Again with secondary consideration to the welfare of Japan.
Both China and Japan have a lot in common with a long history of interventionist domestic economic management.
Intelligence from Macquarie Research in Australia, to October 2018, shows that both Japan and China have unsustainable national debt levels which could be stabilised by closer ties and access to the resources of the Russian Far East and Siberia. Essentially, Japan, China and Russia are continental powers which do not need to live under the tutelage of the Trump Administration with its 1945 mentality:
With my own very limited resources, I can note a willingness of Shinzo Abe to be involved in its own version of Maritime Belt and Road Initiatives with Russia. This will be more successful with the co-operative unification of the Korean Peninsula under guidance from China’s own Belt and Road Initiatives.
Contrary to attempted sanctions against Russia, Japan has been an active participant in the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok (4-6 September 2018) and the Russian Investment Forum in Sochi (14-15 February 2019):
Shinzo Abe is an enthusiastic participant in most Russian events and President Xi of China attended the 4th Eastern Economic Forum this year.
Relationships between Japan and Russia are so convivial that proposals are underway for a rail bridge or undersea tunnel to link the winter ski-fields of Hokkaido to Russia through the Island of Sakhalin (Newsweek Online 18 July 2018):
President Xi can also offer Japan a permanent peace settlement of territorial disputes over the status of Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands which would include Japanese involvement in the sustainable economic development of these troubled territories as part of a broader Belt and Road Initiatives.
A better world exists. It will not be delivered by a sprinkling of Green senators and members of the House of Representatives from inner-city electorates but by a real change of government in Australia to a majority Labor Government if the Bill Shorten Ministry has the ticker to play a more independent role for peace and sustainable development across the Indo-Pacific.
Denis Bright is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in advancing pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalisation.