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Balance of power games played out by media reports promoting fear and distrust

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:

National debt levels in Japan

Estimated Chinese debt levels

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):

Image from CGTN

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.



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  1. Matters Not

    Great article Denis.


    if the Bill Shorten Ministry has the ticker to play a more independent role for peace and sustainable development across the Indo-Pacific.

    That’s a very big ask. And from my viewpoint there’s no evidence such an independent role is anywhere to be seen on the political horizon. Indeed, it seems to me that the average Australian punter has absolutely no appetite for such a meal. Accordingly it’s not on the menu. Not even as an entrée.

    While I have a lot of time for Wong, I’m yet to see her fashion a new direction for Australian foreign policy which is probably why she still occupies the leadership positions she does. Safe (political) hands and all that. Being a statesman (a la Whitlam) is not what Australian politics is all about these days.

  2. paul walter

    I hope a Shorten ministry does better than the current cretins. The last time an Australian politician made an effort to aggravate offshore people for a few cheap headlines at home, this was followed by the Bali bombings.

    And as Dennis Bright points out, ignorance is not an excuse as to real world issues.

  3. Paul Davis

    Hi Matters Not

    Shorten Albo…… ticker? Nah… too beholden to the power brokers, however what if Plibers and Penny were in charge of the next government??? I’m sure we would see genuine action on the important stuff…. for one term anyway… Tanya could be the real deal, while Penny…. well we saw her play politics as a minister last time but maybe she has developed a conscience by now. Bill and Anthony will never be anything except apparatchiks (sic?) in my humble opinion.

  4. Stella

    Denis, Thanks for a great article on the political situation in the Asia Pacific region. Interesting times ahead.

  5. Mia

    Australia needs to engage with Asia and the Pacific. The package deals of the Trump Administration are relics from the Age of Imperialism.

  6. Phil

    @Matters Not – a good idea not to frighten the horses in the lead up to a federal election – the US has many horses in the race and has form when it comes to ‘massaging’ our federal electoral machines. Shorten is wise if he keeps any plans for a more sovereign, Australia-centric and less US interventionist foreign policy appraoch, carefully under wraps.

  7. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Ironically, I agree with the comments from Matters Not and Phil. The Australian electorate is deeply conservative but leaders of note like John Curtin, Gough Whitlam and Paul Keating have made changes over-time. Getting them elected with a substantial majority in the future is the forthcoming challenge.

    The whole point of this article was to acknowledge the crucial role of Japan in the Asia-Pacific. US and Australian leaders cannot take permanent Japanese good-will for granted. The facts of Japan’s engagement with China, the Korean Peninsula and Region should not be under-estimated.

    Japanese and Chinese debt levels are high. Both countries are strongly interventionist. Grasping at the Silk Road Initiatives is almost inevitable, regardless of who hold the Prime Minister-ship of Australia.

    The feature article on APEC in the Washington Post is a misinterpretation of diplomatic reality in the Indo-Pacific Region as I see it.

    Of course as an MEAA member, I do not speak on behalf of the Labor Party. The MEAA is not affiliated with the Labor Party. Overly partisan news is indeed a breach of MEAA ethics, as taught at University of Queensland. My ethics lecturer at UQ was indeed a former media adviser to Tasmania’s LNP Premier Robin Gray (1982-89).

    Partisan politics should not get in the way of a good investigative article.

    A case has been presented for an inevitable change towards a more Asian-Pacific-centric focus in Australian foreign policy which will come in time as the Cold War era fades into history.

    Gough Whitlam was a ahead of his time and paid the price for his innovations in Foreign Policy with his dismissal in 1975.

    I am unlikely to be dismissed for my commitment to critical structuralism in feature articles. I am retired from teaching and like to exercise my common law rights to blaze a trail for a more Progressive Australia in politics.

    I saw this article tonight:

    The first Washington Port article about APEC is weak on structural analysis and jumps to conclusions in supporting Trump’s Outreach to Asia and the Pacific.

    Mike Pence is commuting to APEC from Cairns. What does that say to aspiring Australian leaders like Bill Shorten about the credibility of US foreign policy in the Trump era?

  8. Pat

    Thank Denis, a well researched and thought-provoking article.

  9. Elizabeth

    Australia needs to be an independent and progressive republic that can reject the Trump overtures

  10. Chris

    Here in New Zealand. Foreign Minister Winston Peters seems hell-bent on getting our country back as a loyal member of the US Alliance to unscramble all the efforts made by David Lange to promote our capacity to insist on keeping nuclear weapons out of our ports.

  11. Paddy

    New Zealnd has two Orian Patrol Aircraft operating out of Kadena Base in Okinawa to enforce sanctions against North Korea. David Lange (1942-2005) must be turning in his grave. Cheers to Helen Clark who protected his legacy. Minority governments in NZ are always a problem and where is the outrage from the NZ Greens?

  12. Matters Not

    Seems to me there’s an ongoing tension between what a Party promises to get elected and then what is achievable thereafter. Further, there’s the policy area that’s focussed upon. Take Shorten as an example. His chief policy advisors (Bowen, Chalmers and Leigh) view the good society narrowly through an economic lens. And as an aside they’ve made some blunders (including mathematical miscalculations) which caused some embarrassments. But that’s Shorten’s chosen or default path.

    Economics is but one policy area among many. The ALP traditionally focuses on education but given Shorten’s stuff up of Gonsky 0.1 and Plibersek’s subsequent lame efforts, perhaps it’s better that by and large they focus on other areas.

    Whitlam had little or no interest in the dismal science but he had an abiding interest in the wider world. There’s no Whitlam in sight in the current ALP.)(sorry can’t conclude because my computer is completely out of control

  13. Leila

    All I can say Denis , is we live in challlenging times. We must have good leadership in this country & it is not what we have with the LNP government.
    Hopefully a Labour government can bring Australia together & showmteue long term leadership

  14. Tessa_M

    Look like Abe’s visit and APEC will be a turning points in Australian diplomacy.Thanks for your research

  15. James Robo

    Jacinda Ardern must uphold the peace credentials of New Zealand as she agrees to take refugees from Nauru

  16. June

    Thanks for the article Denis!

    Australia should be great friends with all the Asian nations. Why do politicians need to publicly rank countries that’s so juvenile.

  17. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Globalization has re-made the Australian working class, Matters Not. Houses costing $850,000 in Western Sydney are un-affordable and the problem is multiplied by wage theft as well as underemployment. It is Labor’s challenge to re-engage with disadvantaged Australians at work and in election campaigns.

    The LNP campaigns strongly in working class areas to promote militarism, Thatcherism and subtle forms of racism.

    The close association between the LNP and One Nation as well as other far-right religious and secular parties like the Christian Democrats is appalling and challenges the very foundations of Australian society.

    The whole point about the Abe story is that Japan is a very interventionist economy in common with neighbouring countries like China, South Korea, Russia and even Taiwan. In the longer term, these countries will have little in common with Making America Great Strategies which contributed to the war in the Pacific (1941-45).

    There are big leaks in Australian foreign policy as preached by Scott Morrison and other LNP insiders. Labor must dare to be, at least, a little different and not allow our Intelligence Services to influence Policy Development at the forthcoming National Conference in Adelaide next month.

  18. paul walter

    Karen Kyle, I think fear is at the root of it..they fear something will be taken away from them and want attention…night-terrors.

    They are very brought up in a self-centric subculture where reflexivity, empathy and sense of proportion are discouraged and it leads to very sad results for the many “othered”. Isolation is a dank place to be.

  19. Karen Kyle

    Paul Walter……fear is responsible for a lot of the troubles in the world. What worries me about closer relationships with Russia and China is the fact that if they open themselves to the world they will face criticism from a free press. They won’t like it. There was a recent report on the ABC website about China kicking Western reporters out of the meeting in Port Morsby (spelling). They were told to “get out” while the Chinese reporters were allowed in. Bloody rude and worrying behaviour especially in a host country. A bad omen..

  20. paul walter

    Where is this “free press”?

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