By Denis Bright
As the Trump Administration looks inwardly to rehabilitate its domestic economy, China’s President Xi is sprinting ahead with a New Globalization Initiative: The One Belt One Road Project.
The recent Belt and Road Summit in Beijing on 13-14 May 2017 attracted representatives from 130 countries including 30 heads of state from all sides of the political divide (Reuters Coverage 15 May 2017).
This Summit was one event where representatives from the U.S., Britain and Australia could mingle with their equivalents from North Korea (DPRK), Turkey, Russia and Iran.
Australia was represented by Trade Minister Steve Ciobo. The U.S. sent Matt Pottinger, National Security Council Senior Director for Asia.
An unequivocal endorsement of the One Belt One Road Summit came from Christine Lagarde as Director of the IMF (IMF Online 14 May 2017).
The investment of an annual $US1.5 trillion in transport infrastructure networks to link both East and West has added benefits for North-South trade and investment involving Australia, New Zealand and the wider South West Pacific Region.
Australia and New Zealand are strategically located on the supply lines to countries like Pakistan, Iran and Bangladesh. All will be connected to China by new land and sea freight links.
Higher living standards in a more diversified Chinese economy are also a magic wand for our export sectors particularly in the growing service sectors.
The growth and diversification of China also accelerates private capital investment flows throughout the entire Euro-Pacific Region. This is an unprecedented and positive global agenda.
Overlooking cautions from President Obama, Australia demonstrated its trust in China’s new globalization agendas by joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in early 2015.
Australia now has one of the highest non-Chinese financial subscriptions to the AIIB. Our financial commitment is exceeded by both India and Russia. At $US3.691 billion however, Australia’s contribution is quite close to subscriptions from South Korea. This exceeds significant financial subscriptions from both Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Such financial initiatives invite cautions from advocates of military first strategies which are keenly taken up by media outlets as the communication of fear is always a marketable product (Second Line of Defense Online 2017). Such mass anxiety makes leaders on both sides of politics more dependent on predictable advice from military intelligence services to prepare for worse case strategic scenarios.
The tensions between more open diplomacy and military intelligence can be expected to re-emerge to talk down the One Belt One Road initiatives.
The policy game is not a new one.
The old tensions between Labor’s progressive and conservative wings re-emerged in 1984-85 over U.S. plans to test the accuracy of MX missiles fired from California to the Tasman Sea.
Australia came close to following the pacifist sentiments of New Zealand’s Prime Minister David Lange until the Reagan Administration made changes to the testing protocols to avoid a showdown in the federal Labor Caucus over this issue.
Despite a barrage of eyewitness news coverage, political blind-spots continue in reporting of new developments in perceived friendly countries. The acquisition of nuclear weapons and submarine launched missiles by Israel and India has a low news value for mainstream media networks.
Just in March 2017, India successfully fired its own supersonic interceptor missile. The impact of this test for relations with nuclear armed Pakistan was significant (Hindustantimes 1 March 2017).
Media pre-occupation with events in North Korea was so pervasive that the failed test of an Indian Agni-II nuclear capable medium-range missile was largely unreported (The Diplomat 5 May 2017).
There was indeed no rush by President Trump to install THAAD anti-missile systems in the rival nuclear state of Pakistan.
The Israeli origin of this Indian defence technology should also have been of great concern. Both Israel and India are non-signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreement (The Diplomat 11 April 2017).
In stark contrast, China’s One Belt One Road initiative received immediate criticism even before the recent summit commenced in Beijing:
“But a lot of questions still surround the centerpiece of Xi’s push to strengthen China’s influence beyond its borders — the One Belt, One Road initiative.
Launched nearly four years ago, the plan aims to pump hundreds of billions of dollars into railways, roads, ports and other projects across Asia, Africa and Europe. However, some critics say it’s a murky program that could end up being a massive waste of resources”.
Legitimate internal debate should proceed on the depth of financial interactions between China and Australia.
The stakes are too high to allow potential solutions to underdevelopment to be scuttled by hearsay interpretations.
Having Trade Minister Steve Ciabo at the Beijing summit is a very positive sign. Offering bipartisan support for such progressive initiatives from both sides of politics is essential to protect our national interests against the return of gunboat diplomacy from the far-off days of James Monroe as US Secretary of State and later as President.
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 promoting discussion to evaluate pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalization. Denis will be travelling from 20 May in Italy, France and later in Northern Australia.
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