By Denis Bright
Josh Frydenberg made a successful transition from a recognized tennis ace to excellence in studies in economics and law. A successful corporate career followed. He has represented the normally safe federal seat of Kooyong since 2010. Either from Opposition or in a future LNP Government, Josh Frydenberg should be a familiar face in Australian politics into the 2030s.
Josh Frydenberg’s future contribution to policy innovation could be more creative if the federal LNP followed a more flexible path in domestic and strategic policies. In an economy that is resource rich and already half the size of either France or Britain, Australia has no need to be a dependent power within new strategic alliances that stoke up international tensions and divert resources into unproductive militarism to the cheers of military industrial complexes globally.
Generations of building up DFAT expertise justify a more independent outlook on international affairs so that Australians can enjoy the benefits of new associations with rising powers in Asia without the need for intelligence clearance from deliberations of the Five Eyes Intelligence Network.
The text from the ANU Crawford Leadership Forum was a good chance to note the style of Josh Frydenberg as he handled the provocative themes of Building Resilience and the Return of Strategic Competition.
Side-stepping great issues like global warming and the COVID-19 crisis, a potential LNP future leader focused on a manufactured complaint about the consequences of a more confident and assertive China that is willing to use its growing economic weight as a source of political pressure and regional coercion against countries in the US Global Alliance including Australia.
Josh Frydenberg offered a new China Plus Strategy. Australia would be in the forefront of managing the rise of China for the mutual benefit of countries in our Indo-Pacific Region, including the USA.
DFAT summaries of existing commercial ties with China shows the difficulties of turning around the ship of state in new strategic directions. China is indeed Australia’s largest two-way trading partner in goods and services, accounting for one third (31 per cent) of our trade with the world.
Any spontaneity from the address disappeared when The Australian (6 September 2021) reported on the address in considerable detail before delivery at the ANU Crawford Leadership Forum. By that evening, the address was hardly newsworthy. The usual coverage of COVID statistics and even Scott Morrison’s attendance at the two-day National Summit on Women’s Safety had become far more significant.
In opposition or government, Josh Frydenberg would take Australia in a more conservative direction in both foreign and domestic policies. Elections with Khaki Militaristic Rhetoric have been favourable to the LNP in the past. The 1954 election assisted in the generation of 23 years of continuity to LNP government after 1949. The landslide to the LNP in 1966 offered more oxygen to the continuity before US hastily abandoned Saigon to Viet Cong forces in 1975.
Today’s LNP overstates the importance of strategic concerns about the rise of China. As warned by retired Rear Admiral Chris Barrie, Australians can and should welcome the rise of China as a stabilizing influence in the Indo-Pacific Basin. Britain made similar mistakes by mishandling the rise of Germany in the generation prior to the Great War (1914-18).
Our currently badly skewed China card can help to win elections in the short-term at a cost of financial and strategic burdens for generations ahead. President Biden is also playing a mutual China card to stoke up patriotic fervour before the US mid-term elections on 8 November 2022.
Rapprochement with China is likely to commence after that date when projections from the US Federal Reserve for the US economy are less favourable than at present. The strategic disputes with China are probably less serious than our leaders claim. China is always in a good bargaining position because of its long-term economic strength, the diversity of its commercial outreach through Belt and Road Projects at a time when the property giant Evergrande is in financial difficulties.
Jaunts by US military vessels through the Taiwan Straits, co-exist with ferry services operating between the Chinese city of Xiamen and the Taiwanese port of Taichung with a capacity for 150 cars, 256 standard containers and 683 passengers on a six-days a week schedule. This is a luxurious ferry service which is owned jointly by investors on both sides of the Taiwan Straits.
As reported in The Taipei Times (13 July 2021), there is less polarization in public opinion within Taiwan and a willingness to embark on Win-Win Relations with China over the confrontation associated with saturation military aid to Taiwan from US Republican administrations since 2001. Readers can easily access articles on changing public opinion within Taiwan as new public opinion soundings are communicated.
US Corporate leaders also ignore the excesses of the political rhetoric against China and foster new deals in China’s growing and diversifying economy. Despite the intensity of Trump’s rhetoric about commercial ties with China, US exports to China increased in 2020. Most US firms have a positive relationship with Chinese manufacturers for the delivery of popular American brand names and services. Extending this commercial relationship to higher level financial services is a step too far for US political leaders who do not want to be identified with the growth in the Chinese economy and its new global outreach in the current climate of public opinion in both China and the USA. In practice however, commercial relationships with China continue as the US economy needs a healthy commercial relationship with China. Just recently, US sales of microchips to Huawei’s auto component sector proceeded as usual while local conservative leaders continue talk down ties with China.
Josh Frydenberg’s New China Plus agenda is available for perusal in the ANU Crawford Policy Forum. Its macro-themes are:
- The Return of Strategic Competition
- An Australian economy that can cope with strategic competition
- An Innovative Phase of Australian high technology market ideology in association with other regional partners
There is little that is Whitlamesque in Josh Frydenberg’s address. It promotes an Australia First Strategy in the manifest destiny traditions of other countries, large and small in the US Global Alliance. When the Biden administration makes its rapprochement with China, the LNP will quickly go with the flow of world opinion particularly if the shocks of current market corrections continue to disrupt the initial post-COVID global recovery.
All this is Politics 101 for a potential leader with Josh Frydenberg’s academic and corporate background. However, his own electorate of Kooyong is ahead of Josh in demanding a less pedestrian stance on the great issues of our times. Perhaps changed insights will come with Josh Frydenberg’s own keep fit agendas as the wider LNP takes a skip to the right in economic and strategic policies while Scott Morrison sizes up the most opportunistic election date.
Denis Bright (pictured) is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback from readers advances the cause of citizens’ journalism. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Replies Button.
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