Australia’s Third Way Nonsense


In November, the U.S. and Australia announced a deal under which thousands of U.S. marines will be stationed in Darwin. What do you make of the deal?

The United States and Australia’s intelligence and security relationship has been deepening since September, 2001, and this announcement is an extension of the close engagement between the two countries that has been going on for many decades. I don’t think that it should be overstated given the relatively modest scale of the proposal, and nor should it come as a surprise that Australia and the United States, given their close political, military and cultural links, would make such a deal. We’ve been in a formal military alliance with the United States for 60 years, we’ve fought alongside the United States in every major conflict, and if the United States is seeking to broaden its relations, then Australia is an obvious choice.

The move appears to be part of what has been described as a U.S. pivot toward Asia. Should Australia welcome this?

Absolutely. The fact is that the United States never left the Asia-Pacific – it has always maintained a military and economic presence. I’m not surprised the United States is seeking a deeper and broader engagement with the nations of Asia. The social and economic change under way in Asia is extraordinary – billions of people are experiencing an economic and industrial revolution that’s fundamentally altering nations and consequently strategic balances. So I would be more surprised if the United States was not deeply engaged and focusing on the changes occurring in Asia.

What does Australia bring to the table with its alliance with the United States?

This alliance is 60 years-old this year, and we’ve obviously been strong military allies. We’ve fought alongside the United States in every major conflict in the 20th and 21st centuries, so from that point of view we can be counted on. And we’re also a country of this region – the Asia-Pacific is where we are based, this is where much of our trade is based, we have strong people-to-people links, and so we can offer perspectives that the United States can draw upon.

Many see Australia’s foreign relations as a choice between the U.S. and China. Is it bound to be that way?

Not at all. We can balance our relationship with our largest trading partner, China, while still having a very strong alliance with the United States. We’ve been balancing this changing relationship for some years now. During the John Howard government years (1996 to 2007) we were able to achieve that balance with the United States as our closest military ally and China. This is one of the points of contention with the current government. Kevin Rudd as foreign minister has argued that Australia should have a new “third way” approach that avoids the extremes of conflict and kowtowing. But that’s a straw man argument and isn’t something any self-respecting nation, and certainly not Australia, has adopted in relation to China. In fact, if anyone is swaying erratically in terms of relations with China it would be the foreign minister.

The fact is that we don’t need a new third way. What we need is a return to the firm and positive diplomacy that the Howard government provided for a dozen years. You can call that pragmatic policy a third way if you need a label, but I think that the Howard government managed to balance the relationship between China and the United States very successfully.

Is there anything the government could have done better with China?

I think Australia’s Defense White Paper in 2009 sent a very mixed message to China. It essentially was prefaced on the idea that China was going to be a military threat to Australia. The issue of the white paper has been raised directly with me in Beijing because there was tacit identification of China as a potential military threat to Australia. I don’t share the view that conflict with China is inevitable, and as history has shown, attempting to chart the course of nation states is a dangerous exercise fraught with speculation and mistakes.

I would say that although I disagreed with much of what it had to say about China, I do think it highlighted the need for China to show greater transparency with regards to its military build-up and long term goals, and I think that when China declared its indisputable sovereignty in the South China Sea it did cause concern throughout the region, particularly with countries with their own claims. And I think that’s why nations in the region are looking for more U.S. leadership, not less, because they do want to maintain a balance between China and the United States.

Overall I think the handling of the relationship with China has lacked consistency. I know the mixed messages cause consternation in China, and the defense white paper certainly did. There were also question marks over the way the government handled the Stern-Hu case. I think the Rudd government’s handling of the case left a lot to be desired.

Kevin Rudd has been hectoring China on certain occasions, and I think some of the things that the government has done haven’t helped the relationship at all. There has been no progress on the free trade agreement, although the relationship between individuals remains strong across many parts of the economy. We do have different political systems, which does lead to some tensions over issues such as human rights. But we’ve always believed that these issues can be resolved by adopting a position of mutual respect. We do have a ministerial-level dialogue with China, although I think more could and should be made of that.

March 6, 2012 at 15:33

It was only four years ago that the FTA was signed between China and the US. Far from being a pariah, New Zealand has always had a strong relationship with Australia and after decades of engagement the US and NZ have signed the Wellington Declaration.

February 25, 2012 at 12:46

I think the important point about this article is that people in Asia think the military alliance is a new thing whereas it isn’t at all. Australia and New Zealand worked closely with the US to defeat the Japanese in World War 2.After the war the alliance continued in the form of ANZUS which NZ was later kicked out of for daring to tell the US that it wouldn’t allow nuclear armed ships in its ports. Apart from ANZUS joint military exercises over the years since the end of WW2 though, the US has pretty much kept out of the Pacific.Asian countries which are worried about this should get out their history books. It was amusing to read that Australia still hasn’t worked out a free trade agreement with China. The pariah NZ did this almost 10 years ago and was the first western country to do so. NZ knows which side its bread is buttered on.

January 25, 2012 at 19:28

The reality John is China is politically very anti-western at this point in time and we in Australia can see that we are being excluded and what is worse is when Chinese state run businesses play games like this in our country.

There is no future here just further collapse of our Manufacturing Industry for China’s gain . This is
just a rerun of Japan and the manipulation of Coal prices in the 1980′s .

I think our Prime Minister needs to say this is not on.

January 7, 2012 at 12:01

Australia is not perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot less racist than it’s asian neighbors.

As far as being a multicultural nation, Australia is number 3.
United States
United Kingdom
Continental Europe

For some reason Australia continues to have a bad reputation on racism. I think it’s our blunt honesty, yeah we’re racist. But we have no race riots, no racist violence, no evidence of ghettos, only a small amount of racial segregation 40 years ago.

January 6, 2012 at 14:36

“Australia acts in its own interests just like any other nation” – How true then and now.

Take an example – Beaches in Australia were once opened to whites only. Then, Japanese was classified as white so they could swim in the beaches.

The Racial Discrimination Act was passed in 1975.

January 6, 2012 at 11:54

that aussie ‘dirt’ has a per capita gdp about 7 times higher than china… and it isnt as polluted as a toilet like china

January 6, 2012 at 10:20

I regret that The Diplomat attracts so much comment that is ignorant personal attack on an author or commentator and so little on the issues per se.

For example the comments made by the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister are moderate and reasonable on the issues even if the opportunity was also taken to attack the incumbent government.

A more fruitful avenue of discussion for The Diplomat would be to examine how the threatened closure of the Straits of Hormuz by Iran might affect China as a major importer of petroleum from the Gulf and what the USA might do to leverage its power in that area to broker a new Chinese position on the South China Sea

January 6, 2012 at 05:35

I am not sure that you really understand Australia.

But, lets begin. Australia is made up of many ethnicities nowdays and has been for at least the last 20 odd years that I have dealt with it.

I have had Australian Vietnamese friends, Chinese friends, Japanese friends, Candian friends, Indian friends etc. They all make up what is Australia today.

Australia acts in its own interests just like any other nation. I am not sure what you think a respectable member of Asia is? If its one that kowtows to China then I think you dont even know Asia.

Maybe your understanding of a nation is taken from a book and not from understanding that a nation changes. If Australia dealt with China today as it was the China of the 1950s who attacked and killed Australian troops who under a UN mandate went to defend South Korea then it would be stupid of them.

They deal fairly with China and accept that China will deal fairly with them, but Kowtowing is not in Australias interests. So dont think that deep soul searching will occur.

John Chan
January 5, 2012 at 23:08

China should listen to Australia, but does Australia present itself as a trustworthy and neutral party that China can rely on? This is the question Australia has to ask itself; probably the nation needs a deep soul searching for the future of its next century.

Does Australia want to be a respectable member of Asia, or does it want to be the remaining outpost of the Anglo-Saxon empire?

January 5, 2012 at 17:18

Australia is a slave state governed by the offspring of British criminals!

January 5, 2012 at 15:42

‘I think we should make more of it in our public diplomacy. We should be making a great deal of the fact that Australia is a nation of immigrants, and that we have people from every corner of the globe here. Not every nation can lay claim to that. This is a positive thing – it’s one of Australia’s strengths as a nation, and we’ve been able to do that in a relatively cohesive way. It’s a remarkable achievement, and I would say it’s the most successful multicultural experiment on earth.’

- You’ve got to be joking.. Tapping into Australia’s unfortunate pre-disposition for xenophobia towards our northern neighbours is the Liberals election trump card.

If Bishop and the Liberals feel so strongly about our immigrant heritage, why must they demonize asylum seekers and refugees in the manner they do? Why argue that our border security has failed because of a surge in boat arrivals, but never mention the many more thousands of (white) visa over-stayers who continue to silently invade our communities? The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

Sure, Australians are proud of their immigrant heritage, as long as those immigrants happen to be of Anglo descent, bugger the rest.

With denialist leaders such as Bishop, its no wonder the rest of Asia loathes us.

Dave D
January 5, 2012 at 15:35

Hmm. If the opposition do take government at the next election, I’d be very surprised if Julie Bishop remained in the foreign affairs portfolio.

She’s botched quite a number of issues, which is rather impressive for an opposition spokesperson who usually don’t manage to do much damage.

She was silly enough to comment on the operations of the Australian intelligence agencies, going as far as to say that forged Australian passports were used by agents.

I’d be very surprised if she was ever installed in the role.

January 5, 2012 at 14:09

I am sorry that Julie Bishop cant spell China let alone even know where the country is.

She is a politician and would buy goose grease if it meant her ideas held.

Julie Bishop said:

“Kevin Rudd has been hectoring China on certain occasions, and I think some of the things that the government has done haven’t helped the relationship at all. There has been no progress on the free trade agreement, although the relationship between individuals remains strong across many parts of the economy. We do have different political systems, which does lead to some tensions over issues such as human rights. But we’ve always believed that these issues can be resolved by adopting a position of mutual respect. We do have a ministerial-level dialogue with China, although I think more could and should be made of that.”

Maybe if the Chinese Govt. actually listened to Australia then I would consider her words acceptable. Though, when they have arrested and incarcerated Chinese Australians before notifying the Aussie Government that they did so.

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