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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9215

Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (22:15): In the weeks before parliament resumed, Australians heard a cacophony of advocates urging the US to get used to the reality of China becoming the dominant power in the Asia-Pacific. Professor Hugh White, who is DFAT's strategist of choice in training young diplomats, launched his book The China Choice, supporting the thesis that China's rise means the demise of the US in our region and that the United States has to surrender power in the Asia-Pacific to China, hopefully through his vision, a la Talleyrand, of a 'concert of Asia'. Former Prime Minister Keating, to whom I am otherwise very devoted, unfortunately argued at the book launch:

The seemingly perpetual invocation of this human rights mantra contributes no moral value to the size and quality of Chinese achievement.

The cacophony reached a crescendo when the immediate past Australian Ambassador to China, Dr Geoff Raby, attacked the Gillard government for the announcement that US troops would be based in Darwin. In a speech for Monash University given at the State Library of Victoria, Raby vociferously criticised both the Australian government and United States President Barack Obama's speech in this parliament last year. Raby, who currently serves on the board of mining oligarch Andrew Forrest's company, denigrated the use of ideological constructs like democracy in the consideration of foreign policy, particularly in Australian policy between the United States and China.

The former ambassador's speech came some days after the Leader of the Opposition's strong comments, upon his return from China, that he would restrict Chinese foreign investment in Australia. Raby was invited by you, Madam Deputy Speaker Burke, to comment—in a speech devoted entirely to attacking the Labor government—on the member for Warringah's strange anti-economic-rationalist comments about restricting investment from China and declined to do so. Dr Raby has every right to voice his opinion. But I do not agree with either his views or Professor White's view that Australia must choose between the United States and China as if it was stuck in some immediate kind of conflict between these two superpowers.

Associate Professor John Lee, from the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney, said on Lateline recently:

… the Chinese buy commodities from Australia not because they like our policies, but because they have to.

Our commodities tend to be around a third cheaper than other competitors—for example, Brazil—because of our location. The Chinese simply have no choice. I mean, getting access to raw materials is fundamental to the economic growth. They cannot jeopardise that for domestic reasons.

After all, economic growth reinforces the legitimacy of a state where the leadership is unelected and undemocratic. A sticking point for and a source of tension within China is its sovereign claim to more than four-fifths of the South China Sea, now described as one of Beijing's core interests. John Lee argued in the Australian that this is 'driven by a desire to eliminate the chance of foreign interdiction of commercial shipping bound for its ports'. Since 2001, there have been many incidents in the South China Sea that have led to a rise in tension between the parties involved in the dispute—that is, China and the smaller countries of South-East Asia. Recently, at the ASEAN Summit, Cambodia withdrew its support for a joint statement and, therefore, due to the lack of consensus, no resolution could be carried at the conference about a rules based system for deciding disputes between China and the smaller countries of South-East Asia.

Professor Paul Dibb's judgement is, 'China is utterly dependent on foreign markets and is in reality a highly constrained power,' and the US pivot towards Asia may mean that China's assertiveness will be minimised. The point is that conflict between the US and China is not inevitable. (Time expired)