Rudd’s glass jaw (Part II)

Saturday, 14 April 2007 

The second of a three-part post on Labor’s response to current changes in the international order.

Australia’s subservience to international trends is often the great unspoken of its politics. But after the initial shuffling at the beginning of Federation as Australian politics moved from being pastoral to class-based, every Labor government has come to power on the need to modify Australian political institutions to international changes.

The link between Labor governments and the upheavals of the two global wars and the two upheavals in the global economic order (the Great Depression of the 1930s and the global deregulation of the 1980s) is readily recognised. Less acknowledged, because of its greater sensitivity, are the international drivers behind the Whitlam government. But it is the Whitlam government of the early 1970s that has relevance for Rudd.

The post-war success of the anti-colonial movements, especially in Indochina, and the US’s change in Cold War politics to Détente all demanded changes to Australian political institutions in the 1960s and early 1970s. Just as the European powers decolonised their empires, the US desegregated the South, Australia needed to remove the more overtly racist features of its political institutions such as the White Australia contract with the unions and the denial of citizenship to the indigenous population. Even before taking power, Whitlam was pivotal in this modernisation.

This accommodation was carried to the global order as the US lost control of Vietnam. The US moved to the Cold War compromise of Détente and looked for allies like Australia to take on a more active regional role. Central to this realignment by the US was the setting up of what was to be a critical new relationship, that with China. Whitlam’s visit to China in 1971 ahead of Nixon’s in 1972 was a master-stroke that confirmed his fitness to take over government from the L-CP.

This brings us to Shanahan’s curious piece on Rudd’s relationship to China in The Australian this week. It is curious because it is well informed and the allusion between Rudd’s approach to China and Whitlam’s is spot on but the premise on which he views it is utterly wrong. While a super-power like the US has many friends, there is none it has such a co-incident strategic interest with as Communist China, despite the efforts of the Neo-Cons in the early years of the Bush administration. China is as central to US foreign policy as it was thirty-five years ago and Rudd’s China strengths can not only play a useful role in the adjustments to US global policy now underway but also add to his claim on power. Shanahan’s warnings of alienating the US reads like Coalition envy at Rudd’s greater flexibility to adapt to these adjustments. [Continued]

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Saturday, 14 April 2007.

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