Flashpoint No. 2 – an update

Monday, 13 July 2009 

The media has followed the usual course when an Australian is detained anywhere north of here; that naturally they must be innocent and that international legal standards of decency, remarkably similar to our own, have been contravened. It’s no surprise that this also underpins the coalition’s handling of the arrest of Mr. Hu.

Fortunately, as readers on this site have pointed out, the coalition’s case that universal law has been breached is compromised by their support over several years for the suspension of international law in the small chunk of Cuba the US decided to call its own. So thanks to the detention there of our Hometown Flake, the coalition’s pretence that they are operating on some universal principles has been put to rest.

Yet the coalition still has a bite in what they are saying. The sight of the Nominal Australian Foreign Minister reading from a print-out from a Chinese press agency, which presumably had received the information before the diplomatic service, has undermined the claims of a special relationship with China and the idea that Australia was ever going to achieve anything from ‘middle power’ diplomacy.

Yet the reason why such middle power diplomacy looked feasible is the same reason why the US’s latest suspension of international law in Guantanamo was so widely seen as unjustified – US power is in decline. This, rather than the relationship to China, is the real problem for both sides of the political class. For the coalition, that was so reliant on having a fast track to the White House that was setting the international agenda, we have already seen the problems it has caused.

Labor has that fast track now. But it is to a White House that these days seems better at acknowledging the limits of US power than working out a way of recovering it. As our Real Foreign Minster recently had to admit to the Danish PM, even despite US support, the global warming agenda is not on track. So no New World Order there either.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 13 July 2009.

Filed under International relations

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4 responses to “Flashpoint No. 2 – an update”

  1. Bushfire Bill on 14th July 2009 12:30 am

    “… has undermined the claims of a special relationship with China and the idea that Australia was ever going to achieve anything from ‘middle power’ diplomacy.”

    What an utterly fatuous, smartarsed comment. “… ever going to achieve anything”?

    I know you style yourself as a contrarian, and I guess there’s room for one or two, but to make a fool of yourself so unnecessarily is plain crazy.

    Why don’t you get off your cynical high-horse and try to make some positive, or at least constructive comment? You might get a few extra readers that way.

  2. James on 14th July 2009 12:37 pm

    I think Rudd is on the right path for generally trying to achieve middle power diplomacy for Australia. The issue with Hu is that the Australian Government has no jurisdiction over Chinese law. A lot of Australians seem to think our government should be able to get our citizens out of tricky legal situations overseas yet they would go ballistic if a country like China tried to do the same here.

  3. The Piping Shrike on 14th July 2009 7:04 pm

    Other than being a nice idea, I can’t see how Australia has the capacity to conduct middle power diplomacy. Given the way China has so easily brushed Australia off, I think it is a good opportunity to face up to that fact.

    You’re right BB, this post does come across as cynical, mainly because I have been holding back a bit. Maybe it’s time to address this, although ‘constructive’ is not the direction I’m thinking of.

  4. Ricc on 14th July 2009 10:10 pm

    The limits to Australian power are always going to be as I think you’ve argued TPS – what Obama said to Howard. Put your money and your soldiers where your mouth is.

    The vibe I get with China was ‘it wasn’t supposed to be this way’. The fairy tale was that we would get rich, they would get democratic, and we’d all live happily ever after. We could live with ourselves selling them all this stuff if they’d only change.

    But they’ve put us in a bind. We don’t like getting money from those who abuse their own populations, and it makes us feel bad. But much as we’d like to refuse to trade with them, we won’t, because, well…we need the money and don’t have anything else going for us.

    Can’t we go back to the good old days, when we had only rich and reputable, and poor and disreputable countries to deal with. We could trade with the former happily, and hand out moral lessons with the foreign aid to the latter.

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