Wednesday, 15 July 2009
I’ve got a total brief for his rights and his rights are non-existent when you compare them with the, what’s required under Australian law. And we should be standing up for Australian norms to be applied to this Australian citizen who’s under arrest and at great threat for his future wellbeing under the Chinese communist system.
Bob Brown 10 July 2009
Highlighting the coalition’s hypocrisy by contrasting its response to Hick’s detention at Guantanamo is a good example, but surely Dr Haneef’s case is a better one. The detention of an Indian national for national security reasons (the UK’s) should make a good comparison. Of course Haneef was held in detention for twelve days before he was charged, so Bob Brown will be pleased to know that Mr Hu has a couple of days to go before he reaches the rigorous standards of the Australian judicial system.
The point is not to compare Chinese laws with Australian ones as politicians like Brown pretend to do (but don’t), but rather to highlight that when Australian politicians complain about someone being held on detention without charge, some Asian neighbours, especially a very large one to the north-west, might be thinking of someone other than Mr Hu.
Brown’s dumb comments, where he calls for China to implement Australian laws that presumably (giving him the benefit of the doubt), he doesn’t even agree with, sums up the way Australian politicians have been conducting themselves, oblivious to how they are perceived abroad and the reality at home. It may be possible to criticise the legal systems of Asian neighbours, but to them the sweeping and discretionary immigration powers that are regularly used against foreigners, like Haneef and his wife, or the suspension of anti-racial discrimination laws against sections of the Australian population, can look pretty quirky as well. Nor, given that both were supported by both sides of the House, might they detect the subtle change in tone that was supposed to have happened in November 2007.
The Australian political class has been caught out. For the last two years, Rudd has been posing a middle power diplomacy that made it seem as though Australia had a more independent foreign policy. In particular, Rudd has posed Australian foreign policy, and himself, as an interlocutor between the US and Beijing governments.
But based on what? It is hard to see a political case for Australia being an independent middle power in that role. It is not just how Australia’s immigration policies are viewed by countries whose citizens they are often aimed at. More important is the fact that countries like China are well aware that in pretty well every major military venture by the US, Australia goes in as well, irrespective of the hue of the government. There has been no change in that. Rudd is as gung-ho over this US administration’s latest venture in Afghanistan as Hawke was for the Gulf War. Maybe this blog missed it, but is there anyone else’s military ventures Australia is mucking in with? Even where the Australian military is deployed on its own, none of it is ever out of line with US foreign policy. As the government’s latest Defence Paper clearly set out, US influence may be in decline but Australia’s military strategy remains reliant on it. As the Chinese picked up, China is, if anything, viewed as the potential threat through which that decline is understood.
Nor is there an economic case. Australia may have significant trade flows with the Asian region but that doesn’t necessarily buy it independent influence, especially with China. China is Australia’s second latest trading partner and one of its most significant, but it certainly isn’t reciprocated. You wouldn’t guess it from the media, but China gets only 2% of its imports from Australia (and 2% of exports go to Australia). It is true that much of this 2% is in strategically crucial areas like iron (Australia makes up around 40% of China’s iron imports) but this is hardly enough to build a special relationship on.
The real basis for this presentation of a middle power role is Rudd himself, he is the first Australian Prime Minster to speak the language of one of the countries in the region and has worked in Beijing. That the US State Department may also have Mandarin speakers with even more experience of China on which the US can rely is not really the point. This is not about making any objective sense in the real world of international relations, but how it is perceived at home.
In reality Rudd is following the long tradition of Australian Prime Ministers strutting the world stage and being seen to act with an influence they don’t really have. Downer picks up on this perception gap with his weary complaint of being inundated with requests to rescue Australians, like Schapelle Corby, from the Indonesian judicial system. Now where could have everyone got the idea? Maybe from the way Downer and Howard sought to tell Indonesia how to run one of its islands a few years before.
The reason why they can usually get away with it (but almost didn’t in the case of East Timor) is because Australian political leaders are normally careful to operate strictly within the framework of the power of the day. So Howard could go around pretending it was a major player in the Iraq war, despite Australia’s minor deployment, because the US was prepared to indulge him on it – except when they turned against the war and towards the terrorist-loving Obama, and then they didn’t.
The difference with Rudd is that he tried to look as though he was operating outside that framework. In reality, he was not. He is operating as close to US interests as much as any of his predecessors. However, Rudd’s pretence of a middle power policy was partly as a response to the drift in US foreign policy since the failure of Bush’s unilateralism, but also to make a virtue of this government’s reliance on the international agenda as well. Rudd’s middle power diplomacy was the left-wing version of Howard’s ‘deputy sheriff’ role, both self-aggrandising, but Rudd’s unfortunately relied on a power that had no major interest in making him look good.
This is the central irony of the Rudd government and one of its core weaknesses. Never has a government so directly internationalised what used to be seen as core domestic issues, like the economy, yet never has an Australian Prime Minister operated in such an uncertain international framework as now, with the leading global power in decline. Unlike in 1941, this time there is nowhere else to go.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 15 July 2009.Filed under International relations