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The View from Across the Pacific

Washington gains a friend in Canberra.

Sep 23, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 03 • By ROSS TERRILL
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An observer may feel Australia’s chief enemy is its own passivity, toward the United States, China, Indonesia, and others. Australians think they only must react. But theirs is a large, safe, comfortable country, the twelfth-largest economy in the world, very desirable to Chinese students (120,000 at present), refugees fleeing by boat, and over 5 million foreign tourists a year. Australians lacerate themselves about their ignorance of Asia, yet technology and immigration have eroded the old isolation. Why should Australian-born kids slave away learning Chinese when Chinese-Australian immigrants grab and better perform language-skill jobs for business, teaching, and government?

Australia needs to promote its interests more and also to strengthen its appeal to foreign partners. Julie Bishop grasps the first point: “Our focus will be on economic diplomacy. Our diplomats will be required to understand our commercial interests. .  .  . I will make trade a centerpiece of my work.” On the second point, Abbott knows Canberra must work to make Australia valuable to Washington in the face of China’s naval challenge in Asia Pacific. When former U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. pivot seeks “a defense posture across Asia Pacific more geographically distributed, operationally resilient, and politically sustainable,” he had Australia in mind. Abbott will certainly speed up facilitation of the role of U.S. Marines and Air Force in Darwin and probably enhance naval cooperation with Washington at the west coast Stirling naval base. Danger and opportunity sometimes stalk together.

Ross Terrill is a research associate at Harvard’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies.

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