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April 16, 2013

On Julia Gillard’s China Diplomacy

April 5, 2013 by

Pictured: Julia Gillard, Australia’s prime minister. Lukas Coch/AAP

What happens to Australian delegations when they go overseas? They whimper, whine or fawn; they stumble into positions of prostrate foolishness. They resemble, as Malcolm Muggeridge described British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s meeting with the Soviet Union’s Nikita Khrushchev, Don Quixote mounting Rocinante, with Sancho Panza by his side. In this instance, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has several Panzas – the foreign minister Bob Carr, Trade Minister Craig Emerson and Financial Services Minister Bill Shorten. It is a true fools cast, and one fitting for a secondary power which is only relevant by the speed it digs up its resources and sends them to imperial powers, current and future.

A previous visit by the current prime minister went wrong. It seemed like an afterthought, clumsy, ill-executed. Her speech was appalling. As with her visit to the United States, the current leader of Australia is incapable of finding gravitas. She is, however, able to hit the hidden shallows. The latest is her insistence on pressuring China to “rein in” North Korea’s belligerent stance, a view that shows how ill-informed the Australian delegation is by the influence Beijing can exert over Pyongyang.

Aside from the usual blunders, Gillard’s press briefings have been slightly better, though the size of this Australian delegation comes across as overcompensation. The Australians want to make their small presence felt at the Boao Forum, a premier trade gathering that hasn’t previously figured too highly on the current government’s list of priorities. No high level representatives went last year.

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Reheating the Beans: The Gillard White Paper on Asia

October 29, 2012 by

Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Paul Miller/AAP

It has a familiar ring to it. Australia, that White Tribe of Asia, is now sounding desperate, hoping for recognition in a region it has struggled to comprehend since the days of British colonisation. If human beings are seeking to find the common thread of expression, that elemental language amongst Babel’s sea of tongues, then we can say that the White Paper on the Asian Century seeks to do so – in part.

This is, however, only the start. There are, altogether, 25 speculative objectives. Four “Asian” languages have been selected as priorities: Chinese, Indonesian, Hindi and Japanese. The report deems it fundamental that every child be given the chance to learn an Asian language throughout their education in a school system that “will be in the top five in the world”. Globally, Australia will be ranked in the top five countries for ease of doing business and our innovation system will be in the world’s top 10. Astrology is a superb thing in some ways, but dangerous in politics.

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A Fatuous Exercise: Australia and the Security Council

September 25, 2012 by

Private Allen Pitt from the Brisbane-based 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment maintains a watch as troops from the 1st Reconstruction Task Force patrol the streets of Tarin Kowt in southern Afghanistan. Image via news.com.au

“Australia, for the most part, is invisible in international politics and rarely rates a mention in international media.”

– M. Connors, New Global Politics of the Asia Pacific, 60

Why do countries bother? In a sense, a position as a temporary member on the UN Security Council is merely an award to the best and smoothest briber – such a country can claim some ceremonial status, not more. The gang of five retain their vice like grip on proceedings, allowing some faux respectability to be conferred on the other ten members who do the decent thing and innocuously rotate. Some commentators have been frank enough to identify the farce and call it as it is.

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US Foreign Policy and Sri Lanka

November 19, 2011 by

Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights of Sri Lanka, addresses the Human Rights Council’s Special Session on the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka. Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

After three decades of war, Sri Lanka is still a mess. President Mahinda Rajapaksa could not care less about national reconciliation. Here is a president who did not hesitate to assert his authority at the end of the war. Yet now, he is afraid to be a strong and thoughtful leader, reluctant to take a stand.  The widespread human rights violations that occurred during final phases of the war (by both government forces and the LTTE) have been well-documented.

Unfortunately, nothing has been done to address this, as government security forces continue to harass civilians in the country’s predominantly Tamil north and east. What members of the international community have failed to understand is that a lack of accountability for what transpired in 2009 has only encouraged further human rights violations, which are still widespread.

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