Tony Abbott made a reference to Australia’s precarious position between the United States and China during a speech to a business lunch in New York, deviating from an original draft of the address to advise the US it has nothing to fear from the rise of the Asian powerhouse.
The United States has initiated a “pivot” to the Pacific, to take into account China’s rising position as a power on the stage of world diplomacy.
Australia has close strategic ties with the United States and is incredibly reliant on China as a trading partner.
Which puts Australia in a uniquely awkward position.
For years it has thrown its lot in with the US — which has lost a bit of momentum with its Pacific shift — but as China becomes increasingly important, it could eventually have to make a difficult choice between its old friend or the new power in the region.
“The rise of China has been good for the wider world because there are now so many more people to afford to buy what the rest of the world produces,” Abbott said. He continued:
“A rich China doesn’t mean a billion competitors so much as a billion customers.
“We should be fundamentally optimistic about the future because these are all people with much to lose if things go wrong.
“I’m looking forward to the coming Asian century.
“The Asian century will be an Indian century, a Japanese century, a Korean century and an Indonesian century — as well as a Chinese one.
“The Asian century will be an American century too because America is a Pacific power as well as an Atlantic one.
“Asia needs America involved. The world wants America to succeed. The world needs America to succeed.”
These remarks speak to Australia’s position. It needs to remain on good terms with both the United States and China, and this gets harder with all the recent sabre-rattling in Asia.
China has dragged oil rigs into areas of ocean claimed by other nations and declared a so-called “air identification zone” over islands claimed by another. It is flexing its muscles and the situation is becoming more volatile.
At the same time, more broadly, Japan is experiencing a rising wave of nationalism and its relationship with South Korea is at a recent low.
Abbott’s remarks starkly reflect Australia’s position, tugged between the old-world order and the new kids on the block.
And they’re proof of how aware our leadership are of the sensitivity of this tug-of-war.
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