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Australia's 'extraordinarily ill-considered' Asian foreign policy

John McCarthy, former very senior Australian Ambassador says:

  • the role Australia played in the lead up to the WHA (World Health Assembly) resolution sums up all that is wrong with our foreign policy now. "My quibble with a lot of policy is that we get into stuff we don't need to. We say things that seem, particularly to those from an Asian background, extraordinarily ill-considered." The call by Foreign Minister Marise Payne for a coronavirus inquiry, made just four days after US President Donald Trump made a similar demand, is an example of such stuff. "Among my contacts, the perception was we were clearly following Trump, who has proved himself to be inept and totally driven by domestic political considerations. That is not smart. That is not intelligent foreign policy."

  • What we should be doing now, he says, is working quietly with other nations to present "a united, cogent front" against China's excesses. Instead, our politicians are playing the punters, using foreign policy to win support at home. ..... "We're used to seeing foreign policy as a luxury, not something that is crucial for our future." ... "We haven’t put money into foreign affairs and trade for decades. All the machinery for dealing with the external environment has run down. Now we have to think about it in a serious way. American power is diminishing, whichever way you look at it. Chinese power is increasing. We don’t like it. And we are not doing much about it. Part of the reason why is because there is no popular understanding of why it’s important. So the political class are not giving it the huge amount of thought they should be."

  • "Japan, Vietnam and India all have much bigger problems with China than we have – border issues and very considerable policy differences that go back many years – yet they are very careful. Occasionally they will make a strong criticism of China but they hedge. They are cautious. They are measured." He contrasts this careful approach with Payne's call for the coronavirus investigation. "The immediate reaction of my Asian friends to those comments was 'Why are you following Trump on this?' When you are looking for respect, you don't follow the words and actions of the most condemned American I can think of. A man without scruple or honesty."

  • It's not just China we need to worry about. "If we want to contribute to the responses to the changes in the region, we don’t want to be seen by our regional friends as the voice at the table that could be an embarrassment – yet I think we are. Because of the way we sound off, the small country echoing Trump, the countries that are more measured in the way they deal with China are thinking, 'Do we want to be closely associated in public with this maverick?'"

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