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Wednesday 21 Feb 2018 | 10:29 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 21 Feb 2018 | 10:29 | SYDNEY

Everything's turning to White



2 December 2011 09:54

Lowy Institute Visiting Fellow Hugh White has achieved something quite remarkable: with his Quarterly Essay of last year and in countless blog posts and op-eds before and since, he has transformed the Australian debate about the geostrategic consequences of the rise of China. Almost everything written on the subject in Australia these days is implicitly or explicitly a reaction to Hugh's work.

And yet, until very recently, you would have been hard-pressed to name a single prominent figure on the national stage who endorsed Hugh White's argument. In fact, the recent Obama visit has been read as a wholesale rejection of Hugh's preferred policy.

Hugh wants Canberra to nudge Washington toward accommodating China's rise, and to encourage the development of an Asian 'concert of powers' in place of unsustainable US regional hegemony. The Gillard Government, with the full backing of Tony Abbott's Opposition, instead doubled down on the alliance through the decision to rotate US Marines through Darwin. The move was not aimed at China, both sides insisted, but the atmospherics of the visit and President Obama's speech implied otherwise.

Given the gravity of the US basing decision, it passed through our body politic with remarkably little rancour. But it is worth recording that, in the days and weeks following the Obama visit, four prominent former party leaders have made their views known in ways that suggest Hugh White's worldview has some backers after all. Note Malcolm Turnbull's 28 November remarks in Melbourne citing White, Paul Keating's reference to a concert of powers in his interview with Tony Jones, and yesterday's op-ed by Mark Latham, which also quotes White. That piece is not online but it has been extracted and summarised in this blog post by the fourth party leader on my list, Bob Carr.

There's nothing quite as ex as an ex-political leader, so don't read this as some sort of groundswell of unease among the political class about the direction of Australian foreign policy. But given the wholesale fawning over Obama during his visit, it's encouraging to see the push-back.

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