Sunday 25 Feb 2018 | 03:28 | SYDNEY
Sunday 25 Feb 2018 | 03:28 | SYDNEY

Hugh White doesn't like Rudd's big idea either



13 June 2008 12:39

Hugh White is right that Australia's highest foreign policy priority should be to promote the creation of a stable regional order (or a 'convergence', as Hugh calls it in his column in The Australian today) that accommodates a rising China. Or, to put it in the negative, we should aim to avoid a situation in which the US and China enter into competition and perhaps conflict for influence in Asia.

Hugh's argument in this column is that Prime Minister Rudd could have done a great deal more in his trip to Japan to promote such an order, and that the two initiatives he announced — the nuclear disarmament committee and the Asian Community proposal— were both distractions. This surprises me a little, as I had Hugh partly in mind last week when I cautiously praised Rudd's Asian Community idea. For me, the key quote from that speech was:

The danger of not acting is that we run the risk of succumbing to the perception that future conflict within our region may somehow be inevitable.

If I'm not mistaken, that's largely the direction of Hugh's thinking too. Indeed, he says in today's column that events are already trending towards a divided and contested Asia, and that we must act before it goes much further. But isn't that just what Rudd wants? His proposal is open to legitimate criticism for the apparent haste in which it was cobbled together, but why is the idea itself 'strangely meaningless', as Hugh argues?

One other more minor quibble: note this line, in which Hugh talks of the sacrifices China and the US will need to make to bring this stable regional order about: 

To reach that (order), Washington will need to concede some increased power and influence to China, and China will need to concede more power and influence to Japan.

Hugh asks nothing of Japan. He's right when he says, earlier in the column, that Japan has been an exemplary international citizen for 60 years. But it also has unresolved territorial disputes with China, Russia and Korea, which remain serious irritants to regional relations. Japan can't fix these alone, but it can push the process along.

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