There was plenty for Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott to reflect on yesterday, as US President Barack Obama dramatically clinched a second term.
A little stability at the top of America is a good thing for Oz when it comes to a number of issues.
Gillard’s Treasury boffins will welcome the fact that Obama’s laws cracking down on Wall St will remain in place - and will help ward off future financial crises in the vein of 2008.
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A woman sits in a courtroom dock. Eyes downcast. Fidgeting. Clearly tormented by recollections that are now flooding back as fresh as they were decades ago.
She describes the being frogmarched from her home by armed black-clothed soldiers. A month-long walk to a concentration camp. Giving birth on the side of a road. Being worked to the bone. Sleeping in pits covered in worms. Seeing fellow captives beheaded. Hearing the screams of innocents being tortured. Giving up her sick children so they could get proper medical help only to learn they were never treated and died alone. Knowing her husband was locked in a dark prison cell, interrogated, tortured and finally murdered.
But it isn’t Nazi Germany she is describing. It isn’t even that long ago. And it didn’t happen that far away from our shores.
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So Julie Bishop has a Huawei-donated iPad. Dangerous. Dangerous for her and dangerous for Australia if she ever aspires to become Foreign Minister. The iPad alone is but one of the micro details to emerge from Ms Bishop’s visit to China as a guest of the Chinese telco.
Some Liberals led by Julie Bishop together with vested mining interests questioned the Gillard Government’ accepting ASIO’s advice against letting Huawei bid for the National Broadband Network. But the bar on Huawei has wider significance because the controversy it has sparked illuminates the most vexing issue of Australian foreign policy - our relationship with China.
This foreign policy challenge was again in sharp relief at the recent Boao Forum, on the luxury resort on Hainan Island, China’s version of Hawaii (they also have their most advanced naval base there).
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The first and last time I was in mainland China was 1988. I caught a train from Guangzhou to Shanghai. There was a Chinese girl in my cabin, being molested on a top bunk by a Frenchman. He spoke English and Chinese and between their activities I took the opportunity to interrogate her.
I asked her what had changed in China since Mao Zedong’s death. She said: “Mao Zedong is not dead.”
I assumed this was one of those “cultural things” they go on about with the Chinese. Perhaps she regarded the Great Helmsman as an Eternal Spirit, or such.
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So, rad times in the Middle East? In the bright light of this historic moment can we assert that the Bush Administration’s neo-cons were partially right: the Middle East was ripe for a series of popular revolutions?
If only they didn’t have to destroy a country, countless people, and potentially the prospect for better relationships between the West and the region in attempting to prove it.
The farcical aspect of popular demonstrations in the Middle East is that although Western Governments and observers have for years mused about the notional benefits of individual will being translated into national policy through some nice democratic practices, the instant any such thing becomes a remote possibility, westerners start getting anxious.
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The relationship between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard was bound to be a fragile one. But it now looks like the Prime Minister has grounded her Foreign Minister, potentially damaging our international relations.
Kevin Rudd should have been in Brussels this past week with Julia Gillard.
The Prime Minister was in town for the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), a gathering of forty leaders from the two continents which Rudd lobbied hard to have Australia become a member of as Prime Minister. The leaders (or their deputies) of major and middle powers like China, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea attended with their Foreign Ministers. But Rudd was nowhere to be seen.
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A year ago Barack Obama declared himself the first ‘Pacific President’ but so far his engagement with the region leaves a lot to be desired.
President Obama hosted the second US-ASEAN Summit in New York on Friday. Many are hopeful the insubstantial two-hour lunch meeting on the sidelines of the UN will signal a turning point in the Obama Administration’s approach to Asia.
So far the President has visited Europe six times and Asia only once. His European adventures have included spruiking a hometown Olympic bid and accepting the Nobel Peace Prize with one hand while saluting off more troops into harm’s way with the other. While some of his trips across the Atlantic have taken him to important gatherings of the G20 and NATO, declaring war on nuclear arms along the way, it is Asia – not Europe – that should be centre of the world’s attention right now.
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With foreign policy barely rating a mention in the election campaign, the strongest indication we will have of the eventual winner’s view on the world is where they decide to go first.
Like most elections this campaign wasn’t fought on foreign policy.
Even with the tragic deaths of three soldiers in Afghanistan it was a passing topic. Tony Abbott did promise to dump Australia’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council and appoint a Minister for International Development. But the closest we got to a genuine debate on our place in the world was one about which island country to our north to send asylum seekers.
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EAST Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao has taken in recent weeks to heavily bagging Australia, including a strange speech in which he, seemingly apropos of nothing, dug deep into the past and said Australia had selfishly cost the lives of 60,000 East Timorese by coming to Timor to “wage war” against the Japanese in World War II.
Gusmao has also been claiming Australian interference in its sovereign rights. Australia is studying the rhetoric closely, with good reason. As Gusmao slams Australia, his country’s biggest aid donor, Gusmao has allowed China for the first time to gain a small de facto military foothold in East Timor.
China now has naval training crews operating out of Dili aboard two gunboats which East Timor bought from China, and which were formally handed over last week. Gusmao’s attacks on Australia, and his newfound military cooperation with China, are seen as related.
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