You’d be easily forgiven for thinking there were just two political events worth following at the moment; the Gillard Abbott contest here at home, and the billion dollar battle between Obama and Romney abroad.
Arguably though, there’s a third political event that’s received far fewer column inches, yet is just as relevant to us and will remain so, long after the other two have ended.
In early November, just a few days after the US has voted, China will host its 18th Party Congress.
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“We the peoples of the United Nations determined ... to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women ...”
These words were written in 1945 before the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, before the women’s movement of the 60’s and Betty Friedan, before Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid. It is as if they reached into the future and illuminated a pathway to a better world.
The UN Charter - words to make you gasp.
Many Australians believe that China is a threat to our way of life. Once you have lived here you find this to be most unlikely.
In this China Watch article I hope to describe the Chinese people’s love of community, friends and especially family. In so doing, I will give three reasons to dispel the fears of those Australians.
Family is most important to the Chinese people. I never understood the Cantonese insult “Puc Gai”, roughly translated as “fall down in the street” or “die in the street”, until I attended my father in law’s passing and the following funeral.
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It’s always entertaining when a political figure with no real responsibilities other than winning votes makes a high-profile foray into the delicate world of foreign affairs.
Unshackled by anything resembling real authority over such things as military or security policy, opposition politicians are free to blunder in to say, Chinese-American geo-political sensitivities, without concerns they might accidentally spark an explosion in the Taiwan Strait.
You only have to look at how quickly Bob Carr hit the “delete post” button on his Thoughtlines blog when he went from interested private citizen to Foreign Minister in the blink of a cursor.
This week all the countries of the world will come together in New York for negotiations on a comprehensive Arms Trade Treaty. With millions of civilians paying the price every year for unfettered access to conventional weapons, it is hard to think of a more important task.
Conventional weapons – from warships and tanks to fighter jets and machine guns – are too often easy to obtain and every day the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is confronted with the consequences.
We provide medical care for tens of thousands of victims of armed conflict and violent unrest every year in areas as varied as Africa, the Middle East, South America and our own Pacific region. Moreover, assistance for vulnerable people is often not available because humanitarian operations have been suspended or delayed due to armed security threats.
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Foreign Minister Bob Carr held a press conference yesterday and was peppered with questions on what we’re going to do about Syria.
Over 9,000 Syrian civilians had been killed in the uprising against tyrant Bashar Al-Assad. At least 108 people were killed in the recent Houla massacre, including 49 children and 34 women. Some killed by shell fire, the majority appear to have been shot or stabbed at close range.
But what about Schapelle Corby?
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On 10 May, that little sliver of land, Israel, about one third the size of Tasmania but burdened with decades of unremitting attacks on its very legitimacy and existence, celebrates her 63rd year of independence. There are good reasons why many Australians should celebrate that.
We could talk about the historical bond between our two nations dating back to the ANZACS. A bond that is underpinned by our shared commitment to freedom and democracy, and respect for women’s rights, gays, minorities and the rule of law. We could celebrate that we are both thriving multicultural states that have successfully absorbed and integrated millions of refugees and immigrants from around the world.
And it wouldn’t hurt to reflect on the irony that Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy more rights, freedoms and liberties than do their neighbours in any number of Middle East nations - where they are currently dying while fighting for these very same rights and privileges.
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It’s been a tough few weeks for Julia Gillard. She was accused of pre-election lying over carbon pricing, demonised at a comical fringe-dwelling rally, and conservative radio hosts competed over who can be most disrespectful towards her.
Gillard’s incompetence at foreign affairs is another area of criticism that’s becoming louder every overseas visit she makes. She was widely criticised for not advocating strongly enough the government’s support for the no-fly zone over Libya, and her first visit to America was eminently forgettable, including an unnecessarily emotional and ham-laden address to Congress.
The consensus is that Gillard is an international lightweight incapable of advocating the government’s position. But what Gillard’s critics fail to understand is that her weakness in foreign affairs is inconsequential.
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Julia Gillard is not the first Australian Prime Minister to come to office with no experience of or interest in international relations. Unlike most, however, she appears disturbingly reluctant to learn.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with a Prime Minister admitting that she has no particular passion for foreign affairs, limited interest doesn’t excuse a lack of competence.
Sadly, Prime Minister Gillard’s performance to date has been marred by a series of embarrassing incidents, of which the obsequious performance before the United States Congress and her persistence with the refugee processing centre in Timor Leste against the manifest objections of Timor Leste’s government are just the most recent examples.
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Dr Gill Hicks is the Australian-born founder of London-based not-for-profit M.A.D for Peace, and a motivational speaker, author, curator, and trustee for several cultural organisations. She began her career as a speaker in the wake of the 2005 London bombings: Hicks was the last living victim rescued. Both her legs were amputated below the knee, and her injuries were so severe that she was initially not expected to live. She was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital without an identity - she was labelled only as ‘One Unknown’.
Q. What do you think is the biggest threat to peace within Australia?
A. The greatest threat to peace within any country, in my opinion, is division, identity, fear and ignorance.
As we witnessed with the London bombings of 2005, those responsible were not from other lands, the threat was not external – but internal – the four bombers were raised and schooled within the UK – they were British citizens.
Peace, I believe, does need to be defined before we can discuss firstly what it is, and how we achieve it. The core of the work within my not-for-profit organisation, M.A.D. for Peace, focuses on the responsibility of the individual to create an environment in which he/she has choice in every word and action – ensuring that those words and actions are positive and/or constructive. We believe that peace is within – and that peace starts with you.
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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.
A month on from the devastating earthquake that killed 230,000 Haitians, we are once again witnessing the ongoing and intrinsic apathy in this country.
Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means saying that as a nation we didn’t care, that we didn’t dig deep, band together and support the rescue efforts in Haiti, we most certainly did, like we always do – but is that enough?
Four weeks ago the devastation was front-page news, with stories infiltrating every digital sphere. Now, that’s simply not the case.
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