Our region is in a state of dangerous flux, with territorial jostling in the South China Sea and temperatures rising on the Korean peninsula.
Renowned historian and author Robert Macklin identifies Australia’s conundrum, in these interesting times, as being how to strengthen ties with neighbouring powerhouse China without causing offence to security partner America.
“One of the extraordinary elements in this is the sudden appearance of an American President, in Trump, who has really diminished America’s standing in the world and potential influence in our region,” Macklin says.
“That is very, very significant, particularly at a time when China is evolving the One Belt One Road initiative, which is going to see the infrastructure of half the world altered irreparably.”
Dissecting the Sino-Australian relationship in riveting detail, Macklin’s fascinating Dragon & Kangaroo: Australia and China’s shared history from the Goldfields to the present day traces our mutual timeline.
Spanning early Chinese traders to the atrocities of the Gold Rush, from the White Australia policy to WWII and the Cold War, it puts in context our current political relationship.
“You don’t get over 90 years of being told that the yellow hordes are coming and that White Australia is somehow an appropriate way to conduct ourselves, quickly,” Macklin says.
“It does take a while for something like that to work its way out of the perception of a nation.”
The development, dating back to WWII, of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance between Australia, the US, Canada, UK and New Zealand plays into this ongoing distrust, Macklin suggests.
“That’s a very significant name, actually, because there are five countries involved… so you’ve got a one-eyed point of view, which is basically a racist viewpoint, because the five countries are all white fellas that derive from the British base,” Macklin says.
“Those ties are going to have to loosen a little so that our geography takes a greater role than our colonial history in the manner in which we operate in the world.”
The numbers game suggests that move we must, Macklin notes.
“We are, in so many ways, dependent upon the Chinese economy for the health of our own. That’s a good foundation to build upon in other elements right across the board, including the combined requirement we both have for defence against terrorism.”
“On the one hand, he shares with [former] Prime Minister Kevin Rudd that one of his children is married to a Chinese person and the things he says in China when he’s there are very friendly and sensible. But he does seem to be influenced very considerably by the need to pander to his right wing, often contradicting himself, so you never know exactly where he stands.”
Would the Opposition leader fare any better?
“I think the same applies, probably, to someone like Bill Shorten, though the Labour party has a more collegiate approach to China within the caucus than you’ve got at the moment with the Liberals and the Nationals fighting each other.”
Dragon & Kangaroo is published by Hachette Australia on July 25. Buy a copy here.