IN THE PRESS: Friday’s Forum at Parliament House got good coverage in the Australian Financial Review.
By GREG EARL, Asia Pacific editor
Three of Australia’s most experienced former diplomats have urged the
federal government to review the way it handles its relationships with
the United States and China, following a concession from the Obama
administration it is rethinking its controversial “pivot” to Asia.
Former Foreign Affairs Department chief and United Nations ambassador
Richard Woolcott said the biggest challenge facing the government
after the release of its Asian Century white paper would be to develop
a more independent foreign policy within the ANZUS alliance with the
Ric Smith, co-author of the recent force structure review and a former
Defence Department chief and ambassador to China and Indonesia, said
the defence and intelligence establishment had too much weight in
government policy making and that explained why there had been so much
recent emphasis on the defence relationship with the US.
John McCarthy, a former ambassador to the US, Indonesia, Japan and
India, said US President Barack Obama’s address to federal Parliament
on US military deployment in Australia and the region should have been
handled better and has left Australia with “a few problems”.
They were speaking following the concession by the top US Asian
official, Kurt Campbell, that last year’s US military pivot to Asia
had unnerved some allies, forcing the US to emphasise the policy was
about more than military activity.
Mr Campbell, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs,
said he rejected the idea the US was a declining power trying to
contain China, and that Australia would have to make a choice between
the two giants.
The comments by the three former Australian foreign policy officials
reflect private concerns among many former officials about how the
Rudd-Gillard governments have handled US and China relations, most
recently underlined by public criticism from former prime minister
Mr Woolcott said he believed a future Coalition government might be
better placed to reshape Australia’s relationship with the US and
China because it would be more politically able to deal independently
with the US.
“A conservative Australian government will have an opportunity to put
a different focus on the recommendations of the white paper,” he said.
Referring to the ANZUS alliance, he said: “We don’t have an
arrangement that can never be adjusted just because it’s been going on
for a very long time.”
Mr McCarthy said Australia should pay its alliance dues “only when
strictly necessary” and not offer things that were not necessary.
Mr Smith said the government should be able to “walk both sides of the
street” with China and the US, but should not be duplicitous by saying
one thing in private and another thing in public.
He said US Marines would always come to Australia for training, but
“the spinmeisters made it into a big strategic call”.
Mr McCarthy said Australia’s challenge was to avoid getting into a
position of having to choose between the US and China, and this
required more care in the way politicians expressed foreign policy.
He told an event, organised by the Institute of International Affairs
in Sydney to discuss the white paper, that Australia needed to
substantially increase its public diplomacy in the region to better
There had been two decades of “bipartisan neglect” over how to best
promote Australia in Asia, he said.