Colin’s Weekly Notes on the News

Colin ChapmanAt first blush, the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union was a curious step, though no odder than giving it to Barack Obama weeks after he became president of the United States, before he had proved anything other than the ability to make a good speech. 

The decision by the Norwegian Nobel committee may reflect an inability to identify anyone else deserving the award, or it may, as the New York Times suggests, be a plea to preserve the endangered 2-nation institution at a very difficult time.

Whatever the real reason, it’s not such a bad idea. The European Union, or the European Community to give it its earlier name, was formed after World War II with the prime intention of avoiding enmity between countries that fought in the last century the two bloodiest wars in history. 

Over six decades it has succeeded in that, and that is why countries that were torn apart by conflict like Poland are – as I recently found – so keen to see the EU survive. (OK, it failed in Bosnia, and Bill Clinton had to come to the rescue)

The award is not without its ironies. One is that the Norwegians have voted twice not to join the European Union. Another is that the members of the union are divided on how to deal with Greece, where the streets of Athens are a battleground between police and demonstrators protesting the German-imposed austerity measures. 

Even Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel – who last week braved the insults of the Athens demonstrators – seemed to recognise this, when she said the price was “an inducement and an obligation at the same time”.

It would be nice to think that the next Nobel Peace prize could be shared between the presidents of China and the United States. We don’t know who will be in the Oval Office after the November 6 election, because Mitt Romney’s campaign has now morphed into a serious challenge to Barack Obama that many of us had not thought possible.

We do know who will take over in China two days after the US polls – Xi Jinping, age 59, a long-term official, who joined the Politburo 10 years ago and has been vice president since 2008. 

Most observers seem to be cautiously optimistic. My friend Rodger Baker, East Asia analyst at STRATFOR does not believe there will be significant change, with the biggest challenge being the slowing economic, which he describes as a long-term systemic problem. You can listen to my conversation with him here.

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a thoughtful speech on US-China relations at the Glover Cottages ten days ago which received almost no publicity on either the ABC or the press – which is more interested in the repugnant animus between Gillard and Abbott. Mr Rudd argued it is essential to re-engineer American, Chinese and other mindsets to build a new regional order that turns it back on “the perceived inevitability of armed conflict”.

“What we are seeking to do in Asia is to avoid repeating the mistakes of Europe over the 300 years between the Treaty of Westphalia and the Fall of Berlin”, Rudd said.

As he has argued before, Rudd believes in Pax Pacifica. He believes Xi Jinping, who grew up with politics as the son of a Politburo member, and who has traveled extensively, especially in the United States, is a man who Washington can do business with, while being no pushover. 

For this reason, he believes Xi Jinping and the US president need to meet in early 2013 and agree a five year US-China strategic road map. This would involve frequent meetings – four or five a year including officials and other ministers – and that each should appoint a ‘go-between’ who would be in near permanent contact to avoid conflicts and misunderstandings.  These individuals need to have high status – preferably a national security adviser – or, as Rudd put it, a “Kissinger successor”.

Out of these meetings would come a rules-based system for Asia. 

If you have not read Rudd’s speech I urge you to do so. You can download it from this web site.

Kevin Rudd is not the only Australian to have interesting thoughts about the China-US relationship. John Howard has also spoken out lucidly on the subject, as have a variety of business leaders, like the ANZ’s Mike Smith.

It’s interesting, though, that these ideas and proposals are coming from our former prime ministers, not the present one or her Coalition opponent.

Colin Chapman is the President of the AIIA (NSW).

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