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The Australian Struggle in Asia Pacific

With the U.S withdraw from the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) and the Chinese refusal to adhere to The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) ruling over the Philippines claim to the South China Sea (SCS) there is much debate as to who will take the reins in Asia Pacific. In his new article “Handing the initiative to China John Fitzgerald (Director of the Asia-Pacific Centre for Social Investment and Philanthropy Impact at Swinburne University of Technology) lends us his insight on the subject, and points to China as the future superpower in the region. As the piece goes to suggest however this transition may not be beneficial for Australia. It could in fact be very dangerous.

Fitzgerald observes that the Chinese are thrilled with President Trump, and as long as he continues to “undermine the rules-based international order and throw alliance partners into a spin” they can deal with occasional saber rattling tweet. The gap left behind by a U.S withdraw from the region has created space for China to enter and to begin to offer themselves up as the new leader of liberal international order in the region. This is something the Chinese have been wanting for some time, and the author denotes that “Beijing aspires to refashion the regional political order…The new order it envisages would see political authority operating along a vertical axis of hierarchical deference to a lead actor, rather than along a horizontal axis of pluralist interaction.” In essence, a tool to achieve their own ends.

With China now set to be the leading power in the region, Fitzgerald views the communist State as one who “promotes obedience to authority ahead of freedom, champions hierarchy over equality, and demands submission of individual and community interests to those of an authoritarian state.” Much along the vein of “see something say something” Fitzgerald finds it necessary for Australia to call out “China as readily as we do the US when its behavior threatens the values and principles that underpin our security and wellbeing as a nation”, and to not succumb to the inevitable pressures that will come out of Beijing for the island nation to accept their new status quo.

Most notably, Fitzgerald strikes out at the audacity of the Chinese to rewrite history to fit within their own narrative. An example used is Zheng He, who’s famous maritime voyages of the 15th century are the basis not only for the claim in the SCS but also the underpinnings of Chinese involvement in Africa, as being a worrisome sign for Australia. As he points out, in a 2014 “Gavin Menzies, published a book entitled 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, which claimed that Zheng He discovered America, New Zealand, Australia and other places besides.” In the eyes of the author, if China is allowed to act with impunity in shaping history to their own gains, it might not be long until Australia finds itself being considered part of the historic Chinese empire.  

Daniel Grober is one of the Spring 2017 interns at the Carter Center’s China Program. You can follow him on Twitter @Daniel_Grober.