Geoffrey Garrett is CEO of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.
Hugh White's reaction to my 'It's the economy, stupid' corrective to the national security-dominated debate about China-US relations and what they mean for Australia was predictable. He concedes that deep economic ties between the world's top two powers are an important source of stability, but he cautions that this doesn't mean bad things won't happen.
I, and I suspect most people who read The Interpreter, agree. The question is how to balance the revealed upside against the downside risk. Hugh's position is that Australia should tell the US it is time to acknowledge China's legitimate sphere of influence in the western Pacific, including accepting that Taiwan is a part of China. His latest rendering of his argument was set off by Nick Burns' remarks at the US Studies Centre's June conference on the 9/11 Decade, saying that the best response to China's rise is continuing US military dominance in the Asia Pacific, and imploring Australia to double down on its long standing ally.
I don't want to weigh in on this national security debate. Rather, I simply wanted to point out two things. First, the depth and breadth of China-US economic ties today goes a long way to explaining why none of the recent brushfires in Sino-American relations — both in the South China Sea and in terms of trade and currency — has flamed out of control.
Second, obsessing about the potential for geopolitical conflict with China in forums like The Interpreter is bad public diplomacy. Behind-the-scenes military planning in Beijing, Canberra and Washington to insure against the downside risks of bad outcomes from China's rise is no doubt intense and on-going. But it should be married in public with win-win talk about China-US economic relations, and I would add win-win-win talk about the Australia-China-US economic triangle.
The benefits of this economic triangle beyond raw material sales to China are not well understood in Australia, just as the benefits of China-US ties are poorly understood and devalued in America, and I suspect China as well. Leavening the geopolitical agonising over China's rise with a real understanding of the economic benefits — not only in terms of dollars and jobs today but also in terms of peace and stability and the prospect for political change in China tomorrow — strikes me as in everyone's interests.
Photo by Flickr user Caro Wallis.