You may have heard by now that UK Foreign Secretary William Hague is cutting short his Australia visit because of the hostage crisis in Algeria (Prime Minister Cameron, too, is changing his plans; the important speech on the eurozone that Mark Thirlwell referred to in his post yesterday has been cancelled).
But Hague was in Sydney yesterday and I attended his speech at the NSW state parliament, the fourth John Howard Lecture put on by the Liberal Party's think tank, the Menzies Research Centre. As you would expect, the speech contained a lot of boilerplate about close historical ties, the contemporary relevance of the relationship, standing shoulder to shoulder in wartime and so on. Tiresome for those who sit through it, sure, but these things are necessary to oil the wheels of diplomacy.
Also necessary in the service of diplomacy is to avoid any hint that one is criticising or disagreeing with the host country. And yet there is one note in the speech that cuts directly across our government's recent rhetoric about the Asian century:
The rise of Asia over the last decade is remarkable. As John Howard has said, “history will have no bigger stadium this century than the Pacific rim”. But the emergence of new economic and political powerhouses is a global phenomenon as well as an Asian phenomenon. In Latin America, the Gulf, and parts of Africa we see the emergence of countries that are significant economic and political powers in their own right. So from Britain’s perspective, we live in a global century, not just an Asian century.
Is Hague arguing that our focus on Asia is misplaced, or is this simply a difference in perspective owing to our geography and Britain's role as a great power with global ambitions? You decide.