Don’t fear a rising China, says Turnbull
In a speech in London this week, Australian politician Malcolm Turnbull urged Australia not to fear the growth of the Asian super-giants, particularly China, rather make the most of the opportunities afforded by them.
By Will Fitzgibbon
On 5 October, Australia’s Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband, Malcolm Turnbull, delivered a speech in London on the opportunities and threats posed by Asia’s rise.
In a speech titled ‘“Same bed, different dreams”: Asia’s rise – threat or opportunity? The view from Australia’ the former Liberal leader spoke on the economic, political and strategic rise of China and India before a well-attended public event hosted at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences (LSE).
“This is a massive realignment of economic and, in due course, political and strategic power at a speed and on a scale the world has not seen before,” Turnbull told the 150 strong crowd.
Mr Turnbull’s speech comes only one week after Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that former Treasury Secretary Ken Henry would lead the preparation of a white paper on Australia’s relationship with Asia. Titled “Australia in the Asian Century,” the white paper will be handed to the government in early 2012.
In employing quotes from Chairman Mao, giving an appreciative nod to the wisdom of a 15th century admiral, and reflecting on his own business experience in China in past decades, Mr Turnbull put into perspective China’s economic rise and what that means for a weakening United States as well as for a geographically well-placed Australia.
Mr Turnbull began by jumping into bed and dreaming alongside the Chinese themselves, evoking the nation’s long history and former global dominance.
“The world may be amazed by China’s dramatic rise,” he said, “but the Chinese recognise this as very much a return to the natural order of things.”
While noting that China’s growth and renascent pride poses “great risks and challenges” to the global economy as well as the global strategic order, Mr Turnbull emphasised that China’s rise should not be responded to with the same kind of Soviet-era containment policy.
Nevertheless, Mr Turnbull reminded China that it should not expect untrammelled access to Australia’s natural resources while its state-owned structures remained in place.
In evoking the2009 failed bid of Chinese state owned enterprise Chinalco to takeover Australian mining giant Rio Tinto, Mr Turnbull advises China to “respect the right of the Australian people to stand up for our national sovereignty too”.
The dreamology from the other side of the bed, or the perspectives from the United States and the broader West, were passed over more rapidly.
“This sense of being outclassed by China is not limited to Americans,” said Mr Turnbull in citing Uncle Sam’s loss of 5.5 million manufacturing lobs between 2001 and 2010 and Sydney increasing its train lines by 13 kilometres since 1995 while Shanghai has in the same period established 434 kilometres of subway rails.
“The fault is indeed in ourselves,” he said.
The talk was misleadingly titled “The View from Australia”. In reality, the audience heard “The view from the Member for Wentworth” or “The View from Malcolm the Global Historian”.
Overall, the talk was more or less the kind of paean to China’s economic rise that can be heard in university public lecture halls across the globe. A well-researched piece, Turnbull’s liberal sprinkling of Mandarin had broad smiles skipping over the faces of the many attending Chinese students.
Perhaps in the hope that Mr Turnbull would indulge once more in his recent habit during public talks of openly breaking with Federal Coalition policy such as occurred during his speech on climate change in July, the first public questions sought to draw Mr Turnbull on domestic issues including the carbon tax and the republic.
This time, however, Mr Turnbull stayed on script.
Nonetheless, he did not shy away from voicing elements of his own well-documented political history and beliefs, including passing reflexions on how and over what issue he lost the leadership of his party, on the present toxicity in Australia’s political climate and (one senses perfunctorily) on the “poor” performance of the current government.
But the tenor of the talk was overall positive. Responding to questions, Mr Turnbull said that Australia is uniquely positioned to benefit from Asia’s rise thanks to its successful multiculturalism.