By any rational measure, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s state visit to the United States should be judged a success. The mere fact Mr. Morrison was honoured with only the second state dinner of the Trump administration demonstrates the high esteem of the President for our prime minister, government and country.
Feted by President Trump not as a man of steel but as a ‘man of titanium,’ Mr Morrison seems to have persuaded the Americans to continue to exempt our steel industry from the onerous and rising tariffs the rest of the world is paying. No small achievement.
The launch of Australian Anthony Pratt’s $500 million box factory in Wapakoneta, Ohio, will benefit both countries but there’s also an important message for those who pooh-poohed the idea that slashing taxes encourages foreign investment — actions speak louder than words.
The commitment by Australia to the US-led coalition in the Strait of Hormuz in support of freedom of navigation is driven by enlightened self-interest; as an island continent we have a near-total dependence on international shipping which underpins our prosperity. This is made more acute by our heavy reliance on fuel imports and the fact that Australia has only around three weeks of petrol in reserve.
The US is our most important ally but that does not mean that relations are always smooth and diplomatic visits are a vital part of strengthening goodwill. Nothing better illustrates this than the poor state of Australia’s relationship with China, our largest trading partner. Beijing has said that it hopes ‘Australia will meet China halfway and make more effort to enhance mutual trust and cooperation.’ That seems a bit rich when it is China that has put Australia in the diplomatic doghouse, ever since Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had the temerity to push back against Beijing’s barely covert political interference in our domestic politics and pass long-overdue legislation banning foreign political donations.
We went from doghouse to deep freezer when the government excluded Huawei from building the 5G network because of national security concerns. Given Beijing’s brazen hacking of cyber security, the government’s stance hardly seems unreasonable.
China is unhappy that Mr Morrison said on Sunday that world trade rules were ‘no longer fit for purpose,’ and that in view of China’s ‘economic maturity’ and its status as a ‘newly developed economy’ its trade arrangements and participation in global environmental challenges needed to reflect its responsibilities as a ‘very major world power.’ We couldn’t agree more. For too long China has exploited the international trading system as ruthlessly as it has exploited its own people to perpetuate the power of the Chinese Communist Party. Its flagrant international property theft, heavy state subsidies, multiple barriers to foreign investment and failure to provide a fair and transparent legal system have harmed its own economic development as much as they have harmed the rest of the world, benefiting only its sclerotic rulers. Mr Morrison is right to join Mr Trump in saying enough is enough. Of course, an escalating trade war with China is not in the interests of either country but it is China that must start showing genuine reciprocity in the international arena.
The only puzzle in all this is the extraordinary suggestion by the Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese, who claimed that World Trade Organisation rules were working, and that China should not be treated as a developed nation because only ‘pockets of China’ were prosperous. Even to a dyed-in-the-wool Leftist like Mr. Albanese it should be obvious that the only reason China isn’t as prosperous as Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea or Hong Kong is because of its self-inflicted, ideological straitjacket. For Mr. Albanese to endorse the status quo which gives China a leave pass not just on trade but on decarbonising its economy —at great and direct cost to Australians — is astonishing. It does makes one wonder what an Aldi shopping bag, stuffed with $100,000 in cash, can buy — a question Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo must have asked himself when he delivered the extraordinary parcel to the NSW branch of the ALP. It seems like rather a lot of money considering how little financial assistance former Labor senator Sam Dastyari sought and how helpful he was in alerting Mr Huang of the surveillance of him being conducted by our intelligence agencies. The icing on the cake was ‘Shanghai’ Sam abandoning his own party’s foreign policy to defend the Chinese Government’s refusal to abide by international court rulings on the South China Sea, saying ‘the integrity of China’s borders is a matter for China.’ Yet, the sad fact seems to be that Labor is prepared to kowtow to China for free and Mr Albanese’s performance this week does nothing to dispel that impression. To top it off, for Mr Albanese to claim that Mr Morrison’s trip to the US has ‘failed’ seems bizarre. If Mr Albanese is looking for failure anywhere, he need go no further than his bathroom mirror. Mr Morrison is right; Mr Albanese is ‘a weapon of mass confusion.’ Unfortunately, the only thing he can torpedo is any chance his party has of winning the next election.