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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Australia's Munich Moment

September 15, 2010

Canberra should resist the temptation to sell out
its U.S. alliance in order to appease China.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ)
September 13, 2010

The history of the past century has been the
history of the rise and fall of successive
authoritarian and totalitarian empires. All
presented ideological and ultimately military
challenges to liberal democratic states, but were
ultimately defeated. Along the way, however, all
these regimes found no shortage of apologists in
the Western democracies. Legions of academics and
writers argued that weak, decadent, declining
democracies could not possibly resist the virile
power of the dynamic, efficient totalitarian states—and should not even try.

Now, a former high-ranking Australian defense
official-cum academic is making the same argument
with a new authoritarian state in mind: China. In
the recently released issue of the Australia's
Quarterly Essay magazine, Australian National
University's Hugh White says Canberra should
appease Beijing and dump Australia's
long-standing security relationship with the
United States. Call it a Canberra "Munich
moment," taking us back to the 1938 conference
where Britain and France sold out their allies
the Czechs to Germany in the vain hope of avoiding conflict.

Like those misguided policy makers, Mr. White
argues China's dominance is inevitable and
Australia's economic dependence on it is, too. He
acknowledges the problems the Communist Party
faces, such as civil unrest, environmental
degradation and its problematic demography—its
one-child policy will mean it gets old before it
gets rich. Mr. White believes China's leaders
will overcome these problems and maintain power,
at least in the near term. By his math, economic
dominance is a given, based on China's population
and the resumption of China's pre-colonial
imperial status as the world's largest economy.
Mr. White sees this as China's manifest destiny
with the re-establishment of "the nexus between population and economic size."

With China's economic rise, Mr. White says,
military might will naturally follow. China's
recent aggressive maneuvers in the South China
Sea are thus to be expected. He argues that not
even the U.S. Navy's long-established presence in
Asia Pacific, combined with the Japanese, South
Korean and even Vietnamese presence, can counter China's military rise.

Thus democratic Australia is required, according
to Mr. White, to abandon its own values,
disengage from America and accommodate China.
This is what Mr. White means when he says "no
more lecturing China about dissidents, Tibet or
religious freedom." Presumably, at a later stage,
he wants the U.S. to abandon its treaties with
Japan and Australia, withdraw its troops from
South Korea, stop Taiwan acquiring the means to
defend itself and remove its navy from Asian waters.

No serious analyst equates China with Hitler's
Germany or Stalin's Russia. China is and deserves
to be a great power, and we welcome the enormous
economic and social progress China has made since
1976. Australia, like the Asian region as a
whole, must find a way to live in peace and
mutually beneficial cooperation with a newly powerful and prosperous China.

But these considerations do not alter the fact
that China is run by a regime whose sole priority
is the preservation of its own power. China's
Communist Party is ruthless in the methods it
uses to protect its interests, both internally
and externally. China is not an expansionist
power in the traditional sense, but an
authoritarian power which seeks to extend
hegemony over its neighborhood. For both
strategic and economic reasons, it supports and
protects rogue states like North Korea, Burma, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

The principal counterweight to Chinese hegemony
in our region is the U.S. and its system of
alliances with Japan, South Korea, the
Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan and Australia. It
is in Australia's vital strategic interest that
the U.S. presence in our region is not weakened
or undermined. This is not because we seek to
thwart China's legitimate aspirations and
interests. It is because we are a liberal
democracy whose interests are best served by a
stable, prosperous region in which all countries
evolve towards more democratic forms of
government, as is indeed happening, most notably
in Indonesia. That is an ambition which the U.S.
shares with us and which China does not.

Mr. White's prescriptions would be a disaster for
our region. Together, they would amount to an
Asian Munich. They would lead to, as Andrew
Krepinevich recently argued on this page, the
"Finlandization" of Asia, as each country sought
to protect itself by doing a deal with Beijing at
the expense of its neighbors. These prescriptions
would be a betrayal of all the region's peoples,
including the Chinese people. Ultimately this
would fail anyway, because appeasement never
actually appeases dictators: It only makes them more confident and aggressive.

Australia certainly needs to find a way to live
alongside a powerful and prosperous China. We do
that best by building a mutually advantageous
economic relationship, by staying loyal to our
friends in the region, by assisting the U.S. to
maintain its role in the region, and by standing
by our belief in democracy and human rights for
all countries including China. We do not serve
anyone's interests by trying to appease the current regime in Beijing.

Mr. Danby is a Labor member of the Australian
Parliament and the former chair of the Foreign
Affairs Subcommittee. Mr. Ungerer is Director of
the National Security Program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
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