‘The Yellow Peril” and ‘U.S. Imperialism’
Melbourne, November 22, 2011 --- Old fears, inoculated since childhood and passed down through generations, often lead to rash decisions with negative consequences. So Australia might yet regret signing this month an accord to host a U.S. Marine base in its Northern Territory, closest to China.
Ever since the gold rush days 150 years ago Australians have built legal walls against what was then known as ‘the Yellow Peril’ – initially the arrival of tens of thousands of Chinese coolies to dig for gold and later the imperial Japanese forces fighting for a foothold in the rich southern continent. In need of labor the Chinese coolies were allowed to dig but not bring into the country their women. This way they could not breed and multiply. Later on when the gold ran out and the Chinese ‘diggers’ cultivated land new laws excluded them from land ownership.
Today fear of the Chinese giant (population 1.3 billion) remains in the psyche of Australia (population 20 million). An opinion poll claimed 59 per cent of Australians approved that President Obama and Prime Minister Julia Gillard renovated a sixty-year old military alliance by adding a Marine base on Australia’s sparsely populated north, always considered vulnerable to hostile military invasion.
President Obama announced this base -which Australians pay for - was part of the U.S. new strategy with its focus on the Asia-Pacific region. (The U.S. policy switch is obviously galvanized by China’s galloping economic prosperity, military power and growing regional influence.)
Australian politicians, like opposition leader Tony Abbott, loudly spouted: ‘What is good for America is good for Australia’ perhaps forgetting in the euphoria of the renewed Canberra-Washington alliance that China has become Australia’s most vital trading partner. Its purchases of mineral resources, particularly coal, can make or break the Australian economy. The U.S. hardly buys anything Australian and an average one thousand Americans a week visit Australia compared to five times that many from the Peoples Republic. While the rest of the western nations struggle with debts Chinese investments have sustained an enviable Australian boom.
With new trading partners and closer ties to Russia next door, China can easily switch its shopping these days.
This might end the lucrative Chinese-Australian commercial honeymoon which kicked off the moment Beijing dropped its rigid communist façade and embraced western capitalism. With Washington occupied sorting out (or interfering) in the Middle East the Sino-Aussie relationship blossomed – until U.S. policymakers decided this year to promote the U.S. role in the region by engaging their old and loyal ally - Australia. The idea, no doubt, is to ‘contain’ bourgeoning Chinese commercial influence among Asia Pacific nations.
Foolishly the Australian government immediately leapt on the new U.S. bandwagon – as it always has on any U.S. adventure.
To cement the deal during a whirlwind 27-hour visit to Canberra and Darwin Obama and his hosts engaged in nauseating mutual back-slapping with verbal voyages down memory lane about how the two nations had fought and stood side by side in the past. (Australia has fought with the U.S. in every conflict since World War II.)
And if that was not enough Australia’s red-haired Prime Minister Julia Gillard was smothering Obama with kisses on the cheek at every opportunity prompting one cartoonist to portray the American leaving the country his face covered with lipstick marks (perhaps a subtle come-on about what U.S. Marines coming to Australia on duty can expect.)
Far more obnoxious however were the comments of mutual admiration. Opposition leader Abbott probably won the prize for salivating ingratiation. He told the President: ‘The U.S. is the most benign and the least self-interested superpower the world has ever seen.’
Gillard who kept staring at Obama like a teenybopper admiring her heart-throb rock star idol announced during a visit to the Australian parliament: “Everyone in this parliament is a friend of the U.S.”
Not quite so. Bob Brown, leader of the Green party, a coalition partner of Gillard’s Labor Party, was the only voice who announced that perhaps the people of Australia should have been consulted before the base accord was signed and may be, just may be, parliament should have debated the issue first. Now it was it too late?
For pundits the sudden leap into the Washington camp by the ruling Labor-Green coalition illustrated just how much Gillard’s Labor party, which once stood for Australian independence and self-reliance, has become conservative and alienated from the working class, once its main base.
The result of this shift may have negative consequences.
In its editorial the influential daily The Age wrote: ‘Australia would have much to gain from keeping to its middle course between the two great powers. Having taken sides early, though, we have taken a risk. We will find out in coming years how much was at stake in that premature decision.”
Uli Schmetzer is a former foreign correspondent for Reuters and the Chicago Tribune. He is the author of ‘The Chinese Juggernaut’ or how the Chinese conquered South East Asia without firing a shot. The book is available on www.Amazon.com