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Issue #1635      April 16, 2014

Abbott tour – more about war than trade

Tabloid media coverage of the PM’s recent tour of Japan, South Korea and China took up the made-to-order theme – Tony Abbott the man of action who broke through on “free” trade agreements where Labor had dithered for years. He would have pulled off the trifecta of agreements with the three Asian economic powerhouses but for the complexity of the issues with the People’s Republic and the lack of shared “values”. That’s what the transnationals would like the public to believe. The real purpose of the tour was to help tighten the US cordon around the Asia-Pacific, to shore up its economic interests, to try and lure them deeper into the big power economic-political camp and away from the growing economic influence of China and further prepare an alliance for war with the PRC.

Chinese President Xi Jinping with Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Very few people are expecting great benefits to flow from the “free” trade agreements. In fact, the one concluded with Japan is more appropriately called a “preferential trade deal”. There is no obligation on retailers to pass on the very modest tariff cuts on Japanese electronics and cars to Australian consumers. Most will pocket the savings in order to boost their bottom line. And while beef and (to a much lesser extent) dairy exporters have welcomed the increased access to Japanese markets, rice-growers, pork producers and sugar exporters have protested the lack of real change enshrined in the deal.

The PM was accompanied for part or all the trip by a Rudd-style select group of 20 admiring company executives but Abbott’s most noteworthy “gains” were of the strategic, military kind. He was as at one with his hawkish Japanese PM Shinzo Abe regarding the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands in the East China Sea and altering the role and size of Japan’s military. The Japanese government recently loosened a self-imposed ban on arms exports as part of its increasingly aggressive military posture.

During his previous term as PM, Abe pushed for a “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue” to include the US, Japan, India and Australia. He looked forward to a “Democratic Security Diamond” stretching from India, Australia, Japan to the US state of Hawaii with shared responsibility for looking after this US economic and military pond. During his tour, Abbott was guest at Abe’s National Security Council where the “vision” was explored further.

Abbott and Abe issued a joint communiqué that “re-affirmed the importance of strong US engagement in the Asia-Pacific region and expressed their strong support for the US rebalance.” The “rebalance” is a reference to the Obama Administration’s “Pivot” to the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean regions where it feels most vulnerable to open economic competition from China. The expansion of US bases in the region, including the Marines base in Darwin is part of this shift in priorities. So is the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement “free” trade pact involving 12 Pacific Rim countries including Australia.

The Japanese and Australian Prime Ministers agreed to “elevate the bilateral security and defence relationship to a new level.” There will be increased inter-operability between the Australian and Japanese armed forces, cooperation on military sciences including joint research on submarine technology. There will be more talks for the sharing of intelligence and regular joint military exercises.

There was little consideration for the concerns of China of Japan’s worsening relationship with the PRC. “It’s not against any specific country and as far as I am concerned – as far as just about every other country is concerned – what we want to see is more democracy, more freedom, more respect for the rule of law,” he told the Australian media when quizzed about China’s likely reaction.

In Beijing, Abbott’s forced smile, talk of “friendship” and vague references to “defence cooperation” with the PRC couldn’t mask the tensions created by the tour of the latest in the long line of US deputy sheriffs. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had already caused offence with her strong public criticism of China’s decision to extend its air defence zone to take in the area around disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands in November last year. Spy scandals and the continued bullying of Timor Leste for control of its oil and gas reserves have also damaged Australia’s standing with its neighbours in the region. The contradictory stance of successive governments in relying on the strength of the Chinese economy while vigorously pushing for US economic and military advantage is fuelling tensions.

Australians do not support the destabilisation of the region, the expansion of the military or its budget. They would much rather see the massive expenditures currently wasted invested instead in neglected social services such as public education, health and aged care. The Japanese people don’t support the growing militarisation of their society, either, but in this era of imperialist military expansion to serve flagging US economic fortunes, the will of the people is increasingly ignored.

Next article – Palm Sunday Perth

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