29 March 2008

Fly-by points

Australia should not seek to have a poor relationship with Japan, but the new Australian government is doing the right thing by changing tack a bit on this relationship.

The hysteria in this article is unwarranted. Australia is an observer at the G7 meeting in Japan and there are a number of other joint Australia-Japan initiatives on the diplomatic rounds to suggest the relationship is far from dead. Both countries have had conservative governments for over a decade, and Rudd's flying by Tokyo on his world tour should be a wake-up call rather than "alarm bells".
The Rudd Government has dramatically broken with previous Labor and Coalition policy on Japanese whaling ...

The Rudd Government's behaviour has aligned to the policy, rather than a policy being stated and matched only with hand-wringing. A departure in terms of behaviour rather than policy. Using hype like "dramatically broken" doesn't help make for calm and productive diplomacy, guys.
... amply demonstrated by its zealous anti-whaling protests, groundless international legal claims and implicit support for Sea Shepherd's illegal antics in the Southern Ocean.

Groundless? Illegal? Positions like that need to be legally tested, not taken for granted. The recent admission by the Japanese fisheries department that they took three times more fish than they should have in recent years means that their claims on whaling are questionable at the very least.
The Prime Minister seemingly can find the time to traverse the entire globe but not to visit Japan.

The Prime Minister is already under pressure for spending as long as he intends to away from the country. There are many countries important to Australia that are not being visited this time.

On one hand, Brendan Nelson should get himself to Japan: it might make him look Prime Ministerial and would put Rudd into a tailspin. On the other, you just know the Japanese would make him lay a wreath at Yasukuni, and Nelson would make some mealy-mouthed effort equating Australian war dead with those of Japan.
But Rudd seems far less keen on the evidence base when it comes to China ... Canberra sees whales as more important than Tibetans.

This is a silly comparison, John Roskam silly. Australian governments have tried behind-the-scenes protests with Japan about whaling to no effect: public humiliation was an entirely appropriate next step. By contrast, Australia's record on human rights generally has been low-profile to the point of non-existence, and on Tibet "non-existent" is probably a fair description of Australia's position. A bit of modesty is called for there, and it seems that is what we're getting.
While China has been ambivalent about and sometimes strongly opposed to Australia's role in regional trade and security arrangements,
Japan has steadfastly remained an advocate of Australian participation.

Fine, so it's time to concentrate a bit on the Chinese - no?
Japanese private sector financial flows are likely to become increasingly important in coming months to fund Australia's huge current account deficit; these flows will be a lot less contentious than investment by the Chinese state in Australia's resource assets.

Japanese companies buying Australian commodities have been high-handed and take-it-or-leave-it, and with the rise of China and India they have had to pull their horns in a bit. It should be possible to recast Australia's economic relationships and pursue opportunities without "dramatically" breaking or otherwise claiming that disaster lurks behind any change. A change in Australia-Japan relations might benefit both parties and others besides, who knows?

No mention of the longterm decline in Japanese tourist numbers to Australia, guys? No mention of the widespread failure of engagement between the two countries, especially the widespread failure of Japanese language classes in Australian schools? Cheer up, the Australia-Japan relationship could be better. It just might work. At this stage, Rudd deserves the benefit of the doubt.


  1. "you just know the Japanese would make him lay a wreath at Yasukuni"

    I appreciate the sarcasm, but I doubt this would happen. Yasukuni is now a privately funded religious shrine and not government supported. The occasional visits from Japan government officials and ministers are solely for domestic political or private purposes and contraversial even within Japan.

    Most of those visits have been as private persons rather than in "an official capacity"

    I think the only foreign leader to have visited is the Tiawanese president last year, again privately to honor his brother who is buried there.

  2. Not sarcasm, just a lack of faith in Nelson's capacity for good sense. Such accomplished statesmen as George Bush I and Bob Hawke have fallen foul of cultural misunderstandings, and it is entirely possible that Nelson would commit a Career Limiting Move while trying to look Prime Ministerial.