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Issue #1498      4 May 2011

Gillard’s north-east Asia tour

Talking business, beating war drums

The government of the People’s Republic of China gave Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard the warmest welcome and highest level reception any prime minister could have asked for during her four-day state visit. Premier Wen Jiabao said China highly valued its relations with Australia which it views as an “important partner in mutually beneficial cooperation.” Gillard on her part spoke with a forked tongue.

She focused on economic cooperation - on trade, investment, tourism and resources - and appeared to diplomatically skirt around China’s desire for a broader relationship. China was the third leg of her north-east Asian tour. In South Korea and Japan, en route to Beijing, she strongly promoted the US’s role and closer military integration and a stronger presence in the region as well as economic issues. China is one of the targets of the military build-up in the region, as promoted by Gillard on behalf of the US administration.

As Gillard pointed out to her Chinese hosts, China was the recipient of one quarter of Australia’s exports last year. According to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, the volume of bilateral trade grew 46.5 percent in 2010 and by 39.9 percent in the first quarter of 2011. In 2010, two-way trade between the two countries exceeded $100 billion for the first time. It is not just trade in minerals and resources. Tourism and education are big tickets. More than 167,000 Chinese students were enrolled in Australian institutions last year, in addition to several hundred thousand tourists.

China is seeking to foster cooperation and growth in the building of infrastructure in Australia. Chinese businesses have expertise and advanced technologies Vice Premier Li Kequiang told Gillard. Li also called on Australia to facilitate Chinese companies’ investment in Australia. Last year, China was the third largest source of foreign investment in Australia.

Gillard was accompanied by a large entourage from the corporate sector who were attending a meeting of 600 government and business executives which she addressed.

She joined Premier Wen Jiabao in witnessing the signing of five agreements on economic cooperation and cooperation in science and technology, customs, tourism and service trade and a $600 million deal on financing for an iron ore project of West Australia’s Karara Mining Ltd.

Gillard did the requisite (for any US ally) raising of human rights in China, a call hardly carrying any weight coming from the PM of a government with such an appalling human rights record towards refugees and its Indigenous population, many of whom still lack such basic human rights as health services, education, housing and jobs.

She also tried to smooth over some of the recent tensions between the two countries by reassuring China of Australia’s adherence to the one-China policy and pledging to further develop its comprehensive and cooperative ties with China on the basis of equality, mutual benefits and mutual respect.

Gillard pressed for negotiations on a free trade agreement to be finalised, further cooperation in the G20 and the East Asia Summit, climate change and Doha where WTO negotiations are floundering. There seemed to be considerable agreement on the need to progress cooperation in these areas.

She took up the same economic themes in Japan and South Korea, but with the addition of military matters and the promotion of the US’s importance in the region.

Gillard rewrote the history of the Korean Peninsula during her visit to the demilitarised zone between South Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK – North Korea). In a crude propaganda exercise, the Australian media were provided with a carefully orchestrated “photo opportunity” as she stood by a glass window with an armed North Korean soldier on the other side allegedly threatening regional stability.

She was proud of Australia’s role in fighting the US’s war in the 1950s, and sought to publicise the “forgotten war”. Officially the US is still at war with the North.

Beating the war drums

On ANZAC Day, she paid her respects to Korean and Australian soldiers who lost their lives in the war while visiting the National War Memorial. She also stopped n Kapyong, the site of a “forgotten battle”.

“Australia and Korea walked together during the Korean War,” she said in a speech to the Korean International Trade Association Dinner in Seoul on April 23.

“And following the Korean War, we walked together still: as natural partners in peace.” Australia “will continue to stand alongside Korea in condemning North Korean aggression.”

“Australia and Korea are natural partners”. Whereas the “partnership” with China is economic, with South Korea it is also a military, political and ideological union. “We are both alliance partners of the United States, seeing the US presence in Asia as fundamental to regional stability ... Most importantly, we share values.”

Australia will further expand “security cooperation” with South Korea and strengthen the “partnership” on the basis of “shared values, mutual respect and genuine friendship.” “We are concerned about continuing North Korean aggression. We are concerned about their nuclear program ...”

“Japan is Australia’s closest partner in Asia,” Gillard told the Japan National Press Club. “Japan is also a friend ...”

“We talk a lot about trilateral Australia-Japan-US cooperation ... Friends, as Prime Minister, I am committed to this most important security relationship.

“As staunch US allies, Japan and Australia agree as one in welcoming a continued forward presence of the United states in the Asia-Pacific as an important contribution to regional stability.

“Stability and security depend vitally on the integral role of the United States and on developing the right regional architecture to encourage cooperation on security challenges and the peaceful settlement of disputes.”

The only so-called threat to security that Gillard refers to is North Korea. The US with its thousands of troops and bases in South Korea are not mentioned. Nor are the provocative, and threatening joint military exercises of the US and its allies off the coasts of China and the DPRK.

“Japan and Australia are close strategic partners.” She speaks in terms of a “new phase of more frequent, practical and ambitious bilateral security cooperation.”

The two countries have stepped up their participation in joint military exercises and Japanese troops could be allowed to train in Australian defence units under a new vision for greater military cooperation. She revealed that Tokyo is keen to boost its combat readiness in response to “the growing threat of the DPRK”. Japan’s constitution restricting its military to self-defence operations is increasingly being breached under the pretence of preparing for peace-keeping and natural disaster operations.

What Gillard said in the private discussions with government leaders and what briefings and instructions she might have delivered from her recent trip to Washington have not been revealed.

Gillard’s discussions on military cooperation with Japan and South Korea and her threatening remarks against the DPRK sent negative signals to China, and did nothing to help relations there beyond the economic level. The term “genuine friend” was not used in relation to China.

Her opportunistic approach to China reflects the deepening contradiction between Australia’s increasing economic reliance on China and her government’s strong military and political allegiance to US imperialism.

The large trade mission that attended the China-Australia conference in Beijing included CEOs and other senior representatives of the largest corporations operating in Australia – the likes of Rio Tinto, BHP and ANZ. Some within their ranks are not so wedded to the US’s military ventures. Dollars speak louder than “shared values”. They know their future does not lie in crisis-ridden, debt-laden USA economy – an economy in decline.  

Next article – Editorial – The AWU and the carbon tax

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