PM under China's spell
By Piers Akerman
March 16, 2008 12:00am
IN an attempt to divert attention from its lack of realistic policy initiatives, the Rudd government recently attacked National Party MP Mark Vaile and Liberal MP Wilson Tuckey for absenting themselves from Parliament and picking up a few bucks in the process.
Vaile went overseas at his own expense to help an Australian company develop markets in the Middle East; Wilson went on a lecture cruise.
There is zero evidence that either broke any parliamentary rules or was unduly influenced by their experiences.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, however, has been in and out of China - courtesy of a number of Chinese organisations - ever since he was elected to Parliament, and has earned more than $100,000 for his efforts.
Treasurer Wayne Swan and Agriculture Minister Tony Burke also had their travel to China bankrolled by a Chinese company while in Opposition.
Maxine McKew, the former ABC star who became Labor's iconic Bennelong candidate, was also greatly assisted by the Chinese during her campaign.
Chinese consul Chen Hao Qi attended an open day at the Chinese Government-supported Feng-Hua, at which Rudd's daughter Jessica and her husband, Albert Tse, made a celebrity appearance.
Mandarin-speaking Rudd's obsession with China is well known, and the Chinese press fondly refers to him as Lu Kewen.
What has largely gone under the radar, however, is the extent to which Rudd has shifted Australian policy in favour of China at the expense of India.
As the Chinese news agency Xinhua wrote on February 5, Australia pulled out of joint strategic dialogues with the US, Japan and India after Foreign Minister Stephen Smith met Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in Canberra.
"One of the things that caused China concern last year was a meeting of that strategic dialogue,'' Smith said.
But the decision to bolster a relationship with the greatest authoritarian power in the world, a nation that has little respect for human rights such as freedom of speech, and that still bans private citizens from receiving satellite television broadcasts and monitors Internet exchanges, at the expense of a long-standing friendship with India - a nation that shares with Australia a common language and a history of common law - has deeply upset the Indian Government.
Dr Bhartendu Kumar Singh, a distinguished commentator with the Indian Defence Accounts Service, says the decision to pull out of the quadrilateral initiative demonstrates Australia's "diplomatic immaturity''.
Former prime minister John Howard was pressed by Chinese president Hu Jintao to reject the arrangement, according to Dr Singh, but "the Howard government was pragmatic enough to resist China's demands''.
Rudd, it appears, was not - and he also reversed the Howard government's decision to sell uranium to India.
On February 22, he told the ABC his view was "how to unfold a future relationship with China ... in a whole range of areas, and become genuine partners with China in the course of the 21st century ... us working with China ... working with the Chinese on some of our common challenges with the wider Asia-Pacific region, including the south Pacific.''
Rudd belatedly attempted to justify the decision to drop India from the quadrilateral arrangement by saying he didn't think "our friends in New Delhi particularly welcome that (the arrangement) as well''.
But a number of prominent and influential Indians immediately expressed the view that China made a suggestion and Australia caved in to its demands to dump the strategic dialogue with India, the US and Japan.
"This means China is able to flex its muscles by using soft power to break coalitions,'' Abanti Bhattacharya, an associate fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, said.
"It's an indication of China's crafty policy of embedding power concepts in its soft power statesmanship ... it's a clear sign Australia and China are cosying up.
"(Under Kevin Rudd) it's more attractive for Australia to align with China than with India.''
Another expert, retired major-general Ashok Mehta, agreed with this assessment.
"This is a complete U-turn,'' he said. "It's a completely maverick move. They (Australia) won't give us uranium, and now we are out of the dialogue.''
According to Mehta, bilateral ties, particularly in the defence sphere, "will certainly not be as they were (with the previous government). That's what happens when China raises its eyebrows.''
Writing in The Asian Age, foreign affairs expert Brahma Chellaney said Rudd had no qualms about selling uranium to China but would not export to India, even though the latter is accepting what the former will not brook: stringent, internationally verifiable safeguards against diversion of material to weapons use.
"Whereas in China the civilian and military nuclear programs overlap, India has, under the nuclear deal with the US, announced a watertight segregation of its civil and military parts.
"For Washington, the deal indeed has been a means to try and build, in the words of Australian analyst Robert Ayson, 'a de facto NPT around India,' with the Howard government conditioning exports to New Delhi's implementation of the various elements of the Indo-US deal.
"By contrast, exports to China will carry 'zero real controls', as The Australian Financial Review put it.
"Yet the Rudd government has reversed policy on India while displaying the same zealousness as its predecessor to sell uranium ore to China.
"Canberra has turned a blind eye to the fact that, in contrast to New Delhi's squeaky-clean record in not proliferating nuclear technology to other states, Beijing has long played proliferation as a strategic card, with US intelligence identifying it as the 'most significant supplier' of items and technology related to weapons of mass destruction.''
As the various ongoing funding scandals reveal, Labor has debts everywhere.
Kevin Rudd should tell us what sort of a debt he thinks we owe China, and why we are neglecting a democratic friend to pander to a totalitarian state.
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