Monday, January 21, 2008

China and Australia: Two Scenarios

You have a large, largely empty, resource-rich, predominantly Anglo land down under. And you have two interested parties who would like to get their hands on it. In one corner, we have the defending champion, the U.S., whose primary claim may be cultural or racial. In the other corner, we have the challenger, China, whose primary claims may be that it wants and needs the resources and the space, it is willing to pay for them, it is a next-door neighbor (relatively speaking), and (in the future) that it is militarily better positioned to take it. In one scenario, China flexes its muscles in ways that worry people. Last year's bit about knocking down a satellite -- a direct threat to the U.S. -- is an example. Enough examples like that, and it won't just be an Anglo-Aussie coalition; it'll be Russo-Anglo-Aussie. (And let's not forget the anglophone Indians.) Then China really will have to fight for Australia, and it may be hard-pressed to succeed. In another scenario, China proceeds gently. Continue putting highly educated Chinese people in various places throughout the anglophone world; continue making appreciated purchases of resources (and also of companies) in the U.S. and Australia; continue letting Chinese people be welcomed as friends in Australia. And meanwhile, continue bringing China into the modern world, with enhanced rights for its people, growing awareness of rights violations, and other quietly woven threads of restraint around its oligarchs. Then Australia is not alarmed, the U.S. is not shocked into confrontation, and the ties between the lands of the koala and the panda grow naturally. In a generation, it will seem odd that the Australians would ever have contemplated an essentially anti-China economic (never mind military) coalition with the U.S. Can the second scenario be the primary one? I'd put the odds at somewhat less than 50%.