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Professor Hugh White Discusses Australia's Future Between Washington and Beijing

June 24, 2011 | Comments: 0 | Views: 186

The Quarterly Essays published by Black Inc. tend to vary in quality from the woeful to the brilliant. Mostly the writers of these essays are of a left-wing, progressive bent. The essays land themselves in trouble when they're written by authors who are opinionated but have little of real worth to say, or if the essayist is basically an intellectual lightweight. The best essays are informative and intellectually stimulating. My favourites have been Waleed Aly's What's Right? and Peter Hartcher's Bipolar Nation. I won't go into which ones which I think were the worst.

The 39th essay in the series is by Professor Hugh White, who specialises in defence and security issues. He's not a hot head, but rather a mild mannered analyst not motivated by political ideology. This makes his work refreshingly candid and devoid of dogma. You can trust his judgments to be based on a solid core of common sense.

Australia Caught Between China and the United States

Power Shift: Australia's Future Between Washington and Beijing examines where Australia stands in the Asian region with China nudging the United States for the position of global superpower. The Chinese economy has made massive leaps and bounds over the past decade. If it can keep up its current pace of economic growth, then it's only a matter of time before China overtakes the US as the world's largest economy. As White notes, once a nation becomes the richest in the world, they automatically have the money and command of resources to become the most powerful too. But where does this leave Australia?

As China grows, and as its economic power threatens the United States, it is Australia that stands to get bruised in the charge for global preeminence. Australia, Hugh White notes, has had an easy run security wise for a long time, depending on the US and not having to think too deeply about defence strategy. If, as a nation, Australia doesn't keep its eye on this slowly but surely shifting balance of power, Australians could find themselves in an uncomfortable position.

White outlines various scenarios, all which demand careful study and attention, and all of which will cost Australia one way or another - whether it be by spending more on defence, exposing ourselves to a greater chance of war, or simply having to reduce our international standing. None of this makes for cheery reading, highlighting as it does the need for Australia to think carefully and make some very serious decisions. With the rise of China, Australia's hey days of easy security will be over.

This is fairly ironic, as China's rise has been a godsend for Australia's economy. China doing well and buying our resources has been great for the nation's coffers, but while we enjoy the money, it will mean making tough decisions in the future.

Hugh White wrote this essay in the hope of focusing the minds of politicians on this looming problem, but as the nation grapples with pressing and of the moment issues like the carbon tax and refugees, it seems that it's too easy for us to put this problem on the backburner. Reading Hugh White's brilliant essay focuses the mind wonderfully on these issues of defence and security. Anyone interested in serious public discussion should read this essay.

Power Shift: Australia's Future Between Washington and Beijing, by Hugh White. Published by Black Inc. ISBN: 9781863954884

Chris Saliba is a book reviewer from Melbourne, Australia.

More of his book reviews can be read at:

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