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Hillary Clinton criticises Australia for two-timing America with China

Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton. Photo: AFP

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has caned Australia for two-timing  –  becoming overly dependent on China as a trading partner while expecting  Washington to defend  from a Beijing that is becoming more aggressive in the region – militarily and territorially. 

Interviewed for Fairfax Media’s Good Weekend on the launch of her memoir Hard Choices, Clinton warned that the Abbott government’s drive  for even more trade with China “makes you dependent, to an extent that can undermine your freedom of  movement and your sovereignty, economic and political.”

Told that Trade Minister Andrew Robb had led a 630-strong trade mission through several Chinese cities in April, Clinton, who is likely to be the Democratic Party nominee to succeed Barack Obama as US president, said: “Well that is a mistake. It’s a mistake whether you’re a country, or a company or an individual to put, as we say in the vernacular, all your eggs in the one basket.

“Just as it was a mistake for Europe to become so dependent on a single supplier. Starting in March 2009, I made that case to the Europeans, that they were increasingly dependent on gas from Russia. They'd already had two experiences, in 2006 and 2009, where for their own purposes, Russia cut off the gas, actually causing people to freeze to death – in Poland and elsewhere.”

Her warning came in the context of a discussion of whether Washington’s much-vaunted pivot to Asia, which she claims as her initiative, is succeeding as a bulwark against China’s economic and strategic might.

Clinton refrained from  storybook language as she explained the strategy, but as she outlines the effort which was formally launched in 2012, for the US to reassert itself in Asia, there was a hint of the poor little countries of the region, a freckle-faced Australia included, being pushed around by the Beijing bullies; and of them pleading with their American buddies to walk down the street with them – just in case the agro in the air became more than menacing.

With an insatiable appetite for natural resources, China now accounts for more than 35 per cent of Australia’s trade. 

In the past, Mr Abbott wanted to lecture the Chinese leadership on human rights and territorial bad manners, and on winning government last year, he at first seemed to irritate Beijing. More recently, the Prime Minister has taken a different route – in China in April, he did not mention the US by name; and on reform, he talked about what the Chinese were doing as opposed to not doing.

“Australia is strong enough to be a valuable partner, but not a dominant one – Team Australia is here in China to help build the Asian century,”  he said during the visit.  As he departed, the PM quoted an old line from reformist Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping – “To be rich is indeed glorious” to which he added an Abbott flourish – “But to be a true friend is sublime.”

And in the same week that Ms Clinton spoke to Good Weekend, Mr Abbott was in the US, demonstrating the belief that Australia can keep doing the splits. 

Citing China as a superpower rival to the US, rather than as the potential threat seen by Australia and its regional neighbours in Ms Clinton’s telling of the genesis of the US pivot to Asia, Abbott told a meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce in Washington: “As citizens of a great power, it’s understandable that Americans should be wary of potential rivals, [but] for Americans to begrudge what the Chinese haven’t achieved more than to admire what they have is out of character – especially as the movement, in just a generation, of hundreds of millions of Chinese into the middle class is a transformation unparalleled in human history.”

And then he marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, to the White House, to tell President Obama about the need for a great power such as the US, to act to balance a resurgent China in Australia’s backyard – to the point of seeking to lock in the American president to stationing more than the 1150 US troops now on rotation in Australia and even more than the projected increase in their number to 2500, to the point of having the Americans establish a permanent base, probably at Stirling WA. Because, according to reporters briefed by Abbott’s entourage, the Prime Minister sees all this is crucial to the success of the pivot. 

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