Business as usual: Albanese and the Quad

May 26, 2022
US navy destroyers in the Pacific. Photo: Kenneth Abbate US Navy/Wikimedia Commons

The first action of a new government is always steeped in symbolism. The Anthony Albanese Labor government’s reaffirmation of Australia’s unswerving loyalty to the United States at the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) meeting was just so.

The new prime minister pledged his support to the anti-China grouping of the US, Japan, India and Australia in Tokyo at the meeting on May 24.

Richard McGregor, from the right-wing Lowy Institute, said: “For people who want to make sure Labor doesn’t backslide on China then having Albanese go to the Quad meeting in Tokyo is perfect because he immediately gets a sense of not just Australian policy on China but a more global sense of concerns about China.”

Peter Jennings, executive director of the right-wing Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said in The Australian that Albanese needed to “assure Biden he will be as solid on the alliance as Bob Hawke and Kim Beazley were in the 1980s”.

It was gratuitous advice: Albanese needed no reminder.

He sent a message to the world that it would be business as usual. There’s a “continuity in the way we have respect for democracy and the way that we value our friendships and long-term alliances”, he said.

He said Australia had not changed but that China had, inferring it is now an “assertive” and “aggressive” player in the region. These “concerns” have become a mantra.

US President Joe Biden used the Quad meeting to launch his new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). The IPEF is, in one respect, a weaker version of the earlier, failed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) that was tasked to bring nearly all the economies in the region into a formidable bloc designed to exclude China.

The TPP was to be a central plank in the US’ “containment” of China strategy. The IPEF effectively closes the circle being built around China.

As Albanese pledged stronger security ties with the Quad alliance, Biden let it be known that should China take a step too far over Taiwan, he would intervene militarily.

China has made an overture to the new Labor government and the response has been far from cordial. Albanese blamed China for the trade dispute, ignoring the previous government’s animosity towards China.

China’s response to the Quad meeting was quick. Foreign minister Wang Yi has described the Quad as an “Indo-Pacific NATO”, and accused it of “trumpeting the Cold War mentality” and “stoking geopolitical rivalry”. He has now embarked on a visit to the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste.

No matter what the Quad leaders say, there is no evidence to suggest any overt threat from China. The world sits on the brink of a new global recession; the challenge from China is an economic.

China’s economy is stalling, although it is still recording a growth rate above global averages. It remains Australia’s most important trading partner and yet governments here are hell-bent on damaging that relationship to prove their subservience to the US.

Marxist economist Michael Roberts wrote recently that for decades Australia appeared to be a prosperous country. But things changed, seemingly irrevocably, during the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, which he described as the Great Recession.

“After taking into account population growth, average annual GDP per person grew by about 2 per cent a year in Australia up to the Great Recession. However, since then, per capita growth has averaged half that rate.”

This is not simply an Australian phenomenon. It is global in nature. The new Labor government is facing almost impossible tasks. No capitalist economy can hope to overcome global crises. Any reform, any tinkering at the edges, is to be supported and welcomed, but a policy of total subservience to the interests of the US is hardly the way forward.

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