We can avoid a road to ruin

AUSSIE DIPLOMACY MATTERS - Steven J. Robinson (The Philippine Star) - July 18, 2019 - 12:00am

When you look at the state of the world, you might be worried that we are on a road to ruin. The world’s most important two-way relationship – between the United States and China – is strained. Trade tensions between these two major powers have grown. Negative economic effects are spreading. The prospects for global economic growth are cooling. The rhetoric is heated and differences are starting to spill over.

For countries like Australia and the Philippines, our peoples’ jobs and incomes depend on open economies and a global trading system based on rules. The US has concluded, however, that the current world trade system is not capable of dealing with China’s economic structure, its policies and approach.

It is clear that China has now reached a new level of economic maturity. For example, the economies of China’s richest provinces are now larger than those of many countries, including Australia’s economy. Yet China still enforces technology transfer and it has not addressed concerns about intellectual property rights. Its industrial subsidies can lead to over-production. The global trading system needs urgent repair in order to handle these issues. 

With its economic success, China has become a significant power with a vast military and a global reach. But its approach, including in the South China Sea, has engendered tensions with other claimants, the US, Australia and others. All nations in our region are having to adjust. We must all seek to balance our interests and aspirations in the context of this new dynamic.

Australia and the Philippines rely on a positive, productive and cooperative relationship between the US and China. It is in no country’s interest that the US-China relationship turns from rivalry to ruin. Australia believes we can avoid this but, like all sovereign nations, we simply seek the freedom to make our own way, in peace.

We cannot afford to sit back and await our fate when faced with the prospect of a major power contest. With the Philippines and other partners in the region there are practical steps we can take. We need to work harder to support and strengthen the ways in which our region is managed peacefully. We must stand for respect for international law and the resolution of disputes peacefully, without the threat of coercive power.

A peaceful, secure and stable Indo-Pacific region needs a strong and united ASEAN to remain at the centre. That is why Australia is committed to deeper engagement with ASEAN and continuing our role as a leading security, economic and development partner for Southeast Asian countries.

In this context, our relationship with the Philippines is more important than ever. Our shared challenges create important common ground. Confronted with a more complex and contested region, we look to expand our bilateral engagement under our Comprehensive Partnership, on defence and terrorism, maritime security, and economics and trade.

We do this because we believe the Philippines, like Australia, will continue to stand as an active participant in efforts to shape and defend a stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.

This week, we will exchange ideas about many of these issues facing Australia, the Philippines and the region, at a conference organised by one of the Philippines’ foremost experts on international affairs, Professor Aileen Baviera, and the Griffith Asia Institute from Australia.

The Philippines-Australia Dialogue organised by Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress promises to offer great ideas about next steps in the Philippines-Australia relationship. Papers will be published online: https://appfi.ph

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(Steven J. Robinson AO is the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines.  Follow him on Twitter @AusAmbPH)


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