MY first response to Donald Trump’s spurning the Paris climate change accord was anger.
One foolish fellow had used his power to put the lives of my granddaughters – and their billions of Earth-bound compatriots – in jeopardy. It was outrageous, perhaps even a crime against humanity.
At the very least, I wanted him ripped out of the Oval Office by the scruff of the neck and kicked all the way down Pennsylvania Avenue. I didn’t even think then about our place at Tuross which, if Trump and his followers had their way, would eventually disappear beneath the rising waters of the South Pacific. That came later as the lullaby of surf breaking on Coila Beach took on a more ominous tone.
But then something quite unexpected happened. The world put Donald Trump to one side and decided to fight climate change without him. The Europeans were adamant. Australia was unmoved. Even some of the biggest states and cities in America – California among them – were determined to continue the battle, whatever the tweeter in the White House said and did.
But perhaps the most significant effect of his foolish action was to surrender the leadership of global action to America’s principal economic rival, the People’s Republic of China. And with that leadership comes an extraordinary capacity to dominate the great renewable energy industries in the same way that America dominated the IT, defence and aviation industries in the 20th century.
And when you add to that China’s massive One Belt, One Road initiative that will develop land and sea-based infrastructure across half the world, we’re looking at a transformation of the global power ratio with enormous political and economic consequences for Australia.
I have a particular interest in this changing of the guard. For the last two years I have been researching and writing a book, “Dragon and Kangaroo”, which charts Australia and China’s shared history, from the goldfields to the present day and explores the little known and understood impact that each country has had on the other.
It deals with the “riots” against the Chinese in the gold rush that led directly to the White Australia Policy, which cut us off from our regional neighbours for 90 years. And it reveals the extraordinary role the Chinese played in the settlement of the NT and north Queensland.
It unmasks for the first time the operations of two remarkable Australians who helped to overthrow the last Imperial Dynasty and install a republic in 1912; and in World War I they helped to defend China against Japanese invasion. It also reveals the part China played in preventing a Japanese invasion of Australia in World War II.
But since then we have been very close allies of the US. And we have little liking for the oppressive, one-party rule of the Chinese Communist dynasty (though it has been remarkably effective in raising its own people from poverty). And our Defence establishment has based its operations on the presumption that China is the notional “threat”. This is despite China being far and away our biggest trading partner, without which our economy would collapse. Indeed, former PM Tony Abbott caught the favour of our approach best in one of his three-word slogans: “fear and greed”.
It seems – at least for the moment – that Trump doesn’t care about this historic shift, though if his polling numbers become critical he could easily choose the tried and true political trick of creating an international crisis with China as the enemy. And with Australia’s weak leadership at present and in prospect, we might very well be caught up in the manufactured crisis.
But there is a bright side. Trump’s election to the Oval Office has shown that in the American political system, almost anything is possible. Even if he’s run out of town after his four-year term, he’s a stark reminder of just how unwise it is to put all our eggs in the one American basket.
There’s no question of our swapping one “great and powerful friend” for another. But it does drive home the importance of our developing a fiercely independent foreign policy of our own.