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3 July 2019

With Jonathan Pearlman

Australia discovers Europe

From 1989 to 1994, Boris Johnson was posted to Brussels for London’s Daily Telegraph, where he delivered a colourful – and largely fictional – series of dispatches about the European Union’s bureaucratic overreach. These stories, including accounts of plans to regulate chip flavours or to classify snails as fish, have been credited with fuelling the British Euroscepticism that led to the Brexit referendum result.

The EU has long had an image problem in Australia, too, where Euroscepticism is mainly underpinned by concerns about European protectionism, particularly farm subsidies. Australia’s counterpart to Johnson was John Howard, who, as a minister, was sent to Europe in 1977 to try to open the way for Australian exports. He returned largely empty-handed, albeit with an acquired antagonism towards Brussels that later became a hallmark of his foreign policy as prime minister.

Australia’s relations with the EU soured further over the Iraq War, as Howard sided with George W. Bush and Tony Blair against European opposition to the conflict. During a visit to Europe in 2003, Howard lambasted the “mandarins of Brussels” and its “supra-bureaucracy”, accusing Europe’s leaders of ungratefully forgetting that the US had come to their rescue during World War II. Not one for turning, Howard still rallies against the EU and is a staunch supporter of Brexit.

Yet the EU is increasingly occupying a new and significant role in Australian foreign affairs. The US’s shift towards protectionism, its trade war with China and its rejection of global treaties and rule-making have left Australia and the EU with more in common than ever before. Both have become champions of values that are being undermined by rising tides of illiberalism and protectionism. Both oppose Trump’s tariffs but have deep concerns about China’s growing ambitions, market restrictions and breaches of human rights. With common approaches to both Washington and Beijing, suddenly Australia and the EU find themselves closely aligned on the world stage.

This alignment of interests was evident at the G20 summit in Osaka last weekend, where Australia and the EU cemented new global partnerships. Neither, as Scott Morrison put it, was going to “sit there and wait” for the US–China trade war to end. Instead, the rivalry between the world’s two largest economies is shaking up traditional relationships and leading to the formation of new blocs and agreements. Morrison has been pursuing talks on an Asia-based trade deal, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, while the EU completed a long-awaited deal with the South American trading bloc of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, which will create the largest free trade area in the world. Australia and the EU are also edging closer to signing their own free trade agreement. Last Saturday, Morrison met with European leaders Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, later saying he hoped to finalise the deal by the end of the year. And, despite his position against strong action on climate change, Morrison stood alongside Brussels in endorsing the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal. He expressed concerns about the nuclear deal but chose to endorse international consensus over remaining loyal to his closest ally. Donald Trump has withdrawn from both.

Traditionally, Coalition leaders have tended to mistrust the EU’s collaborative approach to diplomacy, preferring a world dominated by strong states such as the US or Britain. But this is changing because Australia can no longer presume that its outlook is shared by the US, particularly under Trump. Once seen as a bastion of protectionism, these days the EU has lower tariffs than the US, and the European preference for restraint and international cooperation – which Canberra previously viewed as an impediment to the US alliance – is increasingly seen in Canberra as a helpful safeguard against Trumpian chaos and protectionism.

Howard backed Brexit as an assertion of national sovereignty. But Brexit is unlikely to strengthen Britain or to undo the EU. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the EU, as a bloc, is Australia’s second-largest trading partner, after China – and it will remain so, says the department, even after Britain is gone.


Australia forced to confront a scary subject – its military vulnerability

“‘Trump is not the driver’ of America’s retreat, [Hugh White] tells me . . . The underlying historical driver ‘is the direct result of the biggest change in the global distribution of wealth and power in 200 years, which has brought to a close the era of Western domination of East Asia that began with Britain’s Industrial Revolution – and will end with China’s.’” Peter Hartcher, The Sydney Morning Herald

Trump’s gamble with Kim yet to yield results

“The lack of progress is maddening, given that the point of big and bold steps are to provoke change. The United States now finds itself in a very familiar place – one in which Washington and Pyongyang talk right past each other and the North Korean nuclear arsenal continues to quietly advance.” Alexandra Bell, East Asia Forum

Hong Kong’s democracy movement was about hope. These protests are driven by desperation

“This stronger sense of identity with the city and opposition to China has created a generation of protesters for whom this really is an all-or-nothing fight. Their ties are not to country, but to city and each other.” James Griffiths, CNN


Japan scrubs “research” from its whaling ship as it returns to commercial hunting

“Scott Morrison, who met his counterpart [Shinzō] Abe during the G20 Summit in Osaka, said the Japanese were aware of Australia’s objections. But it is understood whaling was not raised during the most recent meeting.” Jake Sturmer and Yumi Asada, ABC News

Australia, Japan, US start down their own Indo-Pacific road in PNG

“Japan has recognised that China’s growing economic weight will afford it the ability to create highly influential investments – via the BRI, for example – which could diminish Japan’s relative regional power . . . This new trilateral initiative is an obvious reaction to China’s regional ambitions, yet if conducted with local consultation and respect, it should also be a welcome enhanced engagement by these three states.” Grant Wyeth, The Diplomat

Free from Australian Foreign Affairs

Can Kim Jong-un be stopped? – a report on the North Korean missile crisis

“In looking back on the twists and turns of the yearlong North Korea crisis, which spiked first in April and then again in August, we can identify the deeper factors that prevent the United States and its allies – including Australia – from making any progress on the North Korean nuclear issue.” John Delury, HERE


refugee and
migration policy

Much can be learned!

Donald Trump, president (United States)

Countries such as Australia have great systems.

Boris Johnson, prime ministerial candidate (United Kingdom)

Their indefinite and prolonged confinement . . . amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

United Nations Human Rights experts

Sources: Twitter, TalkRADIO, OHCHR

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