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'The danger is real that Australia could be marginalised from the state of the art overland infrastructure of OBOR.' (Image via bluenotes.anz.com)

Australian media, academia, officials and politicians are all trapped in the same failing narratives and mythologies about China, writes former diplomat Reg Little.

INVITED TO BE a founding member of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) Australian leaders dilly dallied, and only agreed on an Australian membership of reduced standing and influence after Britain and other Europeans had led the way.

Now Australia seems to be repeating this folly, but on a grander scale.

An article headed 'China snubbed on road, rail push', on page two of The Australian on 20 March, reported that:

'The Turnbull government is set to rebuff the Chinese President’s call to align Australia’s $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility with a massive Chinese investment project in ports and roads that is being rolled out around the world.'

The 'massive Chinese investment project', which is rarely covered in Australia’s mainstream media (MSM), is commonly known as the New Silk Road or One Belt, One Road (OBOR). In their dedication to keeping Australians comfortable in their innocence of the way the world is changing, the Murdoch press has led the MSM in avoiding serious reporting of the way this project could leave nations like Australia as marginalised English-speaking maritime anachronisms. Even the above report strives to be obscure and misleading about what is being snubbed.

The danger is real that Australia could be marginalised from the state of the art overland infrastructure of OBOR. This has the potential to link and unite something approaching 6 billion people from Africa to the Arctic with comprehensive infrastructure, including very fast trains.

Without carefully planned and constructed linkages, Australian trading access to this vast commercial culture could be crippled by maritime costs. The Australian sees no reason for such a fate to trouble the Prime Minister.

Australian media, academia, officials and politicians are all trapped in the same failing narratives and mythologies. Globally, these have already led to BREXIT and the success of the iconoclastic Donald Trump in America, and promise continuing upheavals. An article by William Engdahl in New Eastern Outlook on 14 March 2017, titled 'The Crumbling American Superpower'captures the external evidence of this failure. The piece details the pervasive neglect and deterioration of American infrastructure, whether it is the electric grid, highway arteries, bridges or even drinkable water.

It notes:

'The American Society of Civil Engineers has just released their quadrennial assessment of United States essential infrastructure — roads, clean water supplies, levees, ports, dams, bridges, electric grid. The report gives the nation a near-failing D+ grade.'

The English speaking world is going through a major crisis that it is politically incorrect to identify. Simply put, much of its wealth and authority has long been based on easy access to cheap natural and human resources, often in distant places. This has been a consequence of imperial expansion and consequent privilege. The rise of Japan, other Asian states and, most importantly, China has in various ways brought an end to this luxury. This, however, is not something that it has been possible to address, evaluate or manage strategically.

As a consequence, much of the remaining wealth, energy and purpose of the English-speaking nations has been squandered on futile, but extravagant, efforts. Whether tragically or comically, these have aspired to regain imperial privileges, to maintain expensive imperial pomp and authority, and to preserve dysfunctional imperial narratives and mythologies.

While only ever an outpost of empire, Australia has loyally educated its people to maintain their faith in these now dysfunctional narratives and mythologies. One critical consequence of this belief and loyalty is that Australians are ill-equipped to accept awkward realities. These include the rise of China to a discreet form of global leadership, the discrediting of much English-speaking political and economic doctrine and dogma, and the need to study to some point of mastery the difficult civilisation of China.

In China, this civilisation uses the Western ideology of Communism as a convenient tool in some forms of communication. Its importance and essence rests, however, in its historical longevity and achievement, and in its contemporary role in shaping the behavior, thought and progress of almost a third of the global population. Throughout East and South East Asia, the ideologies of Communism and capitalism are today little more than casual rituals to reassure simplistic Western minds.

Despite their growing dependence on Chinese finance, commerce and consumer technologies, most Australians, including most of their political leaders, retain an innocent belief in the verities of past imperial times. MSM articles reporting the snubbing of China are reassuring, and provide passing and little examined confirmation of ill-informed views of the world.

Of perhaps more importance, however, is the way they distract from the reality that Australian infrastructure, rather like Australian defence policy, has been locked into a set of past assumptions and values that are proving counter-productive. On 20 March 2017, for instance, a leading economic commentator, Robert Gottliebsen, also wrote in The Australian under the heading 'Energy crisis will be a shocker'. Unintentionally, this drew attention to an as yet poorly identified failure of critical infrastructure.

It has yet to be seen whether the Australian Prime Minister will “snub” China. The tenor of The Australian article, however, is all too representative of processes in the English speaking world, which have left it in a time warp. Despite token efforts to the contrary, it remains deluded by the memories and mythologies of empire.

At the same time, China is transforming global realities, whether with state of the art, transformative infrastructure, open source innovation, internet commerce and communications or military technology, like quantum satellites and hypersonic missiles

If Australia is to avoid Gottliebsen’s shocker of an energy crisis, it may have no alternative but to reverse recent policy follies and welcome the Chinese invitation to align the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility with China’s OBOR or New Silk Road infrastructure. It might also reflect on the merits of re-examining defence stereotypes, and freeing itself to seek assistance from the world leader in infrastructure integration and clean energy, which is proving itself both in China and across Eurasia.

Reg Little is a former Australian diplomat in China and a vice president of the International Confucian Association.

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