Abbott’s macho challenge to Putin immature

By Gregory Clark Source:Global Times Published: 2014-10-28 18:58:02

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

"I am inviting you to my house, but when you arrive I will meet you at the door and knock you flat over on your face." This in essence is what Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott had to say on the subject of Russian President Vladimir Putin being invited to this year's G20 Summit in Brisbane in November. By contrast, at last year's meeting in St. Petersburg, the Australian delegation was treated with every courtesy.

True, a lot has happened since 2013, with Abbott incensed by the loss of 38 Australian lives when Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was downed over disputed Ukrainian territory.

Abbott said initially that he would "shirtfront" Putin on arrival for the G20 meeting. A "shirtfront" is an especially brutal form of tackle in the Australian version of football, with the victim left broken and prostrate. Later the feisty Abbott amended his remarks to say he would engage in a "very, very robust discussion" with Putin. In response, the Russian embassy in Canberra noted that Abbott's remarks were not only "immature," but also that shirt-fronting had now been declared illegal in the Australian sport.

Immature is a word that can be applied to many Australian foreign policies. As early as November 1964, I had to sit in at a Kremlin meeting with another  leader, then Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin, where an ignorantly anti-China Australian foreign minister set out to convince the Soviet leadership that an aggressive Beijing was seeking to take over the "Soviet territory of Sinkiang" (Xinjiang), and that the USSR should therefore assist the West to stop "Chinese aggression in Vietnam."

Then in 1971 I was a witness to Canberra's bizarre attempt to prevent the "Ping Pong Diplomacy" with China. Based in Tokyo at that time, I was fortunately able to persuade an Australian team to participate and so finally put an end to the barrier Canberra had long imposed on relations with China.

And now we have the quite absurd situation where Canberra, with an economy heavily dependent on its food and minerals exports to China, has decided that it will actively support the US and Japan in their anti-China policies.

Unwavering support for the US in all its postwar military adventures, such as Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Syria, has long been a strong Canberra foreign policy theme. Given all this, it is not surprising that Canberra and Abbott have bought whole-heartedly the US version of Ukrainian events and the MH17 tragedy.

In this situation should Putin accept the invitation to visit Australia for the G20 conference? Frankly I would say no, and not just because he is now threatened with Abbott's "robustly" distorted views.

These international talkfests are getting out of control. In short succession we have had the IMF/World Bank annual meetings of global finance ministers in Washington on October 10-12.

Now we have the November 10-11 Beijing annual meeting of APEC national leaders - a free-trade urging group originally and ironically set up to exclude Moscow and Beijing from Asian economic affairs.  And after the APEC meeting everyone is expected to fly almost directly to Australia for that annual G20 meeting of national leaders, largely to mouth more free trade platitudes.

Ironically both Canberra and Moscow are equal victims of those platitudes. Both have economies over-dependent on minerals exports.  Both have lost much of their manufacturing industry as a result - due to the so-called Dutch disease caused by currency overvaluation.

If Beijing reacts trade-wise to the hostile words coming out of Canberra, then the Australian economy will be in real trouble. Meanwhile thanks to the foolish EU trade and other sanctions against Moscow, Russia now has a real chance to get out of trouble, revive its manufacturing industries and begin to look much more to Asia.

Maybe Putin and Abbott can have a fruitful talk on that question in Brisbane - if they meet. 

The author is a former Australian diplomat with China and Soviet experience. He is now based in Japan.

Posted in: Viewpoint

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