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Issue 574, 5 October 2007 - All unions should back the Greens

Keating fails to answer his own APEC question

AMID THE huge non-event that was APEC, there was one important issue raised, although by someone who was not even attending: former prime minister Paul Keating.

In a speech for the Evatt Foundation, Keating attacked Howard for using APEC to hold a trilateral security meeting with the US and Japan. It was, he warned, a dangerous and foolish insult to China.

He went on to warn that North-East Asia is the most dangerous part of the world, and the dangers are hidden by the media fuss made over conflicts in the Middle East.

Put simply, China has developed to become one of the world's most powerful economies. Japan and the US are both worried by this, including China's rapidly developing military. Their response has been to assert military and economic pressure on China.

Keating warns: "the world has never seen the rise of a major new power without a war."

He points to the "inability of Europe to accommodate the interests of a rising Germany" as a crucial reason for the two world wars.And he rejects the "simplistic view", promoted by stupid neo-liberals: "that economic interdependence means that there will be no strategic rivalry of a military variety."

But if there is a structural dynamic creating the danger of war in North-East Asia, the problem is compounded by subjective dynamics.

The region is a cauldron of unresolved grievances, which political leaders have shamelessly used to stoke nationalism.

There is Japanese hysteria over North Korea's missile and nuclear programs; there is a series of disputes over who should own various islands; and there is the constant danger that a declaration of independence by Taiwan would trigger a Chinese invasion, and war with Japan and America.

China's rulers regularly whip up anger over the Japanese invasions and occupation from 1930-1945, when millions of Chinese people died resisting them.

For their part, Japan's rulers have worked assiduously to rehabilitate the architects of Japan's expansionism in the 1930s.

According to Keating, "The attitude among young Chinese today is far more vociferous against the Japanese than that of their parents." And he points to a growing militarism amongst younger members of the Japanese ruling class and activists in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

All this would be bad enough, except that none of the other world powers are doing anything to resolve these tensions.

There is, Keating argues, no structure for accommodating China's growing interests in the global system.

"There are no diplomatic efforts being made," he says, attacking Howard for failing to use APEC to make progress-indeed for making it seem that Australia was more concerned with its alliance with the anti-Chinese powers.

These are important issues. But nobody should imagine that Keating has any viable or intelligent solutions.

Part of his analysis of the problem is that the US has made a major, long-term mistake by "walking off the field" after winning the Cold War.

Come again? The real problem, for the future of human civilisation, is that the US responded to the defeat of its long-term rival by dramatically expanding its strategic and economic power.

The East European countries that won their independence from the Soviet empire have not become an array of independent states, but new members of NATO, which now pushes up to the very borders of Russia itself.

In Central Asia, the US used its invasion of Afghanistan to form alliances with most of the Central Asian and Caucasian states that used to be part of the Soviet Union.

The result is that Russia feels threatened. With its economy reviving, and its vast energy resources, it has withdrawn from the Conventional Forces in Europe arms control treaty, and resumed nuclear-armed bomber flights over Western Europe.

China too faces an expanded US threat. For example, the US also used its victory in the Cold War to force open the markets of the world, using the WTO and the IMF to implement the economic policies of the so-called "Washington consensus".

One result was the Asian economic crisis of 1997-8. China, with its strong state supervision of the economy, managed to avoid the crisis, and has ever since been attempting to organise an Asian rival to the IMF.

It has also been vigorously trying to build its own areas of influence in Asia and Africa.

So the US respond with further "encirclement" policies designed to provoke China. How does this make the world safer?

In this context, Keating's claim that the US has fallen asleep on the job seems bizarre.

His speech may have been the most interesting intellectual intervention during APEC, but the only lasting solution to the problem he identifies is to fight US plans to establish full spectrum dominance across our world.

By Phil Griffiths