Personality politics, democracy and a multi-polar world

A short article about the Australian Labor Party’s internal woes, but the headline caught my eye: Closing the chapter on personality politics.

As I’ve contended elsewhere, personality politics seems to thrive when the democracy sees itself in a relative vacuum, with no great pressing issue other than who prevails in the domestic realm. This was true in the 1990s in the US, following the end of the Cold War. This has been true in Australia in recent years, with the non-stop catfight between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard occupying center space in Labor and federal politics.

A rough entry for the current Liberal government headed by Tony Abbott may ensure that the era of personality politics draws to a close sooner, rather than later. It’s not that Abbott and gang are above the fray, either. Rather, the issue of geopolitical order is reasserting itself as a primary concern. Not only have Abbott’s kind words for Japan raised eyebrows in China and domestically (China, Australia’s biggest two-way trade partner, has a long memory for slights) but now the fracas with Indonesia about turning back refugees has emerged. That stand-off, which has ended with Australia, not Indonesia, blinking, comes only months after the Liberals came to power. It also comes before a presidential election in Indonesia. But what has really stirred the pot are the disclosures of Australia’s involvement in snooping on Indonesian affairs in conjunction with the US, through the Five Eyes intelligence agreement.

In other words, issues much bigger than personality politics.

In its own way, Snowden’s legacy may be to help refocus the world’s attention on who is allied with whom, creating embarrassment and tension among neighbors, particularly at a point when the geopolitical order is being upset by the rise of Asia.

US needs another Kissinger to deal with China, says ex PM of Australia

Kevin Rudd, in a long speech on China’s new leadership delivered in Mumbai, again laid out his vision for a Pax Pacifica, in which the US and China share power in Asia, with neither side dominating the other. A large part of this proposal involves much deeper engagement between US and China’s leadership. Not just between Obama and Xi Jinping, either.

Part of that relationship would require another Henry Kissinger-type Secretary of State and an equivalent, capable of the relentless shuttle diplomacy and backroom dealing.

“At this critical juncture of US-China relations, America needs the next Henry Kissinger for all the back channeling that is necessary, both behind and between official Presidential meetings,” said Rudd to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in India.

“Similarly China needs to appoint such a person as well.”

For those who don’t know, Kevin Rudd, who is the former prime minister of Australia, is a Mandarin-speaking China expert, who is something of a name in China. Rudd has famously criticised the Chinese in China while urging a deeper relationship between China and West, while telling the Americans that the West should increase security in line with growing Chinese power. He also has a following in China for the blogging he does there. Rudd is uniquely qualified to bridge to the chasm between Western diplomacy and China’s reentry into modern history.

Presumably Rudd isn’t suggesting the US needs a Secretary of State willing to engage in all manner of secret wars to maintain a greater peace and balance between China and the West. Or possibly he is. Rudd has a realist streak to him.

In the speech, Rudd also observes that China needs a National Security Council in order to ease communication between China’s political and military elite, and the world. “The Chinese system does not have a NSC,” he said. “It needs one.”

The absence of this kind of coordination leaves China open to the charge that its government and military operate independently of each other.

A little more context here. Only last week, a Chinese vessel severed the cables of a Vietnamese oil exploration ship in the South China Sea, which was doing work for a Vietnamese-Indian joint venture. The latest diplomatic spat triggered not just official and unofficial protests in Vietnam but comments from an Indian admiral that India would consider sending ships to the SCS to look after its interests. Recall too, that China and India has a brief border war in 1960s.

While downplaying the expectation that China would seek war, Rudd said there was no clear thinking in China about where it will sit in the global order. Even China itself is trying to figure that out, he said.

“The real question is how China would seek to exercise its foreign and security policy influence across the wider region and the world more broadly,” said Rudd.

“My own view is that China has yet to develop an agreed internal script on this question. Much analytical work is underway within China itself on this subject. But it is still very much an open ended question.”

Stay tuned…

Kevin Rudd, in a long speech on China’s new leadership delivered in Mumbai, again laid out his vision for a Pax Pacifica, in which the US and China share power in Asia, with neither side dominating the other. A large part of this proposal involves much deeper engagement between US and China’s leadership. Not just between Obama and Xi Jinping, either.

Part of that relationship would require another Henry Kissinger-type Secretary of State and an equivalent, capable of the relentless shuttle diplomacy and backroom dealing.

“At this critical juncture of US-China relations, America needs the next Henry Kissinger for all the back channeling that is necessary, both behind and between official Presidential meetings,” said Rudd to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in India.

“Similarly China needs to appoint such a person as well.”

For those who don’t know, Kevin Rudd, who is the former prime minister of Australia, is a Mandarin-speaking China expert, who is something of a name in China. Rudd has famously criticised the Chinese in China while urging a deeper relationship between China and West, while telling the Americans that the West should increase security in line with growing Chinese power. He also has a following in China for the blogging he does there. Rudd is uniquely qualified to bridge to the chasm between Western diplomacy and China’s reentry into modern history.

Presumably Rudd isn’t suggesting the US needs a Secretary of State willing to engage in all manner of secret wars to maintain a greater peace and balance between China and the West. Or possibly he is. Rudd has a realist streak to him.

In the speech, Rudd also observes that China needs a National Security Council in order to ease communication between China’s political and military elite, and the world. “The Chinese system does not have a NSC,” he said. “It needs one.”

The absence of this kind of coordination leaves China open to the charge that its government and military operate independently of each other.

A little more context here. Only last week, a Chinese vessel severed the cables of a Vietnamese oil exploration ship in the South China Sea, which was doing work for a Vietnamese-Indian joint venture. The latest diplomatic spat triggered not just official and unofficial protests in Vietnam but comments from an Indian admiral that India would consider sending ships to the SCS to look after its interests. Recall too, that China and India has a brief border war in 1960s.

While downplaying the expectation that China would seek war, Rudd said there was no clear thinking in China about where it will sit in the global order. Even China itself is trying to figure that out, he said.

“The real question is how China would seek to exercise its foreign and security policy influence across the wider region and the world more broadly,” said Rudd.

“My own view is that China has yet to develop an agreed internal script on this question. Much analytical work is underway within China itself on this subject. But it is still very much an open ended question.”

Stay tuned…