Traditionally Australian media have focussed on UK and US personalities and events. Now China is becoming more newsworthy. A global return of China and India needs to be recognised by Australians (for example, less obsession with US politics and the UK Royal Family). 

A new era is opening up.

For most of the last 2,000 years, China and India have been major players in the global economy. But in recent centuries they have been overshadowed by the WEIRD world (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic): UK, US, western Europe, and Australia and New Zealand. The WEIRD world has dominated the globe for the last 500 years, and now that dominance is declining.

China and India are returning to their old status as major economic powers. China expects to be the number one global power by 2049 (the 100th anniversary of the Chinese communist revolution).

Professor Graham Allison of Harvard has warned of a war between the US and China. In his best-selling history book, TheThucydides Trap: he looked at the 500 years of WEIRD history and saw that 12 out of 16 races for supremacy resulted in war (the most recent being the UK and Germany):

Thucydides wrote about the Athens and Sparta rivalry and how that resulted in war. The “trap” comes from an established power being challenged by a rising ambitious power.

While the US has been obsessing over Islamic terrorists, China has been reshaping the global economy via the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). There are six international economic co-operation corridors: New Eurasia Land Bridge, China-Mongolia-Russia, China-Central Asia-West Asia, China-Indochina Peninsula, China-Pakistan, and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar.

It is now possible to board a train on the Chinese coast and get off in east London.

For the first time in 500 years a Western country is not the main driver of change. This is the end of the “Westernization=modernisation” nexus.

How is Australia to respond? AUKUS is the new defence alliance between Australia, US and UK.

The September 16 2021 announcement was historic. Australian media have tended to focus on the submarines (the French submarine programme was overtime and over budget). But the big picture is even more important.

“China” was not mentioned in the three statements (Morrison, Johnson and Biden) but was “present” throughout the media event. Are the decks being cleared for action against China? Is this a variation of the “Thucydides Trap”? 

I fear that there is a risk of sleepwalking into a war with China.

At first glance Australia, UK and US all benefit from AUKUS. Australia: has now “made the choice between the US and China” (which John Howard said was unnecessary); Australia is going all the way with the USA.

For the UK, post-Brexit “Global Britain” needed to move from slogan to strategy. Now there is some strategy. It also reinforces British tribal memory of a far-flung navy.

The US is getting free from the inconclusive (to say the least) 20 years of “War on Terror”. But the Military-Industrial Complex had to be reassured there would still be opportunities for making money. China is the new enemy.

But the new Cold War is different from the old one. The old Cold War (US-USSR, 1945-91) was mainly a military confrontation because the USSR was excluded from the world economy.

The new Cold War has China at the centre of the global economy (including via the Belt and Road Initiative: BRI). The BRI has a trap for Australia: China will use the BRI to find alternative suppliers to Australia (it does not like being so reliant on any one country), such as in Africa.

How do you oppose militarily a major trading partner? Australia, the UK and US are all looking to China for their economic growth.

Also the US no longer enjoys the global supremacy it had in the previous Cold War. In the post-1945 era, the US has had only a limited list of victories: 1983 invasion of Grenada; 1989 invasion of Panama and arrest of Manuel Noriega (1934-2017); liberation of Kuwait (1990-1); and Kosovo War (1998-9).

They were all “conventional” operations. Korea (1950-3) was a “draw”, and the defeats were all in the guerrilla conflicts, such as Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The US manufacturing base was a key factor in the Allies winning World War II. But the US has lost much of that base (including to China!); could China just wait and strike later while the US has continued its decline?

On the other hand, there is no guarantee of a Chinese victory. The US is still very powerful in conventional military terms.

China would be foolish to clash head-on in a conventional war with the US. It would be better to go for cyberwarfare, cyberattacks on US’s crumbling infrastructure, social disruption via social media and the undermining of institutions so as to have Americans feud with each other.

Meanwhile President Xi is ramping up the pressure on Taiwan. Will his brinkmanship scare his colleagues? China has large internal problems (such as the property bubble and shortage of energy) to also occupy his time.

Is China heading for an era of political turmoil and leadership confusion? Former British diplomat Roger Garside has speculated on there being turmoil in China: China Coup: The Great Leap to Freedom.

In short, both the US and China should try to settle their problems by diplomatic means and not resort to war.

Meanwhile, Australia should be less reliant on China (as China itself through the BRI is aiming to be less reliant on Australia). Do not have all your economic eggs in the China basket. Australia needs to find alternative customers such as Indonesia and India.

Keith Suter


  • May I suggest that China is economically aggressive and plans to be the world’s number one economy asap, and very soon. We in the west do not understand nor accept that President XI Jinping has the overwhelming support of China’s citizens.
    China has nil intent nor desire to start a war. Should there be a war with China, God forbid, it will be a war begun by the western so called democratic countries like the US, Britain, and sadly and stupidly Australia will join the war.
    Through out Asia, diplomacy always begins with respect and positive acknowledgements. Morrison and Dutton have nil idea as to how to reach out diplomatically to China. They invariably start their diplomatic efforts with a megaphone screaming abuse at China. China is understandably offended and imposes trade restrictions on Australia.
    The Taiwan issue is going to be extremely difficult to negotiate. Heartfelt diplomacy can resolve this issue, not war.

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