Tue, Dec 21, 2004 - Page 8 News List


Australia's dollar diplomacy

I am writing in response to the recent developments in Vanuatu and previous comments made by Wayne Kerr (Letters. Dec. 9, page 8) about Australia's South Pacific foreign policy and his comments about Taiwan taking advantage of instability in Vanuatu. Kerr's comments imply that Australia is benevolent and the others -- Taiwan and Vanuatu -- have been mischievous. He doesn't condemn China. I think that when it comes to Beijing/Canberra relations, Kerr is indeed being naive.

Australia would have definitely been contacted by Beijing and pressured to react. It seems to me that they did react but under a different pretext of hegemonic saber-rattling, and also, because of the timing, placated China by maintaining their "one China" policy.

Furthermore, what Australia may view as corruption and bad governance in Vanuatu may be seen as the contrary in Vanuatu. Vanuatu is traditionally a chiefdom employing the gift-exchange economy. Giving gifts is common in this region. Kinship corporations exist in which family members are strategically placed in positions in the bureaucracy and employed overseas, the latter bringing in much needed remittance payments that maintain the well-being of those back home in rural communities where the nuclear family exists.

Australia, the US and China are opposed to this informal system of economics, and since these people are on the periphery of the modern world system they are marginalized. To develop according to "modern" standards, the Australian government has been providing aid to them. Aid money becomes expected. They tend to rely too much on it and accept it as natural because it is no longer embarrassing for them. When the prospect of more aid arrives, it is likely that they will accept.

Taiwan has been lobbying Oceanic nations for years -- it is not the result of being opportunistic but the fact that Taiwan is moving toward nationhood. Taiwan would make a significant contribution to Vanuatu's social and economic well-being -- if allowed.

The South Pacific trend of accepting Taiwan into the world community shouldn't be taken out of context. Vanuatu has taken a bold step, simultaneously recognizing both Taiwan and China. They are different, not underdeveloped or backwards.

The pressure both Australia and China have put on this tiny Pacific nation has further divided the government. Since most of the aid money from Australia (A$31 million, or US$23.6 million) is used for the creation of government and bureaucratic positions, threatening aid effects government and bureaucrats.

A crisis has arrived in Vanuatu because at the same time Australia has threatened to cut foreign aid, China has gotten into the government's face about Taiwan, and Taiwan has also offered aid and support to help gain more recognition.

In Taiwan's defense, it is acting in a bid to become accepted by the world community and is familiar with this critical situation. Vanuatu is acting in its own national interest looking for more revenue. It is Taiwan and Vanuatu that are extending friendly relations to one another.

Australia and China are trying to persuade the Vanuatu government to make domestic decisions in accord with Canberra and the new hegemon in the region, Beijing. Australia's course of action always follows the "one China" policy and Australia's threats against Vanuatu will have gained much merit with China and this is important for Australia, regardless of its relationship with Europe.

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