Uranium provides power to engage


Australian Financial Review

4 April 2006


Australia needs to work with China Š and India, Des Moore writes


International Relations are simply the aggregate of the ceaseless endeavours of each government to get other governments to do what it wants and not to do what it doesn't want.


In those endeavours, each government tries to convince the others by carrots, sticks and logic that conforming to our wishes is in their own best interests.


In all this, two things are involved: governments; and their policies. So if you cannot change another governmentÕs policies by carrots or logic, and if their policies are bad enough and you are powerful enough, your only recourse is to change the recalcitrant government by the stick - the threat or use of force.


But not all governments can be changed by force. Those which possess nuclear weapons are the prime example. And even if another government can be overthrown by force, not all countries can be easily subdued or cajoled into staying together under a new government.


All this is why keeping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is so important. For forced regime change in an Iran with nuclear weapons would be plain foolhardy. Moreover, a mad mullah government secure against regime change would be emboldened to pursue policies however unacceptable to others.


All this too is why China presents such a problem as well as opportunity.


Today's Beijing is not yesterday's Peking, which was openly and actively intent on changing governments in Southeast Asia and beyond. Today's burgeoning China is not a current threat. Neither will it inevitably become a realised threat.


One reason for that is that how and into what China develops will depend in good part on the rest of us. For we are not just uneasy bystanders watching and waiting fearfully lest a growingly powerful China asserts itself in unacceptable ways.


Rather are we affectors, who can help shape the uninevitable future by, for example, seeking to weave China into a web of economic and security ties that give China a sense of genuine shared economic and security interests, and an assurance of common responsibility for the maintenance of those interests. So we should seek not to prevent China's rise into a genuine great power but to channel that rise, not by containment but by engagement, including allowing China both a place in international institutions and also a say in setting the rules it is expected to play by.


That is not, as some assert, the same as the USA's sharing power with China or treating China as an equal partner in managing regional affairs. But neither is it to accept, as some assert, that the USA should work with China only on America's terms.


The USA understands this, though some Australian commentators don't in their anxiety to demonise the USA and to kow-tow to China. While making an unnecessary enemy of China would be foolish, sucking up to China would be demeaning as well. Instead of either course, we need as ever to consult our own national interests and to fight our own corner. In which we will more often find the USA than China.


Still, we might fail in these sensible and hopeful endeavours to work with China, which could become a great power to be abhorred for its policies and feared for its power. Feared all the more as China's nuclear weapons and its size and unruliness make it invulnerable to regime change by force.


But the reality is that, unless somebody produces a totally effective defence against nuclear weapons, those countries with such weapons are not going to give them up.

All this is why it is entirely sensible - not foolish, as some recent Australian commentators have insisted - that the recent Australia-Japan-US talks were concerned in good part with China as a monumental task-in-progress.


And why Australia should be prepared to sell uranium to China so long as China verifiably undertakes not to use that uranium in its nuclear weapons. But why not India too?

Both countries are established nuclear weapon powers with no record of helping others to become nuclear powers too. Yet while being perfectly happy for Australia to sell uranium to China, Labor is against the same arrangement with India. 

Where is the logic in that? As India undoubtedly would accept strict safeguards including against proliferation, discriminating against India achieves exactly nothing in real terms - other than highlighting LaborÕs grandstanding and absurdly outdated policy of allowing only three uranium mines.