Michael Wesley

Sometime around 1820, forty years after its Industrial Revolution began, Britain overtook China to become the world’s richest country. Sometime between now and 2020, forty years after China’s own Industrial Revolution was launched by Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, China is set to overtake the United States and regain its place at the top of the world’s economy.

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Whoever wins the federal election later this year, it is likely that at some stage in 2008 we will be looking back and post-mortemising the Howard government. One strand in the reviews will surely be the Howard government’s impact on the quality of public debate in this country. Whether it has been a contributor to Howard’s long ascendancy (and I think it has), this government’s ability to goad large numbers of academics and commentators into unbalanced and increasingly hysterical denunciations of nearly all aspects of its operations is unprecedented in Australian political history.

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Canberra’s week of the two presidents – October 2003 – brought the unprecedented spectacle of George W. Bush and China’s President Hu Jintau speaking just a day apart to joint sittings of the Australian parliament. The coincidence elegantly dramatised the central questions for Australian foreign policy: how we manage our relationships with our superpower ally, how we live with our neighbours in Asia, and how we get the balance right between them. This has been the essential challenge for every Australian government since World War II. In his important new book, The Howard Paradox, Michael Wesley focuses on one side of that balance – relations with Asia – and on the Howard government.

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