David Brophy reviews 'Without America: Australia in the New Asia' (Quarterly Essay 68) by Hugh White

David Brophy reviews 'Without America: Australia in the New Asia' (Quarterly Essay 68) by Hugh White

Without America: Australia in the New Asia (Quarterly Essay 68)

by Hugh White

Black Inc., $22.99 pb, 108 pp, 9781863959636

For upward of a decade, Hugh White has been sounding a warning: that Australia’s long-standing policy of relying on the United States as guarantor of our security in Asia was approaching its use-by date. As a conspicuous relic of European colonial expansion, Australia has always viewed with trepidation the idea that our region’s centre of political gravity might one day tilt back towards China. Where would a country like ours find itself when the historic tide of Western dominance receded? This is a question that many Australians find discomfiting. White deserves credit for his tireless, and mostly thankless, efforts to force it into public view.

In an earlier Quarterly Essay, White outlined the inherent contradiction in our foreign policy – a staunch ally of the United States that relies on China for its economic prosperity – but argued that we might yet find a way out of the predicament, by acting as go-between to negotiate an Asia–Pacific condominium between China and the United States. Power Shift: Australia’s future between Washington and Beijing (QE 39, 2010) came on the heels of a series of events that led some to describe 2009 as an annus horribilis in Australia’s relations with China. With hindsight, those now look like happier days. White’s optimism about the possibility of resolving the contradiction in our stance was only outdone by his critics’  brash dismissal of the very existence of any such contradiction; the illusion that ‘we don’t have to choose’ could still be maintained.

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Published in March 2018, no. 399
David Brophy

David Brophy

David Brophy studies the social and political history of China’s northwest, particularly the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and its connections with the Islamic and Russian/Soviet worlds. After finishing his PhD in 2011, he spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow at the Australian Centre on China in the World, at the Australian National University, before coming to the University of Sydney in 2013. His first book, Uyghur Nation (2016), is on the politics of Uyghur nationalism between China and the Soviet Union in the early twentieth century. He currently hold an ARC Discovery Early Career Research Fellowship, for a project entitled 'Empire and Religion in Early Modern Inner Asia', in which am exploring Inner Asian perspectives on the rise of the Qing in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.