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Facing the dragon: China policy in a new era

By Ross Terril

Recapping the dramatic Whitlam-Nixon openings to China of the 1970s—in which he participated—Ross Terrill’s new study finds fascinating themes for China policy today. Our Asia–Pacific region prospers, but the seas off China are not tranquil. American policies protect Australia, but they worry some Australians. Whitlam and Nixon cancelled decades of war in the Asia–Pacific, ushering in decades of astonishing economic growth for Australia, China and others. Can it last? Will the Chinese, who have much to lose from more war, accept give and take with Washington and Tokyo, or will the Middle Kingdom demand the middle position, squeezing its fourteen contiguous neighbours?

With his dual perspective as both Australian and American citizen, Terrill examines the choices between idealism and realism, economic interests and security interests, and the benefits and risks of alliances.

Looking forward, the paper assesses American staying power and the outlook for Beijing’s unprecedented mix of Leninism with consumerism, Australia’s future as a trading power, and Canberra’s ability to locate China within a wider Indo-Pacific vision that includes Indonesia, Japan, and India.

Within six days in 1971, the Asia–Pacific changed as Zhou Enlai bargained with Whitlam and Nixon. Today six days of disaster on the Korean Peninsula could change our region again. But the essay hopes Washington, Beijing, and Canberra, interdependent as never before, may achieve further peace and prosperity for the Asia–Pacific.

Between the poles of China and the US seeing each other as a “threat,” on one hand, and setting up a “G2”, Facing the Dragon foresees a peaceful, un-orchestrated China–US competition offering breathing room for Asia’s further progress. 

You can watch a video of Professor Terrill discussing this publication on ASPI's YouTube channel.