Niels Marquardt is quite correct to stress the warm and close relationship that exists between Australia and the US. We have no closer relationship. It stretches across all aspects of our engagement with the world. If, in some countries, our diplomatic interests are represented by the UK, that has as much to do with accidents of history than political realities of the present.
Nevertheless, the picture Marquardt draws of Australia, while pretty and true, can’t go unchallenged. Just as a portrait may not match the entire reality of the sitter, so his wishful snapshot doesn’t accurately display where we may be in a decade, nor even where we are now.
Take communications. Qantas may fly to only two destinations in China and flies to four in the US, but its offshoot Jetstar, adds another three further cities in the Middle Kingdom. The looming question over the American routes is, of course, how soon cuts and closures will come. There’s certainly no question of adding capacity. And it’s much the same with the other fields traversed by the CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce. The bonds with the US are tight and economic links strong and established. But the new linkages are in Asia.
In the nine years ending in 2012, 11% of our migrants (225, 657) came from China (PDF). Fewer than 30,000 came from the US. Those facts can’t be papered over by platitudes about us ‘growing closer’.
Marquardt admits as much with the statistics he chooses to present reinforcing his case. He segues casually from the bilateral Australia–US trade treaty to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (which is, so far, just talk) before he provides numbers. Our number one trading partner is China—the US is number three. Over the past five years trade with China has surged from $85,162 million to (currently) $150,919 m. Over the same period trade with the US has grown marginally – from $49,393 m to $54,714 m. Numbers don’t lie.
Yes, Julie Bishop did state, earlier this year, that the US is ‘Australia’s most important economic partner’. Nevertheless, the veracity of the statement all depends on how you measure the relationship. It’s always possible to redefine your terms to get the result you want—but at the cost of rendering what you’re saying meaningless. The real measure of an easy and close relationship is one that doesn’t need to brag.
Nic Stuart is a columnist with the Canberra Times.