Hastie is right to ring the bell on this issue, and to warn that our greatest vulnerability lies in our thinking, which is Panglossian at times.
The comparison with Germany is an entirely valid one. The two major conflicts of the 20th century – the two world wars – were caused by the failure of the global order to manage Germany’s emergency as a major power.
In WW2, we failed to realise early enough that German ambitions could not be accommodated. National Socialist Germany was not a status quo power, but we mistook it as such, or deceived ourselves that it was.
In WW1, we arguably failed to accept the reality of a unified German state, and that it deserved a seat at the top table of Europe. WW1 was an attempt to contain Germany which failed.
The point is, rising powers inevitably cause convulsions within the international system, and China’s rise is no different.
The challenge is to accommodate a rising power IF it is sufficiently status quo in nature that it can be accommodated. This was the thesis with China for much of the early 2000s – the “responsible stakeholder” approach coined by Bob Zoellick.
But if the rising power is revisionist in nature, and cannot be accommodated within the existing order – because it fundamentally does not accept the legitimacy of that order – then the future becomes much tougher.
The ideology of the rising power is everything here, because it reveals intent, and informs whether it will accept a privileged place in the current order, or if it demands a new order entirely. No one worries much about India’s rise, because it largely accepts the status quo.
And it is clear, as Hastie argues, that the ideological direction and ambition of China has become far more pronounced under the current generation of leadership. This isn’t the China of Deng or Jiang or Hu. John Howard made this point earlier this week.
Our strategy and thinking needs to reflect this shift, which is basically Hastie’s point – that we need to remove the blinkers from our eyes, recognise reality for what it is, and act accordingly.
This does not mean we should not be pursuing a constructive and positive relationship with China – we should be. Nor does it compel us to make a ‘choice’. But we need to be honest with ourselves about the challenges of managing this relationship and what might lie ahead.