Media miss the news in first Aussie Wikileak

Oblivious to the fact one of the dreaded new media was providing the scoop, the Australian newspaper breathlessly reported the first Wikileaks document to mention Australian officials as “Rudd’s plan to contain Beijing”. It’s hardly surprising The Australian would go data-mining for stuff to embarrass the Federal Government. But it’s hardly surprising too they got it wrong.

In the haste to follow their political agenda, they skipped over more substantive elements to the story. Not only that, they misquoted Rudd. The breathless first line of Paul Maley’s front page story said Rudd had warned the world must be prepared to deploy force” if China didn’t co-operate with the international community.

Compare this to what the cable actually said:
Rudd argued for “multilateral engagement with bilateral vigour” – integrating China effectively into the international community and allowing it to demonstrate greater responsibility, all while also preparing to deploy force if everything goes wrong.”

Suggesting the west has a Plan Z for China that involves force is a long way from advocating it or even making it “Rudd’s plan”. Unfortunately it wasn’t just The Australian that took this approach. The ABC took a similar tack saying it was Rudd’s “suggestion that the US use force against China in a worst case scenario”.

It was nothing of the sort and a poor way of using remarkable information. The ABC also turned it into an inane domestic political drama by harvesting a meaningless quote from Julie Bishop about “disturbing reading”. Don’t read it Julie, if it disturbs you.

Beyond this dross, substantial issues were discussed when Secretary Clinton met Australian PM Kevin Rudd in Washington on 24 March 2009 and Wikileaks should be praised for putting it in the public domain. The cable about the meeting 09STATE30049 was marked “confidential” which is far from the highest security level and was due to be released into the public domain in 2019.

The meeting talked about problems in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Russia, but China was the biggest topic. Some of it was just polite platitudes with Rudd buttering up a valued friend but much was useful information sharing between allies. Rudd used his in-depth knowledge of China to give Clinton and her advisors information they could validate against their own knowledge sources.

Rudd had high hopes for the little-known philosophy of Kang Youwei which he said was China’s idea of a harmonious world, and could potentially fit in well with the West’s concept of responsible stakeholders. He also said Hu Jintao did not have the same level of power as former leader Jiang Zemin: “No one person dominated Chinese leadership currently, although Hu’s likely replacement, Xi Jinping, had family ties to the military and might be able to rise above his colleagues,” Rudd told Clinton.

Rudd also noticed an important distinction between China’s attitude to Taiwan and Tibet. With the former it was purely “sub-rational and deeply emotional” (because China has no intention of disturbing the status quo on Taiwan) the more concrete hardline policies against the latter were designed to send a message to other minorities within mainland China.

Rudd also told Clinton the Standing Committee of the Politburo was the real decision-making body in China which passed decisions for implementation by the State Council. Rudd saw the Asia Pacific community initiative as a bulwark against any Chinese plans to issue an Asian Monroe Doctrine. Rudd did say the 2009 Australian Defence White Paper was a response to Chinese power, something he never admitted at the time.

Rudd wanted Washington’s intelligence on Russia so he could prepare for an upcoming meeting in Moscow. Conversation centred on the power struggle between Medvedev and Putin with both sides agreeing the President’s desire for “status and respect” could drive him closer to western thinking.

On the AfPak situation, both parties also agreed there was no point in “total success” in Afghanistan (whatever that represented) if Pakistan fell apart. Pakistan needed to drop its obsessive focus on India and attend to its western border problems.

What comes across in the cables I have read is not so much the “brutality and venality of US foreign policy” as its growing impotence. This is the reason the US is after Assange. It is the embarrassment he has caused them rather than the exposing of any international secrets that angers them.

The phrase that sums up the problem this cable reveals was uttered by Hillary Clinton to Rudd in relation to China: “how do you deal toughly with your banker?” A damn good question and given China is our banker too, one Australian media should be asking. “Rudd’s embarrassment” has nothing on our media’s for missing the real news.

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