Monk's thunder

A new book just published in Australia, Thunder From the Silent Zone: Rethinking China by Paul Monk, may be of interest to readers in Taiwan. The book "seeks to challenge many of the received assumptions and fixed ideas which so often determine the way we think about China and its relationship with the rest of the world."

Monk is well qualified to write such a book. He is a former China analyst for Australia's Defence Intelligence Organisation. In an opinion piece published in The Age yesterday Monk comments on the desperate need for political reforms in China to accompany the ongoing economic reforms. He comments:

China's political institutions are as "insolvent" as its state-owned industries and banks. They are living on borrowed time and badly need fundamental reform. It is in the interests of China and the rest of us that such reform takes place.

Those who follow Australian politics will know that Australia's political leaders have worked hard to build strong relationships with China in recent years. They have even done this to the extent of putting human rights issues and even Australia's treasured alliance with the US a distant second. Australian politicians have not done this for ideological reasons. It has been done purely with the intention of gaining access to China's markets. Much of the recent growth in the Australian economy has been driven by Chinese demand for Australian resources. There seems to have been little consideration of whether this relationship may not be in Australia's best strategic interests.

Australia has also distanced itself from any support for Taiwan, even to the extent of saying it would not side with the US in a potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait. Four chapters of Monks' book are devoted to the Taiwan issue. In a recent talk broadcast on ABC Radio National's Background Briefing (Sunday 18 September 2005) he comments:

Not the least of the rumbles that we hear every so often is the rumble of thunder that rolls across the Taiwan Strait. So significant is the question of the fate of Taiwan for the future of China and the whole Asia Pacific world that I have devoted four chapters of the book to it. You will not be particularly surprised, I trust, if I tell you that I call for and assay a quite fundamental rethinking of how this matter should be understood and the dangerous impasse at which it now stands might be transformed. Once again, however, I do not engage in prediction. I simply point out that there are assumptions at work which tend not to be critically examined and which, if revised, could bring into being a future that is waiting to happen – a free Taiwan securely within the orbit of a free China and the abatement of strategic anxieties around the Pacific Rim.

It is good to know that Taiwan still has some friends in Australia. It seems Australia's foreign policy is being driven by political interests rather than a result of being informed by bad intelligence. Let's hope the book gets the audience it deserves.