And if Australia seeks to assert a moral basis for intervening in this region, it will find that its problems will be exacerbated by the fact that it will be a predominantly white nation intervening in the affairs of non-white countries. This is a real problem for Australia as it reinforces an image, a stereotype, which Australia has sensibly and strenuously been trying to move away from for 30 years.
In short, if Australia chooses to pursue a moralistic foreign policy, it had better realise it runs the risk of doing more harm than good.
It is one thing to put young Australians at risk under Australian commanders and pursuant to Australian rules of engagement. It is quite another to place them in harm's way under rules set by someone not democratically elected and responsible to their parents and loved ones for their safety.
None of this means that Australia should adopt a coldly amoral foreign policy. Rather, we must always remember our values, but at the same time we must take a hard-headed view of where our interests lie. The East Timor effort now seems likely to cost substantially more than A$1 billion a year for several years.
Australia must ask itself whether it is prepared to spend its treasure and, inevitably, the blood of some of its young men and women, in pursuit of a purely humanitarian, or moralistic, foreign policy. The answer may be ``yes''. But it should be a considered answer, arrived at after a full and open debate.
In the course of that debate we must give careful thought to our relationship both with America and with the countries of East Asia. We cannot allow our disappointment with America's failure to provide speedy and meaningful support for Australia's policy in East Timor to obscure the fact that America still has a key part to play in what is in effect a triangular Australian-Asian-American relationship.
America's policy towards its trading partners in East Asia generally affects the economic health of those countries which are also Australia's trading partners. And that is why we have a vital interest in the position America takes in this month's World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in Seattle.
The intertwining of American and Australian interests is nothing new. World War II made cooperation between Australia and America a necessity for both. Victory was followed by the Cold War and America needed Australia as a strategic asset in implementing its policy of containing Communist power and expansion.
We needed each other and our cooperation stood both countries in good stead during the crises that have wracked the world. Indeed, Australia and America are the only two countries to have sent combat forces to fight side-by-side in each of the five major wars of this century (World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War).
I mention this history because I do not want our recent disappointment with America to prompt us to forget what the Prime Minister recently pointed out: that ``continued American involvement in the region is vital to our security''. Or to obscure the fact that America and Australia share not only interests but important, fundamental values.
Nonetheless, Australia must pursue an independent foreign policy within the framework of its American alliance, and in the framework of its other alliances.
The economic relationship between Australia, Japan and the United States is a good example of this triangulation. Despite Japan's recent economic problems, it remains by far Australia's largest export market. Australia naturally wants its Japanese market to grow. And for that to happen Japan will have to cure its current economic problems and continue to open its markets to imports. America can be a powerful ally in both connections, so long as its policy is consistent and sensitively handled.
Japan needs American markets for its manufacturers if it is to resume its economic growth. That puts America in a good position to urge upon Japan the fundamental reforms that are required if its economic system is to be converted from a government-directed one, to one that allows capital to flow to its highest and best uses. And it puts America in a powerful position to press for Japan to open its markets to imported goods - not only from America but from all of Japan's trading partners, including Australia.
So, too, with China. That great country is edging its way into the world economy.
It is no small undertaking to modernise a country the size of China, and to replace the industries of yesterday with those of the next century, while at the same time minimising the social impact on a large and diverse work force. Indeed, it is far the greatest economic challenge anywhere in the world today. Australia is doing its bit to help by supporting China's application for membership in the World Trade Organisation. The goals are clear:
- to open potentially massive Chinese markets;
- to help its leaders in their modernisation program;
- and to contribute to the stability of the region by helping to resolve the disputes and tensions that periodically arise.