Janine Perrett July 29, 2012
Tony Abbott ... occasionally says things out loud. Photo: AFP
CONFUSED about the political posturing over our new best friend China and our old ally the US? Well, no need to be, as nothing has really changed - politicians say one thing publicly and mean another privately, except in the case of the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, who occasionally says things out loud.
Basically we need China to save us from the economic decline of the Western democracies and we need the US to defend us from the rise of a militant Communist China.
It was on show over the past two weeks as a plethora of Australian political and business leaders gathered in Washington for the American Australian Leadership Dialogue, a private diplomatic initiative to strengthen ties between the two allies.
Among the high-powered delegation were three potential prime ministers: Tony Abbott in his first visit to Washington since 2003; the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten; and Australia's most visible backbencher, Kevin Rudd. And they all vied to show their credentials.
Despite the Labor Party leadership white noise, two themes were clear this year, both crucial to Australia's future: the US economy and China's regional ambitions.
On the first, the message is stark.
A tight election race in November provides little hope of a resolution to the political gridlock gripping the US and threatening its economic recovery.
The most immediate threat is the "fiscal cliff", which we will all be hearing a lot about in the coming months as the January deadline looms for Congress to begin draconian spending cuts to help balance the budget at the same time as generous tax cut legislation ends.
While the US should avoid going over the cliff, markets are preparing for a wild ride as both sides wrestle on the precipice. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr, was correct this week when he said the US is only one budget deal away from arresting its decline and a resurgent American economy is what the world desperately needs.
The proposed budget cuts will slash defence spending, but that did not stop the Americans warning Australia not to follow suit.
While the US has changed its focus back to security in the Pacific, Australia should not think this means a free ride on defence, especially with concern over China's recent muscle-flexing in the South China Sea.
It is no wonder that Abbott was emboldened to give the Chinese a bit of a swipe over foreign investment a few days after leaving Washington. After all, in the US he did not have to get rid of all his mobile phones and computers for security reasons.
Janine Perrett hosts The Perrett Report on Sky News Business. She attended the American Australian Leadership Dialogue in Washington.