I was discussing with a friend (who has a lot of interesting things to say, may I add, so I recommend people check him out on Twitter) these last couple of days how much importance Australians place on the American presidential elections, especially in comparison to our own elections.
Based solely on my social media feeds, it seems like my Australian friends and associates gave as much of a crap about the American elections as my North American ones.
Meanwhile, election news (as well as the news resulting from Hurricane Sandy) dominated our daily newspapers’ front pages.
Nevertheless, I can confidently say that Australians by and large paid as much attention – if not more – to the American elections than we do to our own.
Meanwhile, the Chinese elections (if you can call them elections at all), have received virtually no mention in any of my social media feeds and not much more in the mainstream media.
Why is this the case though? Why does America warrant so much time in our attention spans, while China, whose influence over Australia was touted as significant even by the Government in its Defense White Paper, gets little itself?
There is little debate about where the future of Australia lies: in the Asian Century; and Asian politics will have much more of a bearing on ours than America’s.
So why are we more concerned with US politics? And should we be?
There are a few common arguments people make to justify why Australians should give a damn about American politics:
a) that the performance of the American economy will have an effect on ours;
b) that whatever America does with its foreign relations will immediately implicate Australia (which is especially relevant in regards to whether Australia will have to follow America if it goes to war with Iran – or anyone else for that matter);
and c) that the domestic politics of America are extremely relevant to everyone in the world, as it is the world’s biggest power.
These are all – to varying degrees – fairly reasonable points, except they apply equally to rising Asian nations, especially China.
The US economy has always held sway over other economies across the world and has been our biggest trading partner since the 1970s.
However, this is rapidly changing, so much so that China has overtaken the US as our major trading partner over the last decade and today holds a resounding lead at the top.
As of 2011, China partakes in 19 per cent of the total share of Australia’s two-way trade and trade with China accounts to roughly 12 per cent of Australia’s GDP growth since 2001.
Meanwhile, the US has fallen to third on the list of our trading partners, even behind Japan, who’s in second place (however, I’m not certain this is still the case, given Japan’s recent economic downfall).
So it seems whatever political direction China takes may have a greater bearing on our economy.
What about America’s military influence?
There is no doubt Australia would be implicated if the US goes to war with Iran. This is the price we have to pay for befriending the owner of the world’s largest and most dominant military force; we are still very strong allies with the US and will stand in its titanic shadow behind our giant friend.
But this is a potential threat that lies beyond the scope of domestic American politics, as it largely depends on how Iran behaves now that it is under heavy international scrutiny, and how a paranoid Israel behaves as well (although one could argue if Romney were elected, conflict may have been fueled earlier).
But the recent aggression shown by China is a diplomatic problem that lies closer to home.
China’s vamped up aggression concerning surrounding conflicted areas, such as in the resource-rich South China Sea, has raised huge security issues in the Asian region, a problem which Australia will be implicated in as an ally of numerous different Asian countries.
This may become a predicament more daunting for Australia than joining in on what would practically be Goliath’s side in a David and Goliath battle.
If the Chinese Communist Party elects someone who will be even more aggressive and nationalistic, this might pose a problem for the Department of Foreign Affairs.
So while it’s fair to say that we should be interested in the American elections because the US is largely influential over our military affairs, so then should we be interested in China’s.
As for the idea that America is a global leader whose domestic politics are extremely relevant for everyone else in the world, I sincerely disagree with that.
America is in decline and although projections show it will remain a powerhouse for the foreseeable future, the rise of China will invariably change the face of international relations in the future, meaning its current agenda will have a greater effect on our future.
But even if this weren’t the case, why would this make it justifiable to choose to care about the domestic politics of one nation over another? Is the massive inequality divide in China no more significant than that of the US? Is the persecution of minority groups and religions in China less interesting than that in America? Will countries not be as likely to learn from China’s social and political issues than America’s? Is global warming more of a problem if it isn’t dealt with by the US instead of China, even though they are both the world’s largest emitters?
Ultimately, I don’t think we should be any more interested in American politics as those of any other state, let alone of China. So why do we?
It is because of America’s continued – but slightly diminishing – dominance as a soft power, as a nation which influences others culturally, socially and politically through its inundation in global markets of its national media and entertainment/cultural products.
Compare this with a tight-lipped Chinese media and entertainment system which never has nothing scandalous or “infotaining” to say about its Government, and less still to export overseas.
It is because of our ranting media, slightly skewed to the right-hand side of the political spectrum thanks to Old Man Murdoch, which jump on the American election bandwagon whenever it comes along, but leave other countries’ politics aside like an ugly dog at a Pound.
(Where has the coverage been about the upcoming Israeli elections, which have as much bearing on whether our troops go to Iran as the Americans’?)
It is because American politics is easier for us to understand and connect with, and easier still to find agreeable, being a democracy rather than a dictatorship.
(Although, I would like to note here that both the Chinese and American elections consist of a bunch of old, rich men trying to outspend the other to try to gain votes in a largely narrow-minded electorate…)
Most of all, it is because – for right or wrong – the debate in the American presidential elections has become framed overseas as a battle between a black Robin-Hood-like superhero, fighting for the liberties of minorities and disadvantaged socio-economic groups, in Obama, and a white, money-snatching uber-villain in charge of a bunch of fundamentalist zealots and rich goons, in Romney; or, in short, between good and evil.
It seems to me that this frenzy only comes around here every election time, whether it’s in Australia or America.
At the end of the day, I’m glad people pay attention to politics, of any kind. But why must people only give a shit about politics when it’s being shoved down their throat?
But if Australians actually cared about their futures, they should be as interested in what happens domestically in China as what happens in US politics!