4PR: Can you please introduce yourself?
Caroline Kennedy: My name is Caroline Kennedy and I am the United States Ambassador to Australia.
4PR: Are you aware that former Prime Minister of Australia Paul Keating says that the United States geo-political policy in our region ‘would make a cat laugh’?
Caroline Kennedy: What did he say exactly?
4PR: Let’s have a listen: “The United States says, well, that’s all very interesting. ‘But look, if you behave yourself, you Chinese. You can be a stakeholder in our system’. And look, you wouldn’t have to be Xi Jinping (President of the People’s Republic of China) or anybody, to take the view of your Chinese Nationalist say, ‘Well, hang on, let me get this right. We are already one and a quarter times bigger than you, will soon be twice as big as you, and we may be two and a half times as big as you. But we can be a stakeholder in your system, is that it?’ I mean, it’d make a cat laugh.” – Paul Keating , National Press Club, Wednesday, 10 November 2021.
Caroline Kennedy: Firstly, how the United States engages with China is a matter for the United States.
4PR: You have just signed the AUKUS agreement which drags Australia into your dispute with China in the South China Sea.
Can’t you see it from our perspective?
Caroline Kennedy: Of course I can … these arrangements are for the safety of our allies, as well.
4PR: Do you think AUKUS is just an election stunt?
Caroline Kennedy: The United States government is committed to the AUKUS agreement.
4PR: China is no threat to Australia, it is our major trading partner.
Caroline Kennedy: Tell that to your Prime Minister, he was keen to sign the agreement with the US and Britain.
4PR: The Prime Minister keeps going on about Chinese nuclear subs patrolling Sydney harbour!
Caroline Kennedy: I don’t know about that.
4PR: Surely you must. You have your spy base at Pine Gap pinging for Chinese subs all over the place.
Caroline Kennedy: That is a matter for our intelligence agencies. My role is diplomacy.
4PR: My point exactly, the spooks are running the show.
Caroline Kennedy: But the threats are real. The previous generation to ours saw that. My father served in the United States navy and received two purple hearts for valour, saving his crew during World War II.
4PR: When John F Kennedy was asked if that incident made him a hero he replied: ““It was involuntary. They sunk my boat.”
Caroline Kennedy: He was a modest man. We do not want the Chinese government restricting trade by building military installations in the South China Sea.
4PR: But how can a small country like Australia help? By buying four subs made in Virginia that won’t be delivered until 2040, are noisy as all hell and cost $100 billion.
Caroline Kennedy: Through ANZUS Australia has signed up to come to our aid in an emergency.
4PR: Not if the United States attacks the Chinese blue water navy. We only signed up to come to the aid of an ally in distress, under attack itself. We have no arrangements with Taiwan should that country be attacked.
Caroline Kennedy: China has set about providing arms to our enemies, take for example North Korea.
4PR: North Korea is afraid of China. And China opposes North Korea’s nuclear program. Surely that is a good thing?
Caroline Kennedy: Certainly but we are concerned about Chinese expansion into Taiwan, a democratic state.
4PR: But Taiwan has regarded itself as part of China ever since the civil war on the Chinese mainland. Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek massacred communists inside the party and eventually lost the civil war and fled to Taiwan in 1949. Later Gough Whitlam opened up relations with China and it has been part of our economic development ever since.
Caroline Kennedy: That is all water under the bridge, Taiwan is a democracy which we are pledged to defend.
4PR: Just like with Hong Kong? The Chinese government was very patient and eventually re-unified Hong Kong with China. Why wouldn’t the same eventually happen with Taiwan? There is massive trade between Taiwan and mainland China. Also what has this to do with the American construct, called the Indo-Pacific.
Caroline Kennedy: The Indo-Pacific is a very important strategic concept, and we have cordial relations with the QUAD who occupy the Indo-Pacific.
4PR: QUAD, that’s a musical term isn’t it?
Caroline Kennedy: In this case QUAD refers to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue which is an informal grouping between Australia, Japan, India, and the United States. The QUAD has had joint military exercises on an unprecedented scale.
4PR: I thought Kevin Rudd withdrew from the QUAD and it collapsed?
Caroline Kennedy: Not entirely, Julia Gillard and subsequent Australian governments re-joined and since then it has gone from strength to strength.
4PR: To what end?
Caroline Kennedy: As a brake on Chinese influence in the region.
4PR: Isn’t China globalising its economy in the same way the US has? Chinese Belt and Road projects extend into more than 70 countries. But, according to your own former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, China has no expansionist intent in the India Pacific, China looks west to the stan countries with it Belt and Road projects, originally known as the “Silk Road Economic Belt” in Kazakhstan.
Caroline Kennedy: Australia needs to decide who its real friends are. In World War II the US came to Australia’s aid to defend it against the Japanese.
4PR: Does the United State seriously wish to control four oceans especially given your problems with democracy at home. Your country is hardly a beacon of liberty, light and learning after the events of 1/6 when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building. Cost of living is increasing and poverty is at an all time high. The US is hardly the kind of country which the world can look towards for stability.
Caroline Kennedy: The US has provided stability in Europe and Asia and can do so again. Our revolution brought about the very concept you speak of – light liberty and learning – the freedom of the individual over a country that subdues the individual to the wishes of the state. Just look at what the Soviet …eh Russia, is doing in the Ukraine, threatening to invade.
4PR: Russia has reason to be fearful of Europe. The Ukraine stands between it and NATO forces. Just look at what happened during Napoleon’s time when Bonaparte stormed across that vast plain and took Moscow. What about during World War II, when German troops and its allies marched across the Great European plain inflicting enormous casualties on the Soviet people. The siege of Stalingrad was possibly one of the worst battles of attrition of all time. The Soviets lost over 22 million people during the war, many times greater than any other country.
Caroline Kennedy: Russia has no right to threaten the borders of the sovereign country of the Ukraine.
4PR: Getting back to AUKUS, are you aware that the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network has called on the Australian government to rescind its contract with the US for the nuclear subs and demanded an end to AUKUS and wants US troops out of Darwin and closure of Pine Gap.
Caroline Kennedy: I haven’t heard of that group, are they Maoists left over from the 60s?
4PR: I don’t know what they were in the 60s but today they are respected academics and community leaders, just like you. Would it be possible to arrange for a meeting with you to discuss these demands?
Caroline Kennedy: The US government and representatives like myself are well practised at standing stoically in front of criticism from the rest of the world, just look at the flack we get from the UN General Assembly each and every year.
We would require a list of questions and who they are representing beforehand, of course.
4PR: (wryly) Should we bring a packed lunch?
Caroline Kennedy: Pardon?
4PR: I think we should leave it there. I noticed that you did not say ‘you know’ once during our brief talk.
Caroline Kennedy: (smiles) Since our last interview I have employed a speech coach to rid me of that annoying habit.
4PR: Yes, 108 ‘you knows’ in a half hour interview can be a bit off putting.