According to the fable, the spider said to the fly, “Welcome to my parlor” and then made a feast of the fly. On Monday in Australia’s national capital, Canberra, we saw a totally different reenactment of the fable when the fly, aka Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, said to the spider, better known as Chinese President Xi Jinping, “Welcome to my Parliament” as Mr Xi entered to much applause.
The past week has been a hectic time for both leaders, attending the APEC CEOs Summit in Beijing followed by the G20 international economic conference in Brisbane, with Xi extending his stay in Australia to consummate in Canberra the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries.
Until Nov. 16, Abbott had been equally busy trying to spin a positive story out of his threat to “shirtfront” Russian President Vladimir Putin over his supposed role in the Malaysian Airlines disaster four months ago over Ukraine, in which 42 Australians died.
Those unfamiliar with the eccentricities of Australian slang now have another word to add to their Down Under lexicon: “Wimped out.” That’s how critics in the national press described Abbott’s embarrassing lack of any follow-through on his widely publicised threat to biff the Russky on the snout. About the nearest the pair got to each other was when they stood side by side for a photo-shoot each cuddling a cute koala.
Putin was a runaway winner of the confrontation between the pair after he sent four ships of the Vladivostok-based Russian Eastern fleet to show the flag in the waters off the Great Barrier Reef. Abbott tamely riposted by causing the Aussie Navy and Air Force to scramble jet fighters, reconnaissance planes, warships and other armed paraphernalia to the muddied waters.
Some pettifogging ninny at the final G20 get-together placed Putin at the very far left in the front row of the VIPs when the obligatory group photo was taken on stage. It was intended to be an insult and Putin took it as such. Rumors abounded that he would fly out early. He denied it, then indeed flew out early, claiming he needed the rest.
And, as his jetliner flew up over the Coral Sea, it might have dipped a wing in contempt at those Aussie warships below, thus giving them the finger as with relief he left Australia’s outer skies.
Meanwhile, back in Canberra today Abbott was playing the role of an effusive host as Xi probably itched to put pen to paper on the trade agreement and wrap up another highly favorable deal for China.
It has taken 10 years and several changes of presidents and prime ministers for the final terms of the FTA to be thrashed out. The reason for this is simple – the constant nitpicking and argumentative style of Beijing’s negotiators, who since 2005 have fought tooth and nail to squeeze every imaginable advantage into China’s favor, no matter how infinitesimal each gain might have been.
Obdurate opposition by the Chinese has caused near-endless delays to many clauses in the agreement, with Australian negotiators constantly on the back foot as one reappraisal followed another.
Meanwhile Abbott’s personal popularity rating in some recent polls has been yo-yoing from the 40s to as low as 15 percent. The premier is trying to play the FTA with China as the most triumphant international deal of his prime ministership, but was not prepared for the bellowing wake-up call on global warming that he got a day or so ago from American President Barack Obama, who challenged him to match America’s planned reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Poor Tony was indeed taken aback. The dunderhead doesn’t believe in global warming. Ho hum
Abbott is trumpeting that the FTA with China will lift Australia out of its current economic slump – much of the blame for which can be traced to the draconian budget that Abbott and his penny-pinching Treasurer Joseph Hockey inflicted on Australians several months ago, though many of the toughest cuts are still stalled in the Senate after months of failed negotiations.
Meanwhile, as the terms of the FTA have been ruthlessly retooled in China’s favor, will it truly bring an economic sea-change to Australia? We are told that one of the biggest near-immediate plusses is that China will take A$1 billion worth of cattle per year.
But realists point out that since in the past Australia has stopped the export of live cattle to other Asian countries where the animals were treated with great cruelty before slaughter, will the Chinese trade be closely policed, and the exports be stopped if cruelty becomes a serious problem? Australia is crawling with bleeding-heart animal lovers, tree-huggers, proponents of unrestricted immigration and so on, and those animal-lovers dote on snooping whenever shipments of live animals are involved.
Additionally, since years of constant drought have badly affected the cattle-producing areas of Australia, with large numbers of animals having to be put down through lack of water, if tens of thousands of the remaining cattle are shipped to China under the deal, will Australians suffer a shortage of beef?
T-bone steaks aplenty in Beijing and Shanghai and empty plates in Australia would indeed paint a grim picture for the “Lucky Country” and its befuddled leader!