Despite the hysterical headlines, US democracy will survive Donald Trump. It's the bullying hardline authoritarian President Xi Jinping who is truly damaging his nation's international standing.
Watching the scenes on television of Donald Trump supporting thugs bursting into the US Congress, breaking windows and smashing furniture brought back a distant memory.
In 1996, there was a similar attack on the Australian Parliament. It was certainly disconcerting to have an uncontrollable mob wielding iron bars and baseball bats just metres from your own office. Still, order was restored and democracy survived. Mind you, 90 people were injured.
In America they do things more violently and on a bigger scale. The only real long-term damage will be to Trump‘s legacy. He incited the riot and has rightly been condemned for it. But American democracy will survive, the administration will change on January 20 and the United States will move on.
Hysterical media stories about the damage this is done to American democracy will just pile up in the recycling bins of US homes.
There is no doubt, though, that this incident will have done some temporary damage to America’s reputation and standing in the world. But then, America is not the only country to commit reputational self-harm over the past year. China has trashed its own reputation in what has been the poorest display of diplomacy that I can ever remember.
Let’s consider China’s leaders’ performance. Their refusal to acknowledge the seriousness of the COVID-19 outbreak in the first place and their early reluctance to listen to their own scientists in Wuhan was bound to be poorly received by the outside world.
The only real long-term damage will be to Donald Trump's legacy.
Then once COVID-19 had broken loose and its damage to the health of humanity and to the global economy became apparent, the Chinese leadership reacted with horror to a perfectly reasonable and understandable suggestion from Australia that there be an international investigation into the pandemic and to examine lessons that could be learned to protect the world in the future.
The World Health Organisation duly set up the investigation but over the past week we heard that Chinese leaders were delaying issuing visas to the investigating team. This kind of decision is deeply damaging to China’s reputation.
Ironically, COVID-19 could have been an opportunity for China. They could have acknowledged publicly the risks of the initial outbreak in Wuhan, they could have drawn in the international scientific community as quickly as possible to help manage it, and they could have played a collaborative role with the rest of the world including through the distribution of PPE equipment and masks.
They did belatedly try to do the latter but by then the damage had been done.
Xi Jinping’s management of the diplomacy of COVID-19 was bad enough. That kind of environment calls for the best kind of personal diplomacy. Yet China chose the opposite: it adopted so-called warrior wolf diplomacy. Senior diplomats have dished out threats and insults like children in a primary school playground. That’s been deeply damaging to China’s standing in the world.
Recently there have been signs that they have woken up and recognised this. The Foreign Minister may not have changed policy, but his tone has been more measured in speaking about Australia, the United States and Europe.
And China has tried to conclude an investment agreement with the European Union. The EU should put geopolitics and human rights before money and hold back on this agreement. It isn’t timely with a country as uncollaborative as China.
Then there is China’s attempts to use hard power to get its way. Imposing trade sanctions, declaring trade war on a country such as Australia, using warships to threaten other nations in the international waters of the South China Sea, attacking the Indian army on the Sino Indian border … How do they think this is all playing out in the outside world?
Australia is a country with a lot of soft power. It has a well-earned reputation for stability, high-quality governance, and a society that respects the rights of individuals. In material terms, it is one of the most successful countries in the history of humanity.
Declaring a trade war on Australia and, in particular, linking it to Australia’s complaints about human rights abuses and Australia’s advocacy of an international investigation into the causes of the COVID-19 outbreak has done further harm to China’s reputation worldwide.
People like Australia, Bullying Australia is not helping China and its standing in the world. Only the most slavish economic colonies of China will take China’s side in this dispute.
And then there is Hong Kong. On the same news services reporting the thugs attacking the US Congress were reports of the Chinese rounding up political dissidents and democracy advocates in Hong Kong. It was a distressing scene.
I personally represented Australia at the Hong Kong handover in 1997 when the one country, two systems formula seemed to have such promise. And now there has been an authoritarian crackdown by the regime in Beijing, which has destroyed trust and confidence in Hong Kong’s future. It just makes me sad to see this sort of behaviour.
So yes, all that commentary about Trump’s mob attacking the Congress is damaging to America. But then these are the thugs I’ve had to put up with for four years threatening to do everything from banning me from America to killing me. I know these people. And it is true, they are the most fervent supporters of Trump.