Saturday 18 Aug 2018 | 04:22 | SYDNEY
Saturday 18 Aug 2018 | 04:22 | SYDNEY

Singapore & Oz: Round two


Graeme Dobell

12 April 2011 15:16

 Australia and Singapore have had two notable arguments recently — one economic and one strategic — over the rules of the game and who sets the rules.

One stoush was about trading securities. The other was about regional security.

On the economic side, Australia gave Singapore a big no, accompanied by a loud, public raspberry.

On Asia's strategic future, Singapore cut down Australia's effort to create an Asia Pacific Community — but the knife work was mostly done quietly, with infinite politeness. 

The thinking behind Australia's rejection of Singapore's effort to take over the Australia Stock Exchange was bluntly expressed by the Treasurer, Wayne Swan and more elegantly put by Stephen Grenville.

Such expert witnesses make a strong case that Singapore was offering a bad deal (although Australian business does not seem persuaded). What is striking is the verbal vehemence with which the Treasurer delivered the veto.

Imagine, for a moment, Australia's deputy Prime Minister responding to a major overture from China, Japan, India or Indonesia by describing it as a 'no-brainer'. 

The Oz High Commission in Singapore might try to finesse it with the argument that 'we know you so well, we can speak bluntly...old friends, straight talk...etc'. And good luck next time Canberra asks Singapore Inc for something.

In the words-are-bullets game, the Treasurer pulled out a bazooka and went bang. Such thoughts prompted the previous column on what buttons Singapore pushed in Canberra to get such a blast. Australia seeking engagement with Asia is all very well, but the game gets harder when it is Asia doing the proposing.

Putting the ASX and the Asia Pacific Community/community in the same column is definitely not to suggest that the strategic issue had any bearing on the Treasurer's decision. This is not an attempt to find non-existent linkages. 

If Wayne Swan is in the mood to deliver revenge or square-up king hits, he'd be thinking about delivering them to Kevin Rudd, not on behalf of Rudd.

The one common element in the two vastly different cases is the push and shove of the two actors — Australia and Singapore. And in both cases, the discussion was about who owns the game and who sets the rules.

Where the Treasurer blasted the Singapore ASX bid to pieces, the Singapore response to Kevin Rudd's Asia Pacific Community proposal was to kick it to death — slowly and quietly.

In seeing off Australia, Singapore didn't get its preferred solution — the creation of an ASEAN-plus-8 summit rather than the expansion of the East Asia Summit to let in the United States and Russia. 

Singapore forcefully articulated the ASEAN-plus idea that it had developed, but could get only lukewarm support even from those backing the position within ASEAN. By contrast, some strong players — Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam — lined up behind the EAS. With a little push from the US, that decided the argument.

In surrendering to ASEAN (and Singapore), Australia embraced the expanded EAS, saying it met the aims set by Rudd in launching the Community/community effort. So in the regional security stakes, Singapore and Australia can both smile and claim ultimate success, despite some big bumps on the way.

No such win-win in the exchanges over the ASX. It's difficult to find the positives in no-brainer land.

Photo by Flickr user genericitis.