Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Two leaders of the South

Recently two leaders of southern nations have delivered lectures at the London School of Economics. Though both coming from ex-colonised on the other side of the world, and representing fresh democratic energies, they had very different stories to tell.

image The Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd started his address on 7 April with jokes about the Australian superiority in cricket. His 'colonial strut' reflected a young boisterous nation goading its slow-moving but beloved parent. The speech was an opportunity to outline Britain's relation to the aspiration that Australia be the 'most Asia-literate nation in the collective West.' He made an emphatic point that:

Today I want to argue that, in a rapidly changing world, Australia and the United Kingdom have a lot to gain from working with each other to shape the emerging global order – particularly given Britain’s strength in Europe and Australia’s standing in Asia.

So here is the arrangement of the two close Anglo nations within the collective West. Britain looks after Europe, and Australia looks after Asia. The assumption is that the collective West is the principle actor on the world stage, steering history on a safe course. No doubt this assumption will be seriously challenged in future years.

image Three days before, the Chilean President Michelle Bachelet addressed the LSE about the situation in her country. It began as a very serious talk, emphasising issues of statecraft and the role of the government in transcending competing interests between different groups. While a little dry, she had some interesting things to say about the challenge to confront the culture of political belligerence and create a civic discourse in which opposing points of view can debate calmly. Towards the end, she started to make some jokes in a way far more spontaneous than Rudd. There was no reference to Britain whatsoever in her talk.

As she left he podium, Bachelet was presented with a cup similar to that given to Nelson Mandela. As another leader of the South, was Rudd given a similar gift?

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