Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has evoked the spectre of the First World War in warning that tensions in Asia could erupt into catastrophic conflict unless the region heeds the lessons of history.
In a speech delivered on Monday night that darkens the tone considerably on Australia's public remarks about territorial disputes in Asia, Ms Bishop said the events of a century ago showed that things could "quickly spiral out of control".
Ms Bishop effectively compared the rising tensions in the South China and East China Seas, where Beijing is locked in increasingly combustible territorial disputes with neighbours such as Japan and Vietnam, to Europe in 1914.
Such a fraught environment could mean single events, mistakes and calculations are blown out of proportion and escalate into armed conflict, she told the Australian National University's Crawford Leadership conference.
While stressing she was "not drawing any direct parallels", Ms Bishop said it was "nevertheless useful to consider the consequences of a single event" - a reference to the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo that sparked the First World War a century ago on Saturday.
"It is in this context that perhaps the most critical lesson from World War I is relevant – that isolated, single, random events can unleash forces that quickly spiral out of control," she said, according to speech notes her office distributed.
The First World War went on to kill 10 million people and last four years after leading nations failed to contain the fallout of the assassination.
While stressing the modern world was not doomed to repeat such mistakes, Ms Bishop warned: "It is those who forget history who are doomed to repeat it."
Vowing that Australia would be among nations that would "not sleepwalk into conflict" - another common historians' reference to the failings of leaders in 1914 - Ms Bishop said Australia would use "economic diplomacy" to reinforce globalisation and trade as a firewall against conflict.
Ms Bishop said that given the deep 21st Century economic integration of major countries along global supply chains, countries more than ever before stand to lose more than they gain through armed conflict. But she added that economies were closely enmeshed in the 20th Century as well, yet this did not "prevent irrational or mad decisions, and did not stop war".
"We cannot take for granted that globalisation is, of itself, a bulwark against aggression and conflict."
She called on all countries in the region to show restraint and follow international law to avoid "miscalculation or a misjudgement".
She said that international forums such as the East Asia Summit could help reduce tensions.
She went on to say that economic inequality also had to be addressed. Most of the world's poor live in middle income countries, which exacerbates wealth differences, increasing tensions.
"There is an urgent need to ensure the benefits of global and national growth reach those poor people," she said. "Severe imbalances in wealth distribution have led to instability as those without rise up to demand a fair share of the economic spoils. The current conflicts in the Middle East are based on a myriad of complex issues, but inequality is a common feature."
This meant reducing tax avoidance and ending corruption.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/julie-bishop-evokes-the-spectre-of-wwi-in-warning-asian-territorial-dispute-could-erupt-20140630-zsrhw.html#ixzz36AYKGDc8