TOPICS OF THE DAY.
BY one of those rather unforeseen effects which make the affairs of the Empire so vividly interesting, as well as incalculable, the visit of the United States Battle- ship Fleet to Australasia has advanced appreciably two aspirations of the Australians. Both of these aspirations were already fairly familiar,—one is the ambition of Australians to have a navy of their own, and the other is the resolution to keep Australia a "white man's country." In the last month the two have become noticeably mingled, the one policy being regarded as more or less inevitably the instrument of the other, and the visit of the American Fleet has been taken as the occasion for expressing them both. As there have been some wild comments on the visit, chiefly in American newspapers, it may be useful to try to state more precisely the tendency of Australian thought. We can dismiss at once, as either foolish or consciously mischievous, the conclusion that the enthusiastic delight of the Australians at the American visit—which was, of course, watched with the greatest sympathy and pleasure from Britain—was a sign, first, that they no longer trust in the British Navy to defend them, and secondly, that they regard an Alliance with the United States as to be desired as soon as possible in substitution for the Alliance with Japan. We have enough confidence in Australian statesmen to be con- vinced that they perfectly understand the sanctity of Imperial obligations, as well as the profound delicacy and difficulty of the problems of which every diplomatic arrangement made by the Home Government is only a partial solution. We need have no anxiety in that respect. The utmost the Australian rejoicings meant was that the Commonwealth has a peculiar fellow-feeling for the great nation which, so far as circumstances still make it possible, intends to be a "white man's country" on a grand scale, and which has at last heartily accepted the principle that the weight of a nation's word depends upon the strength of the ships which enforce it. In spite of some obvious differences, American and Australasian ideals are, indeed, very much alike, and it would have been surprising if the Australians had not declared as plainly as they did the recognition of the fact. That recognition involved no demon- stration against the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, and was no sub to the British Navy. It was a sentimental acclama- tion of the solidarity of the Anglo-Saxon brotherhood. But it may be said that hymns of praise in honour of the " white man's country" ideal are clearly anti-Asiatic in intention, and that anti-Asiatic sentiments can have no intelligible application except to Japan. In admitting the logic of that argument, as we do in spite of what we have already said, we are only acknowledging the tremendous complexity of the Asiatic problem. It is the most formidable difficulty which lies before British and American statesmen in this century. We may remark, however, that the logic of argument is often very different from the logic of events. And, further, it is as necessary as it is encouraging to remember that the intelligence of Australian, Canadian, and other statesmen of the British Colonies is at least matched in Japan. Japan knows, as well as we in Britain know, that it is essential to leave the great British Colonies to manage their own affairs ; on no other conditions could they be expected to remain within the magic circle of the Empire. If they take a decision which makes Imperial diplomacy more delicate than ever, we may regret it ; but it is unthinkable, except within certain well-defined areas, that we should dispute it. Japan is not blind, and she has watched Englishmen reluctantly, but none the less effectually, since there are no grades between "Yes" and "No," consenting even to the exclusion of their Indian fellow-subjects from the Trans- vaal. It is not to be expected that Japan should be delighted, but at least she understands that there is no intentional affront to her in the hardening anti-Asiatic policy of our Colonies or in the growing acquiescence in it in Britain.
The present tendency of the Australian Commonwealth in pursuit of its ideal of a "white man's country" is not exactly paralleled in the career of any other nation. The theory is not only that the Asiatic should be kept out, but that the white man should secure to himself, by what seems to us an artificial manipulation of all the economic conditions, an unfailing minimum of comfort. Of course the ambition is itself a splendid one; but even in a large country with a small population we foresee the final instability of a system which has already arrived almost at the point of protecting everybody against every- body else,—the employee against his employer, and the public against both. Happily, Australia, with her fine vigour and enthusiasm and her youth, can afford to make experiments ; and if one economic system gives place to another, and even to many others, it does not mean that salvation has been rejected. But the most curious phenomenon of the Australian tendency is that, designedly or not, even white immigration is rather discouraged. We are glad to admit that the value of the contrary principle is acknowledged, and an eloquent expression of it is to be found in the letter from Dr. Arthur which we print in another column. No observer here can be in any doubt, however, as to the difference between the pervading methods of the Canadian Government and the less resolute advertising of the Australians. Probably Australian economists have not finally made up their- minds whether they believe, as we do, that more capital and more labour would produce more wealth—even more in proportion to the population—or whether it is better that a comparatively small population should" continue to inhabit a vast country having a great reserve of natural resources at their back. ''At present the Australian has reasonably easy work, good wages, and much pleasure. Whether the interior and northern spaces of Australia will be populated by white men— if they can bear the climate—is still an open question. But we may take it as settled that the Australians will not call in the help of Asiatics, even in those districts, so long as the Australian politician remains of the same type as now. His aim is a kind of scientific breeding of a nation by economic means. He apparently wants the greatest good of a moderate number. The anti- Asiatic agitation began no doubt as a mere industrial jealousy ; it was the natural resentment of vigilant• workmen who saw the danger of their labour being under- sold. But it is now something far deeper than that. It is a philosophical repudiation of a foreign ingredient which cannot be assimilated in the Australian polity. The customs of Asiatics, their religion, their social code, their faults, not td say their virtues, are all different from those which are assumed as the basis of a white society. That difference might be no inconvenience among academic or well-to-do people, but among industrial classes living at close quarters it is a real enough peril. The United States long ago imported negroes, and now lives with them as best she can,—by practically, when not professedly, segregating them ; white men in South Africa took over the natives with the soil, and must accept them as an inevitable factor ; but Australians have no more than a small remnant of aborigines, who ethnologically are of such interest that the only anxiety is lest they should disappear all too soon under the fatal spell which often falls on ancient native races in the presence of Europeans. Australians, therefore, are absolutely free to choose their course—no part of their estate is mortgaged—and they are making their choice more and more clear, as they have a perfect right to do.
The present resolve to establish an Australian Navy is only a more earnest form of a very old wish. There have long been Naval Militias in some of the Australian States. We said at the beginning that the results of the American visit to Australasia were rather unforeseen, but in. doing so we referred only to the impression made on the mass of observers. There is no doubt that Mr. Deakin (and probably a good many other prominent Australians were in the secret) definitely intended the tableau of which the visiting fleet was the centre to serve his particular naval policy. We venture to predict that after this it will be practically impossible for the British Admiralty to renew the dispute with Australia whether she shall begin to build up a navy of her own, or whether she shall continue to make her annual contribution of money. There may be a good deal to be said on strategical grounds, which we have often discussed and need not reconsider now, for retaining the money contribution and refusing to admit the possibly conflicting or distracting element of a local Australian Navy; but those reasons are irrelevant, and have, of course, lately become more irrelevant than ever, in the face of the Australian determination to be a real nation, with the dignity and all the panoply and insignia of such a position. The Admiralty have not yet produced their scheme for the admission of Australian naval help in the defence of the Empire, but we hope that it will be guided by this principle: that it is out of the question to try to flout what is at the moment the almost ecstatic ambition of a self-governing Colony, and that the duty of the Admiralty is to determine what is the best strategical arrangement possible on the basis of facts as they are. It is no argument to say that such an Australian Navy as could be maintained and manned by the comparatively small population of four million people would be insig- nificant and give more anxiety than it would be worth. All naval greatness is a gradual growth. If the Admiralty plan goes so far as to continue to collect part of the money, and to take the equivalent of the rest in personal services to the Imperial Navy, even that, we fear, would not satisfy the Australians. In 1906 the Imperial Defence Committee rejected the scheme for a local Australian Navy,—a kind of " second-line " Navy. We think we should be misinterpreting the new circumstances of to-day it we did not say that the idea cannot be rejected a second time. Imperial unity will depend in the future entirely on the ability to guide and. profit by the strong national feeling of the great Colonies.