Decline Watch: What exactly did the Australian foreign minister tell Romney?

Talking Points Memo is asking if this is Romney's " first big foreign stumble" and the Obama campaign is sending it out to journalists, but it's not exactly clear who exactly made a gaffe or about what. 

Here are some comments made by Romney at a San Francisco fundraiser yesterday, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald:

"I met today with the Foreign Minister of Australia. He said something, and I said 'Can I quote you?' and he said yes. He said, 'America is just one budget deal away from ending all talk of America being in decline,''' Governor Romney told attendees at a fundraiser today.

''And this idea of America in decline, it was interesting [Carr] said that, he led the talk of America being in decline. See that's not talk we hear about here as much as they're hearing  there. And if they're thinking about investing in America, entrepreneurs putting their future in America, if they think America's in decline they're not gonna do it."

In the AP's telling of the story, the speech claimed that Carr "privately warned Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that foreign leaders see "America in decline." Carr's office has come out to deny that there was any "warning" implied:

But despite headlines today such as ''Mitt Romney Gets Grim Warning From Australian Leader'', a spokesman for Senator Carr says Australia's Foreign Minister was talking up the US economy, not talking it down. That is, any fears that Australia's foreign minister has been overseas criticising a key alliance parnter, would be misplaced.

''That interpretation is not correct,'' the spokesman told The National Times.

Indeed, Senator Carr has used a similar phrase about the US budget before - on people such as former World Bank chief Robert Zoellick - to indicate his belief in the US economy's strengths and potential.

TPM's Josh Marshall interprets this as Carr coming "forward to shoot down Romney’s characterization of the discussion." But it seems like he may be mischaracterizing the statement, which was aimed at the media for mischaracterizing his statement. Or something like that. It's all a bit confusing and a sign of how out-of-hand the campaign gaffe-spotting is getting. 

In the end, it seems like a pretty inoccuous statement from both Carr and Romney: Foreign investors would be a lot more enthusiastic about the United States if phrases like "fiscal cliff" weren't such a regular part of its political discourse. Which party is more to blame for this state of affairs is another question.

If anything, the weirder aspect of Romney's statement was the notion that Americans don't think or talk about American decline. The polls say otherwise, not to mention certain foreign policy blogs



Is Okinawa a 'disputed' island too?

The big Asia security story of the day is China's deployment of a garrison to "guard" disputed islands claimed by Beijing in the South China Sea. But as the Financial Times reports, some Chinese nationalists have the eyes on a potentially even more controversial island chain: 

In a fiery editorial earlier this month, the Global Times newspaper urged Beijing to consider challenging Japan’s control over its southern prefecture of Okinawa – an island chain with a population of 1.4m people that bristles with US military bases.

“China should not be afraid of engaging with Japan in a mutual undermining of territorial integrity,” the Communist party-run paper declared.

Major General Jin Yinan, head of the strategy research institute at China’s National Defense University, went even further. He told state radio that limiting discussion to the Diaoyu was “too narrow”, saying Beijing should question ownership of the whole Ryukyu archipelago – which by some definitions extends beyond Okinawa.

The Chinese claim goes back to when the the islands were ruled by the independent Ryukyu kingdom in 15th century: 

Ryukyu kings paid formal tribute to Chinese emperors, a practice allowing lucrative trade that continued even after the kingdom was conquered by a Japanese feudal domain in 1609. Okinawa only officially became part of Japan in 1879.

Okinawa is such an established part of Japanese territory at this point -- not to mention home to about 10,000 U.S. marines -- that it's abit hard to imagine this claim becoming a matter of official policy. But it's unlikely to quiet things down in the East China Sea.