Follow my Leader
In October 2022, Australia’s ABC reported that the US would fund an upgrade of Australia’s Tindal Air Force Base to house six American B-52 bombers with the capacity to carry both conventional and nuclear armaments. With this and other actions such as AUKUS, Australia has handed its war making decision to the US without any statement being made to the Australian people about nuclear weapons being deployed on Australian soil.
If there is a military crisis in East Asia, Australia will be a target and possibly a nuclear target. Tindal is located only 15 km from Katherine in the Northern Territory and only 320 km from Darwin. Pine Gap (another US-Australia military installation) is located only 18 km from Alice Springs. It is another potential nuclear target. As Paul Dibb[i] has said “The risk of nuclear war is now higher than at any time since the Cold War . . . If China attacks Taiwan, Pine Gap is likely to be heavily involved”.
AUKUS (conceived under former Prime Minister Morrison) is being perpetuated as though nothing has changed in Canberra, with Defence Minister, Richard Marles saying AUKUS was “breathing new life into our oldest relationships”. The AUKUS submarines are primarily designed to attack China and to be part of a coalition to go to war, together with our “forever friends”. Those friends have led Australia into wars around the world for the last 120 years, but this time Australia could be at the geographical centre of a catastrophic war. Now there is talk of Japan joining the AUKUS pact under Prime Minister Kishida who has significantly increased Japan’s defence budget. This could turn the AUKUS group into “JAUKUS” Let’s not forget that it was Japan (not China) which attacked Australia 75 years ago.
Australia’s mainstream media (MSM) dutifully reports the Australian government’s pronouncements of the “China threat”, enthusiastically contributing to the anti-China frenzy. However, according to a recent Cambridge study[ii], although 75% of the 1.2 billion people inhabiting the world’s liberal democracies hold a negative view of China, the picture is reversed for the 6.3 billion people living in the rest of the world where 70% feel positively about China. Despite Washington propaganda, China does not threaten Australia and the perceived “China threat” is mainly due to Australia’s historic fear of the “yellow peril”. In reality, the only military risk Australia faces from China is if it continues to act as a proxy for the US in its wars.
As John Menadue has written[iii], the White Man’s Media (WMM) slavishly follow the Washington consensus on the war in Ukraine, seeing Ukrainians as cannon fodder to weaken Russia. Speaking at the recent Athens Democracy Forum, Professor Jeffrey Sachs made the statement that “The most violent country in the world since 1950 has been the United States”. What Sachs said was no different from what former US President Jimmy Carter said when he described the US as “The most warlike nation in the history of the world.”
China does not have a history of military aggression beyond defending its own borders. It has only one foreign base, located in Djibouti, while the US has more than 750 overseas bases many of which ring China. Imagine the US hysteria if Chinese vessels patrolled the Californian Coast or Florida Keys, or if China had B-52 bombers in Mexico – or Cuba!
The US has released its new Nuclear Posture Review reaffirming the US doctrine allowing for the first use of nuclear weapons, saying that the purpose of the US nuclear arsenal is to “deter strategic attacks, assure allies and partners, and achieve US objectives if deterrence fails”. One frequently hears talk of the US being “drawn” or “stumbling” into war but if there is a war between the US and a major power, it will not be because the war was “stumbled into”. It will be the result of choices made by the US Empire.[iv]
Counterproductive Ideological Battles
Three of the last four British prime ministers, Theresa May, Liz Truss, and Rishi Sunak were not elected by the people but rather by a minority of British elites. (Much the same can be said about Australia’s recent “revolving door” prime ministerships). Truss’ brief tenure shattered the illusion that Western style democracy is the be-all and end-all and was a timely reminder that democracy does not ensure meritocracy.[v]
Western style democracy is only one of several forms of governance. China is committed to upholding its pragmatic form of democracy, protecting the rights of its people through a combination of elections, consultations, decision-making, and oversight. China’s democracy is not the kind that “Wakes up at the time of voting, and then goes back to being dormant.” China sees democracy as taking diverse forms, with no country having the right to monopolise the meaning of “democracy”.
When China became richer and emerged as a significant power, the West expected China to become “more like us”. However, China does not wish to become like us. Indeed, observing the chaos recently experienced in the political leadership of democracies in USA, Britain and Australia, that would be the last thing China would want. President Xi Jinping stresses that China is different. However, as Jocelyn Chey remarks, “Since we fear difference, we fear China.”[vi]
Waging wars to compel other nations to adopt Western style democracy is destructive, dangerous and counterproductive. It makes no sense for Australia to commit to wars waged by America in distant places – wars which essentially have nothing to do with Australia’s “national interests “. As Chey says, “Such distant wars do not protect our land but increase our vulnerability”.
There are no more important decisions that a government can make than to take the nation to war. The Iraq war led to calls for Australia’s Parliament to play a greater role in any future commitments to war. In a democracy, the media is critical in shining the light on deliberations and decisions. However, in the Iraq war, the media played the role of “lap-dog” rather than “watch-dog”, becoming an echo chamber for the government’s arguments for war.[vii]
Recently, an independent Parliamentary enquiry into Australia’s war powers was announced. The enquiry is underway, but it seems that neither Defence Minister Marles, nor Prime Minister Albanese publicly supports the reform of Australia’s war powers.
There is a need for a national conversation about how Australia should respond to the biggest shift in its international environment since European settlement. As Hugh White says, “If only we could find a political leader willing to deliver this message”. Gough Whitlam was farsighted and courageous, opening up to China. Bob Hawke and Paul Keating inspired the realisation of Australia’s Asian future.[viii] However, since then, Labor has followed policies pursued by Turnbull, Scott Morrison and others, rushing to be part of the Quad and to endorse AUKUS. Australia’s recent China policy has remained unchanged with the newly installed Labor government stressing ongoing loyalty to the US alliance. What was the point in Australia holding a fiercely, even bitterly contested election in 2022 when, following the change of government, the country simply got more of the same.
Canberra’s conduct contributes to the risk of the worst outcome for Australia - a war between China and America in which Australia is likely to be involved. The countries of South-east Asia avoid falling under the shadow of Beijing. Unlike Australia, they recognise that it is futile for America to seek to contain China, but Canberra remains in denial.
At the recent G20 meeting in Bali, China and Indonesia (Australia’s closest and most significant South-east Asian neighbour) agreed to boost infrastructure and maritime cooperation, and to strengthen their “strategic coordination”. Before the meeting, the two leaders, Xi Jinping and Joko Widodo witnessed a trial run of the Jakarta-Bandung high speed railway (capable of travelling at 350kph), a project under China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The railway is expected to start operating commercially in June 2023. Imagine the opportunity for Australia with its huge distances. If only we could remove the blinkers. It would be much more useful and probably much cheaper than those AUKUS submarines!
There is a multitude of highly qualified, expert voices in Australia and around the world which go unheard by this government. Examples of those who speak with real authority and experience include:
Allan Gyngell - Fear of Abandonment, published 2017
Malcolm Fraser, former Prime Minister of Australia – Dangerous Allies, published 2014
Hugh White – his work includes How to Defend Australia, published 2019, and his essay, Sleepwalk to War (Australia’s Unthinking Alliance with America) published 2022
John Menadue’s Policy Journal, Pearls and Irritations, published daily
James Curran - Australia’s China Odyssey, published 2022
Geoff Raby - China’s Grand Strategy and Australia’s Future in the New Global Order, published 2020
As Raby observes, Australian foreign policy has become weaponised with respect to China as its intelligence, security and military establishment has taken control of Australia’s foreign policy towards China. Even realistic arguments for engagement with China are dismissed as “appeasement”. However, East Asia is the primary area of Australia’s economic and security interests.
A Breakthrough or just “Wishful Thinking”?
Until almost the last moment it seemed that Australia’s Prime Minister could be the only one left without a “dance-card” with Chinese President Xi at the G20 held only days ago in Bali. In the end, Australia breathed a collective sigh of relief when Mr Albanese scored a 32 minute “cordial” meeting with Xi who attached “great importance” to Albanese’s opinion, adding that the relationship with Australia was worth “cherishing”. That was diplomacy Chinese style, and it presented Australia with an opportunity not to be missed. Take note, Defence Minister Marles.
“AUDI ALTERAM PARTEM” – HEAR THE OTHER SIDE!
[i] Paul Dibb is an emeritus professor at ANU and co-author of the 2022 ASPI report [ii] A World Divided: Russia, China and the West – Bennett Institute for Public Policy, Cambridge Uni 20 October 2022 [iii] John Menadue writing in Pearls & Irritations 17 October 2022 [iv] Caitlin Johnstone is an independent Australian journalist [v] Chandran Nair, author of Dismantling Global White Privilege: Equity for a Post-Western World [vi] Jocelyn Chey – China: How do I fear thee? Let me count the ways (Pearls & Irritations, 15 Oct 2022)'s [vii] The Iraq War and Democratic Governance, co-authored by Judith Betts 2020 [viii] Sleepwalk to War by Hugh White (2022)