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  • Mike Lyons

AUSTRALIA DRIFTING INTO A NIGHTMARE


Did Canberra Ask the Australian People

Daily reports reveal that the Australian Government has committed multi billion dollars in preparing for Australia to join in a potential conflict between USA and China. Such a commitment represents an “existential threat” to the people of this nation. Has Canberra even asked the people, mothers and fathers whether they are willing to go to war, to send their children to war against China? This question must be put to the Australian people, by an independent poll or by a referendum. Their lives, their future and their wellbeing are at stake.


Australia’s Dependence on America


In his recent Essay, Sleepwalk to War, Hugh White (arguably Australia’s most knowledgeable and insightful strategic and defence thinker) asks, “Do we believe that we should go to war with China to prevent it achieving its ambitions?” When Joe Biden became US president, he made it clear that his administration would be as tough on China as Trump had been. Australia believes its relations with China lie in the hands of America, but Hugh White sees this as delusional, and he predicts that the US will eventually step back from the region, leaving Australia to make its own way!


Biden pulled the US out of its 20 year war with Afghanistan. Now, despite the Russian conflict with Ukraine, Biden has ruled out sending US forces to defend Ukraine with “boots on the ground”. All of this suggests that America may no longer have the resolve to defend its global role, not only against Russia but perhaps even more so, against China.


Australia’s relationship with China began to nosedive in 2017 when the Turnbull government positioned Australia as the most stridently anti-Chinese nation. In 2020, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne (acting as a mouthpiece for America) called for an international enquiry into the origins of Covid-19. This and other challenges targeting China led to China imposing restrictions on Australian exports worth $25 billion per year. Morrison was applauded for not bowing to Beijing’s “bullying”. Subsequently, Defence Minister, Dutton said it was “inconceivable” that Australia would not support America in a conflict over Taiwan, claiming, without a shred of evidence, that China’s aim was to subjugate Australia.


Australia’s Poorly Conceived Alliances


In September 2021, the AUKUS nuclear powered submarine deal was announced. That was when it really did become inconceivable that Australia would not go to war with China if America did so. Australia had become even more closely tied to America! AUKUS has been the subject of enormous controversy, not only in undermining Australia’s relationship with France, but also because it virtually ties Australia to any conflict between the US and China. The Morrison government talked as if the submarines, to be delivered 30 years into the future, could help determine today’s strategic challenge from China. More from Hugh White - “In the annals of defence policy failure, it is hard to recall anything more absurd.”


In 1984, New Zealand banned nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships from entering its waters and soon after that passed its nuclear-free zone legislation. The US promptly suspended its ANZUS obligations to New Zealand. When Australia entered into the AUKUS pact, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern quickly announced that Australia’s new submarines would be banned from entering New Zealand’s long-standing nuclear free zone.


The Quad membership (USA, India, Australia, and Japan) is intended to counter China, but although India is determined to prevent China from dominating its sphere of influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, it has little interest in preventing China from dominating East Asia and the Western Pacific. India also refuses to join the other Quad partners in condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While the US tries to frame the rivalry with China as a contest between “democracy and authoritarianism”, this is poorly received in Southeast Asia which has no interest in taking America’s side against China.


Is Australia becoming a US Colony?


In commentary published by John Menadue in his Public Policy Journal in August 2022, he argues that Australia accelerated its military “colonisation by US” in September 2021 when, following meetings between US Secretary of State Blinken, Defence Secretary, Lloyd Austin, Australia’s Foreign affairs Minister Payne and defence Minister Dutton, the participants endorsed enhanced air cooperation of US aircraft in Australia, enhanced maritime cooperation in Australia, and added arrangements to support “high end war fighting” and “combined military operations” in the region. For Menadue, the agreement represented “a complete and total subordination of Australia’s interests to those of America” and “an abrogation of sovereign responsibility for the security of Australian citizens”. Menadue added that the only way Australia was likely to be involved in a war with China was if it continued to act as a “proxy for the US”.


In a separate paper, Menadue described US as the most aggressive and violent country in the world noting that it had been at war 93 percent of the time since 1776. His observations align with those of former US President, Jimmy Carter. The US maintains 800 military bases or sites around the world including in Australia, while China has one offshore naval base, in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. Menadue adds “Just think of the US frenzy if China had a string of similar bases in the Caribbean or its ships patrolled the Florida Keys.”


Clinging to America


In his book, Fear of Abandonment, Allan Gyngell talks of Australia’s engagement in wars and battles, from Gallipoli to Kokoda and Vietnam, through to Afghanistan, but he makes the point that with Australia’s relatively small population and economic weight, it was not able to shape the results in any significant way. After the second World War Australia hoped for a strong commitment from the US. The ANZUS Treaty was signed in 1951 but the US would not go beyond the statement in Article IV that “Each Party recognises that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on any of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes.” This was merely an agreement to consult and certainly no security guarantee. It is nothing like the NATO defence pact.


Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War was to keep its great and powerful friend engaged in Asia. Prime Minister Harold Holt assured the Americans that Australia would go “all the way with LBJ”. That was a forerunner to Prime Minister Turnbull’s later statement that Australia was “joined at the hip” to the US. The motivating force of Australia’s international engagement has long been its “fear of abandonment”. However, in the 21st century, China has become Australia’s largest source of imported goods and the largest destination for its exports. China is the top-ranked trading partner in more than 100 countries. There is a growing need for Australia to look north to Asia, and to become less dependent on its historic Anglo-American relations.


America is keen to draw Australia more closely into its military plans including expanding US training activities in Darwin. Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles lauded the Australia-US alliance, reassuring the US that the new Labor government was totally committed to a closer relationship with Washington, as the two nations seek to counter Chinese “aggression”.


In his 2014 book, Dangerous Allies, Malcolm Fraser observed:


“Our leaders argue that we need to keep our alliance with US strong in order to ensure our defence in the event of an aggressive foe. Yet the most likely reason that Australia would need to confront an aggressive foe is our strong alliance with the United States. We need America for defence from an attacker who is likely to attack us because we use America for defence!”


What China Wants


The US has been the sole great power since the collapse of the Soviet Union 30 years ago. Now, China has risen to be the equal of America in many respects and it is willing to risk war to force America out of the Asian region. China wants a multipolar world and as the US led order fades, the world can expect a multipolar global order to emerge in which several great powers, each with their own sphere of influence, will compete and cooperate. It is likely that none of them will be strong enough to dominate the rest. Relationships will be competitive, but moderated by a balance of power.


China wants Taiwan and it will not compromise on that objective. Each time President Biden has misspoken, saying that America is committed to and would fight for Taiwan, his White House administration has swiftly backtracked. In reality the US has no legitimate commitments to defend Taiwan. Instead, it preserves a policy of “strategic ambiguity”. If (when?) America does abandon Taiwan, there will be real doubts about its willingness to defend Japan, much less Australia.


Australia-China Relations – Losing the Opportunity for a Reset


Australia-China relations have been in the deep-freeze ever since April 2020 when Australia’s former Foreign minister (backed by then Prime Minister, Morrison) called for an international enquiry into the origins of Covid-19. It was the last straw. China decided Australia had become a “hostile supplier” and proceeded to impose retaliatory trade measures against Australia – known as “economic coercion” when applied by China, but “sanctions” when the West takes similar action against Russia! In the meantime, the “China Threat” has gained momentum in Australia. According to former Australian diplomat, Geoff Raby, throughout this period, the Labor opposition remained silent, not even questioning the threat narrative. Although Australia’s bellicose rhetoric has been dialled down by the new government, it remains unwilling to move robustly to a better understanding of the rise of China and to view the so called “China threats” in a more realistic perspective.


When Australian Foreign Minister, Penny Wong met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in July 2022, Wang made four suggestions: 1. Australia should regard China as a partner and not a rival; 2. It should seek common ground and reserve differences; 3. It should avoid aiming at others and being controlled by others; and 4. It should try to build a foundation of practical public support. By any measure, those requests were inoffensive, but the Australian media described Wang making totally unacceptable “demands” and seeking “unilateral concessions”, while Prime Minister Albanese responded saying, “Look, Australia doesn’t respond to demands,” adding “We respond to our own national interests.” It sounded as if Morrison was back!


No doubt, Albanese’s tone is an improvement, but his statements on China are little different from his predecessor, and he continues to claim that it is China that has changed, but not Australia. Albanese recently endorsed the NATO communique accusing China of posing a global threat to the NATO alliance, arguably adding number 15 to China’s list of 14 grievances! Albanese’s comments did little to contribute to the reset of Australia’s relations with China.


To be clear, Anthony Albanese’s ascension to the leadership of Australia is a welcome breath of fresh air. However, fresh air alone is not enough. What is really needed is fresh thinking, imagination, and the courage to lead. Henry Kissinger, at 99 years of age has just released his latest work, Leadership. It is worth considering what Kissinger says in the opening pages: “Without leadership, institutions drift, and nations court growing irrelevance and, ultimately, disaster.” “For strategies to inspire society, leaders must serve as educators.” “The vital attributes of a leader are courage and character - courage to choose a direction among complex and difficult options.” “During periods of transition, - - -leaders are called upon to think creatively - - “.


Lessons from New Zealand


In her recent visit to Australia, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern contended that Pacific Island nations should not be forced to “pick sides” saying that they were democratic nations with the sovereign right to determine their own foreign policy engagements. She also argued that it would be wrong for New Zealand to criticise China’s renewed presence in the Pacific region, saying that Beijing has always had strong relations with the Pacific nations. Further, she suggested that we should not characterise Russia’s war in Ukraine as a war of the West versus Russia, or democracy versus autocracy. Unsurprisingly, she was slammed by Australia’s media, particularly The Australian newspaper in which Nick Cater suggested that “NZ is closer to becoming a client state of China than any other Western nation”. He omitted to add that Australia is well on the way to becoming a vassal of the US. New Zealand has done a much better job of managing its relations with China, standing up to China where it matters, but without destroying their relationship with China.


Issues for Australia


The outgoing chief of ASIO, Duncan Lewis has claimed that Chinese espionage and foreign interference constitute an existential threat to Australia, adding that China wanted to take over Australia! ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) increasingly warns against Chinese foreign interference, and ASPI (the Australian Strategic Policy Institute) talks up the “China threat” and supports “get tough” strategies against China. There is no reliable evidence to support these paranoid views. Although ASPI claims that it is independent, the fact is that it is funded, not only by the Australian government, but it also receives funding from other governments, including the United States, as well as various defence contractors such as Lockheed Martin and others. Security agents, spies and strategic policy experts may be important for the nation’s well-being. However, it is not in Australia’s interests to be guided solely by the views of those organisations without having regard to other well publicized, fully independent, expert opinions, including those referred to in this paper. To ignore them, exposes Australia to unnecessary risk, including the risk of following the US into yet another catastrophic, potentially failed war.


If America goes to war with China, Australia’s leaders may no longer have the ability to debate whether or not Australia joins the conflict, because Australia’s sovereignty has been so compromised, not by China, but by its relationship with the US.


China aims to be the primary power in the Asia-Pacific region, and it would be willing to fight to push America out. For America to resist, it must show its willingness to fight China. If it fails to do so, its allies would lose confidence in its commitments and America’s strategic position in Asia will collapse. The myth that America is invincible ignores the succession of defeats and failures it has suffered. China would have major advantages in a conflict with America, fighting close to home while America would have to fight from afar. No rational US president could seriously consider going to war against China to defend America’s position in Asia when America’s own direct security is not at stake.


Importantly, it would make no material difference to the outcome if Australia joined or if it stayed out of the fight, but joining will make a catastrophic difference to Australia.


Conclusion


China will not collapse, and its ambitions will not be abandoned. It is overwhelmingly in Australia’s best interests to learn to live with China. The rest of the region sees the need but not Australia. Australia must cease underestimating China’s power and resolve and overestimating that of America. Australia’s best interests will be served by listening to its Southeast Asian neighbours, about how they perceive the rise of China and India, and how they deal with those powers.



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