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The following article appeared in Pearls and Irritations on 28 October 2021.

The default position of the LNP when seeking to deflect from failure, is to bully. It bullies a lot. In fact, bullying has become its primary tool of diplomacy.

Like all bullies it is very susceptible to being bullied. Morrison embodies the LNP. Trump bullied Morrison into bullying Xi Jinping, an undertaking they both thought would reduce Xi to a trembling wreck. Morrison told Xi to get his act together on finding the source of Covid 19. Without offering a shred of evidence Morrison opined that Covid 19 originated in the wet market of Wuhan, later he changed that to a chemical laboratory in Wuhan.

Morrison swaggered; smugness filled his smirking face. A real gotcha moment. “Genocidal” Xi was on his knees, the Red Emperor was without clothes. Morrison’s friend Donald Trump must be impressed, but the ugly wax man from Madame Tussauds laughed at him, not with him. And Xi incensed at this attempt by an untutored, uncouth figure head of a struggling US vassal state, to humiliate and intimidate him roared loudly from his watch tower and cut trade. And like Monty Python, Morrison ordered his Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, to mount her less than trusty stead ride to the watch tower and repeat his ultimatum. This did not give Xi pause for thought and contemplation, quite the opposite, he issued further decrees designed to weaken Morrison, which it did.

Trump, like a bloated python, smiled at Xi from the rampart and offered to sell what Xi had banned from Morrison. Xi agreed. Power has its own dialogue and understandings. Australia, once able to translate influence into power lost the ability under Morrison, who understands little. So little in fact that he instructed an unlikely understudy to take on Communist China in The World Trade Organization (WTO). Dan Tehan, has breathlessly undertaken this mission, after recently returning from a similar mission to Europe, which failed.

The French having been publicly jilted and humiliated by a drooling Morrison acting on behalf of the Sirens of Bidens court. He got into bed with Ms. USA promising a home, defence goodies and the acquisition of some large diamond subs. The heels of France’s shoes could be heard all the way from Kings Cross to the Boulevard de Clichy.

Tehan is not a knave, well not quite, but he is naive and untutored, like Morrison. The WTO has been weakened by the US in recent years in their desire to do whatever it takes to gain advantage over their disliked rival the Peoples Communist Party of China. God how the Americans hate that nomenclature. Just as they hate the Communist Party of Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, North Korea and Kerala. Their hatred is primal, visceral and completely childish.

 On the WTO the Appellate Body functions as the High Court for global trade, it hears appeals by WTO dispute settlement panels. Its rulings are binding on member states. Since 2020 the seven seats on the Appellate Body have been vacant. From 2017 the US has blocked all new appointments to the Appellate, severely restricting the decision-making capacity of the WTO.

Trump imposed tariffs on all of America’s major trading partners, launched a trade war with China and violated the rules of the WTO. He threatened to withdraw from the WTO and took the US further down the path of a rogue player in international trade. The EU has assumed a leadership role within the WTO and China has been prepared to follow the EU lead. The US is in contempt of international trade law, Biden has not moved to lift tariffs on steel and aluminum affecting major trading partners.

Morrison’s ill-advised foray to the WTO is bound to fail and poor goofy Tehan will cop the blame, like the prefect Birmingham before him. These boys are on missions for men. They hunt the world for left hand screw drivers and elbow grease. While Dutton, confused about the world, has appointed a world adviser to his staff to tell him where countries and capitals are. With the exception of coal international trade, leaves him cold. But he has not lost his restlessness, increasing his suit sizes every six months. He does his best, like Goring, to keep abreast of things. He expects to win the Battle of the South China Sea.

The United States, Australia’s most trusted ally, currently imposes sanctions against thirty countries. Why? Because in one way or another they offend the US or in the case of China it is doing far better at most things than the US. Our trusted ally has agricultural sanctions levelled against us as well as steel, aluminum and Ugg Boots.

China uses trade embargoes to try and pull countries into line, Australia being the most recent. It has in the past deployed sanctions against South Korea and Japan. It has imposed sanctions on the odious Wilbur Ross, Trump’s Secretary of Commerce.

Economic sanctions and military threats, incursions and war are the arsenal of American diplomacy and foreign policy. By contrast China has deployed power, through the Belt & Road initiative, playing upon economic need to access and influence regional neighbours, in the process gaining financially. There is little difference in this to what America has sought to do for the past 70 years except China is proving more successful and making inroads with less overt bullying. Coercion and corruption exist in China’s vassal states and amongst its economic allies as a result of this agenda but there is a benefit to the recipients. The Tiger needs to be fed. Chinese money, labour and settlers are following the B&R. Increasing rail and road links will make Beijing the Rome of the East.

Faced with this growing reality how much longer will America (and Australia) chose confrontation over negotiation?

Bruce Haigh is a retired Diplomat and political commentator.

The following article was published in Pearls and Irritations on 12 October 2021.

In my opinion Abbott delivered a most imprudent speech to the Yushan Regional Security Forum in the Taiwanese capital Taipei on 8 October. He referred to Xi Jinping as the new red emperor accusing him of bullying and belligerence; listing all of China’s ‘sins’, from Hong Kong, Uighurs and trade sanctions against Australia as reasons to support Taiwan politically and militarily. He advocated Australia’s phantom submarines patrol the ‘Taiwan Strait’ whilst exhorting Canberra to deepen its ties with Taiwan.

Abbott was welcomed by none less than the Taiwanese President, Tsai Ing-wen and Foreign Minister, Joseph Wu. He spoke at the Forum immediately after the President.

It is fair to say that Abbott is not known for his balance and his performance in Taipei does nothing to alter that judgement. The question arises who put Abbott up to it?

Prior to his Yushan speech Abbott had not expressed himself in such rabid terms about China and nor in such fulsome terms about Taiwan. We saw from his torrid time as Prime Minister that he is no great shakes as a thinker, in fact he was able to advocate and believe, like Morrison, in two completely contradictory propositions at the same time, such as the welfare of Indigenous Australians whilst cutting funding and arguing for jobs while axing the car industry.

Abbott is easily bought whether by Murdoch or Pell, so who bought him this time? Before Abbott gave his address Morrison said his visit to Taiwan was private. Why did he feel the need to say that? Unless he had been forewarned on what Abbott might say. And if so by whom? Morrison is not known for his truth telling, so his denial of the nature of the visit means little and on his past form probably means the opposite.

The Abbott speech was in advance of anything he has said so far on tensions between China and Taiwan. So, who wrote it? It contained a strong message and a line that has been pushed by ASPI. The tone, intended or not, reflected the language we have become used to from ASPI. Did they write the speech and work with DFAT to help organise the visit?

Abbott would have received a handsome fee for his appearance. Airfares and accommodation were most likely found by the Taiwanese. Who put that together for him? Abbott is notoriously unable to organise and look after himself.

The senior Australian representative in Taiwan, Ms. Jenny Bloomfield, accompanied Abbott. As a former Prime Minister, he is entitled to official assistance by an Australian embassy or post, however accompanying a former Prime Minister on his private visits and to official functions is not part of the duty statement.

In matters such as this only one of two things are likely to have occurred. An official instruction sent from Canberra directing the head of mission, Bloomfield, to accompany Abbott and give him the required assistance for him to successfully fulfill his undertakings to the Forum, on this occasion a speech of some significance. The other thing that might occur is that Abbott or the Taiwanese would get in touch with Bloomfield to advise of the visit. She would then seek instructions.

Canberra might say provide only minimum assistance in accord with his former office or do everything you can to assist. If the latter, Canberra becomes attached to the visit and a party to whatever occurs and is said. The visit then becomes, to all intent and purposes, an official visit. By her presence Bloomfield has accorded that status to Abbott’s ill-advised jaunt and intervention. Additionally, the tone and nature of the message, taken together with Bloomfield’s support, provides the hallmark of official approval.

This intervention by Abbott has about it, the inept diplomacy which has seen relations with China, France and the EU collapse. Ham fisted, poorly timed and not co-ordinated with regional countries and other players including the US, Japan and France.

The US must be aghast at the Abbott foray at a time when it is trying to develop a dialogue with China. But then maybe not, perhaps Australia was used as the dead goat in the Afghan sport of buzkashi. Maybe the Americans are happy to bounce off our stupidity in their difficult and delicate discussions with China.

Leadership in these difficult times whether from former prime minister Abbott or the current prime minister has been and is appalling. We really have been condemned to be a mob of losers under Morrison.

Bruce Haigh is a retired Diplomat and political commentator.