As published in the Global Times – Asia Review, 27.5.21
After the American defeat by the Japanese in the Philippines it needed a base from which to regroup, resupply and take the fight back through the Pacific. Australia was a bread bowl, training camp and aircraft carrier. Its north was intersected with airfields used by American bombers and fighters in attacks against Japanese bases and shipping on and around PNG, the Solomons and other nearby Islands.
Australia was fearful of attack by the Japanese after their rapid advance through south Asia and the Pacific. The Americans arrived as the Japanese were advancing over PNG toward Port Moresby. The Australian Army had been conducting a successful fighting retreat in order to shorten their supply line, extend that of the Japanese and organise a major offensive. McArthur, the arrogant American general in command, sacked a number of Australian generals and ordered the retreat to stop.
Instead of being angry with McArthur the average Australian thought he was a hero. The myth was born that America had saved Australia, whereas America came to Australia purely for self-interest. Australians were impressed with American largesse and technology. Many bought into the American ‘dream’. This was the point at which America could do no wrong. The ANZUS Treaty came into being at the time of the Cold War and hostilities in Korea. America was seen by Australians as the protector against Russian and Chinese expansionism.
Australia was also seduced by American consumerism, Hollywood, Nashville and Detroit. A common language facilitated the absorption of American culture. Military, academic and business exchanges grew. However, it was largely a one-way street, although that went mostly un-noticed in Australia given the sycophantic nature of the relationship. Australians were in awe of American power and wealth.
They undertook no foreign policy initiatives without first checking with the Americans. The exception being the recognition of China by the Whitlam government in 1972, which many of junior Diplomats welcomed with pride and pleasure. Australia bought into the American line on the civil war in Viet Nam, much to its subsequent but unacknowledged regret. That did not stop the ‘provincial’ Prime Minister, John Howard, buying into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a favour to the equally limited George Bush.
Australia bought military hardware from the Americans, under pressure, to increase US force structure in the region. We bought the F-111 which took forever to iron out the cracks, pun intended, the single screw FFG’s, the next to useless Abrams tanks, the F35 flying lemon and to boost the alliance Australia has ordered 12 submarines from the French which it does not need.
America has a highly sophisticated spy base, Pine Gap, in the Northern Territory, but from which Australia is excluded from sharing sensitive information. They have access to Tindal Airbase from which B52’s, in theory, could bomb submarine pens in Sanya and they have established a military base in Darwin for 10,000 American marines. None of this offers any advantage for Australia, although the Americans have convinced the conservative governing establishment that it does. They believe that no matter what, Australian interests are best served by remaining in lock step with America interests. The Australian governing party lacks emotional intelligence and courage. They are ‘provincial’ politicians, who know and understand very little of the wider world. To illustrate the point the governing party does not believe in climate change, at least insofar as believing in the efficacy of fossil fuels.
As products of the Howard era Prime Ministers, Abbott, Turnbull and most recently Morrison have all demonstrated blind faith in the American alliance. They have placed a great deal of trust in the word of Americans. Morrison has possibly been the most naive and gullible. He took Trump at his word, a big mistake. Trump fired up Morrison over China and convinced him that not only did the Covid virus originate in Wuhan, but he should unilaterally make a demand that an international investigation take place. Morrison took Australia way out in front with an unsustainable and undiplomatic demand, the US and Trump stood in the background and grinned.
Australia refused to backdown and apologise, so China imposed sanctions on a range of Australian imports in order to obtain a change of attitude on the part of Australia. The loss of income has not been felt because of unprecedented levels of borrowing by Australia to meet the economic challenges of Covid. And Australia has allowed itself to be lulled into a false sense of security by words of reassurance from US Secretary of State, Blinken, who guaranteed that America had Australia’s back. It does not and it never did. America acts purely in self-interest. Australia because of its long love affair with the US and its inferiority complex is in denial. Australia seems blind to the fact that the US has stepped in to supply China with many of the goods denied through trade sanctions.
China does not seem to understand the extent of the incompetence and naivety of the Australian leadership. Thinking people and intellectuals in Australia are appalled at Morrison and his government. However tough Chinese sanctions and harsh words have only given Morrison the domestic ammunition he needs to bolster his claims that China is aggressively expansionist and seeks to dominate the region.
Bruce Haigh is a retired Diplomat and political commentator.