As published in Pearls and Irritations – 21.3.21
The maintenance of national sovereignty requires vision and leadership; sovereignty will evaporate without it. Sovereignty requires a level of consensus. Without vision and national direction, sovereignty is likely to be ceded, sold and stolen.
By that definition Australia is without sovereignty. It has ceded defence and foreign policy strategy to the United States and in the process alienated it’s largest trading partner, China. At the insistence of the United States, it blamed China for the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, resulting so far in loss of trade amounting to around $50 billion in the agricultural, mining, investment, student and tourism sectors. It was not a smart move and has some way yet to run, particularly as under direction from the CIA, the Minister of the Australian Homes Affairs Department, Dutton, agreed to give asylum to US backed, Hong Kong activist, Ted Hui, last week.
This move has further angered China and has probably put paid to talks seeking to repair damage to the relationship and restoring normal trade. Mimicking the United States, Australia has decided to become paranoid about China and to officially dislike it. Australia has no reason to do so. Any attempts by the Chinese to undermine Australian sovereignty can be countered by the many intelligence agencies Australia sees fit to foster.
America, on the other hand, has worked itself into a slather, based around the fact that it wants to remain the World’s top dog. With the Chinese economy strengthening year by year and the American economy declining it has looked for someone, anyone, to blame other than itself. China became the whipping boy. Instead of looking for co-operative arrangements with China leading to mutually positive outcomes, America took China on. It wants to contain China. It wants to weaken China; it wants to reduce competition.
American diplomatic skills are weak. It has not sought to seriously negotiate with China. When American diplomacy breaks down it quickly resorts to the threat of force, or it engages in military exercises designed to intimidate. And Australia has given up sovereignty to assist, such as patrolling shipping lanes in the South China Sea with or on behalf of the US. There is no threat to Australia from Chinese claims in the South China Sea. There is from banging our little drum on behalf of America.
Certainly, regional dynamics have changed with the aggressive leadership of Chinese President, Xi Jinping. With growing wealth comes increased well-being and power. Xi is keen and determined to carve out a new place for China in the world. He seeks respect for China, perhaps not always in the most subtle of ways but understandable at the hundreds of years of humiliation at the hands of European and Japanese occupying powers. If you don’t understand that about Hong Kong then you understand nothing of Chinese history.
There has been absolutely no reason to be part of American foreign policy toward China. At a time when America was vilifying China and blaming it for stoking the war in Viet Nam, Australia, reclaiming its sovereignty under Labor leader, Gogh Whitlam, from the craven LNP, opened relations with China. It parlayed successfully with Mao Zedong, a leader infinitely more aggressive than Xi Jinping, and with skilled diplomacy turned it into a most enduring and productive relationship for nearly 50 years before being trashed by Morrison. Ceding sovereignty to the US over China has cost us dearly and maybe costlier if the US in its infinite stupidity goes to war with China.
And war is a possibility with the US arms industry pushing policies of confrontation. To assist the United States in their competitive paranoia we purchased from them a flying lemon, the F35, foisted upon a gullible and sycophantic John Howard, who became a major seller of Australian sovereignty, all the time hiding the sale behind the so called Anzac tradition and Australian jingoism. Australian diplomacy has been a victim with senior appointments going to LNP politicians and resource cuts to overseas posts, language training and aid. Regional posts have been particularly hard hit with Australia being unable to influence adverse political developments, most recently the military crack down in Myanmar. A diminution of diplomatic influence represents a diminution of sovereignty. One actor who benefits from this is China. And America will not protect our interests in Asia because we have different interests and because its influence is limited. Again, Myanmar is a case in point.
As we know Morrison is a blustering bully. He is not a nurturer; I doubt he would even understand the meaning of the word. Having sold and ceded our sovereignty to the US on the international market, all but rendering Australia incapable of making independent decisions, Morrison is now hellbent on squandering domestic sovereignty. He is dividing the nation on the most basic of issues, the rights of women. And it centres on the most ugly and cruellest of reasons, denial of rape, concerning people and environments he is directly responsible for. An issuing looming is the likely failure of timely Covid vaccinations of the Australian people. The infection of a doctor in Brisbane this week is indicative of the coming Covid corruption that may yet put us all at risk. Morrison had himself injected with the superior Pfizer vaccination which is not available to the rest of the population. How will that play out? It is deeply divisive, which is the antithesis of fostering sovereignty.
Without domestic sovereignty, which requires a clear consensus on how to handle fundamental issues, whether natural disasters, climate change or a significant social problem, a nation is weakened and open to exploitation both from within and without. Morrison is squandering, indeed exploiting social capital for his political survival. His behaviour and his instincts are dictatorial. Australia’s loss of internal cohesion at the hands of Morrison further undermines what remains of our limited sovereignty.
Bruce Haigh is a retired diplomat and political commentator.