As published in the Global Times – March 2021
China is the most powerful country in South East Asia. Short of nuclear weapons the US will find it increasingly difficult to project power and influence into the region. China is able to project that influence and power. SE Asian states are aware of the real politic. They will act and conduct their diplomacy and relations accordingly. Myanmar is a case in point. The US has few tools and limited influence to make a difference, China does. Australia believes, incorrectly in my opinion, that the United States will protect its interests.
That is naïve. The United States cannot build bridges for Australia into SE Asia and with China. Australian thinking and evolving policy amounts to isolationism.
White Australia has an apprehension about Asia and a fear of China dating back to the 1880’s centred on concern about cheap labour and invasion. Japan in WWII confirmed these fears.
The Morrison government does not realise the need to change its China policy. Weirdly and childishly, it says it will not allow Australian ‘values’ to be undermined by China, whatever that means. However other people in Australia deplore the Morrison government’s China policy. They include a cohort of former diplomats and academics, as well as people with first hand knowledge of China.
The US has dictated Australia’s China policy over the past seven years, first by Turnbull and then Morrison. Both sought to please Trump. Pleasing the United States is Australia’s default position with respect to foreign affairs and defence.
Biden was stung by the strong stance taken by Director Yang Jiechi and State Councillor Wang Yi at Anchorage. Biden has declared that what is now at stake is ‘autocracy or democracy’. What this fails to address is good governance. It has been reported that US leaders have vowed to ‘intensify competition with Beijing in the wake of the acrimonious anchorage meeting.’ It seems that rather than learn from Anchorage the Biden administration is going to maintain if not ramp up Trump’s anti- China policies.
The inexperienced Blinken, has repeated criticism that China has undertaken ‘blatant economic coercion of Australia’ which he said was an example of the ‘urgent threat posed by a resurgent authoritarian regime’. At the same time the Australian Ambassador to China, Graham Fletcher, addressing the Australia/China Business Council said China was being ‘vindictive’ toward Australia. He claimed ‘the escalating pattern of trade punishment had generated sympathy for Australia and hardened attitudes toward China around the Globe.’
This is in accord with instructions from Canberra and no doubt passed from Washington. The trade and diplomatic problems faced by Australia are as a result of complying with the US. The ‘support and backing’ promised by the US is welcomed by the LNP Morrison government. It will continue to follow the US in relation to China even though that by doing so it is harmful to Australia’s fundamental interests. The Murdoch media which control 70% of the flow of information in Australia backs this position.
Biden seems to have some sort of grand alliance in mind based on the premise that China is dangerous and seeks to dominate world affairs. For as long as that narrative is accepted there will be some countries who will continue to follow the United States. Australia will follow the US position on China for as long as it has an LNP government. An Australian Labor government will have a different and more positive perspective on China, but will still adhere to what is termed the American Alliance.
The current LNP government will maintain a defensive and negative position toward China even though Australia suffers as a result of trade boycotts. It does not have the imagination or courage to do anything else. It lacks the maturity to negotiate.
The impasse between China and the United States should be resolved through negotiation. These might take place under the auspices of the UN, along the lines of earlier nuclear arms negotiations. Agreement governing the mutual deployment of arms and the nature of future relations between the US and China might be a primary objective. The use of arms by both countries would impact on the world order more negatively than WWI and II combined.
The United States, faced with declining power and influence, is angry. It believes itself to be a force for good, despite Viet Nam and Iraq. Its diplomacy has traditionally been underpinned by the threat or use of arms. It takes white superiority to the negotiating table. Who can forget Kissinger? It is a crusader for democracy underpinned by Christianity. It is a champion of free speech, which has within it the free exchange of ideas. Not a bad thing when it works to the benefit of people. However, the reality is that many people in the United States live in poverty and the gap between rich and poor is growing. Guns, race and intolerance divides and weakens America and may further do so. However, it remains a powerful country.
The United States criticises China over the South China Sea, yet it maintains thirty offshore bases specifically targeting China. It has underwater listening devices in navigation channels and a host of other defence undertakings ranged against China. All on the basis that China is a hostile state.
Australia lacks leadership and has done so since Howard became Prime Minister in 1996.
It was a colonial settlement that displaced the local Indigenous inhabitants. It allowed the United Kingdom to dictate foreign and defence policy until 1942 and then in the face of a threat from the Japanese switched its alliance to the United States who has dictated Australian foreign and defence policy since then. It has a foreign head of state who is based overseas. It is a rich country, or it was, with a small population which lives off agriculture and mineral extraction. It is inwardly focused and narrow in outlook. It seeks to use the United States as a buffer against the rest of the world, particularly Asia and China which it fears because of enterprise and numbers of people.
Morrison is an extreme example of all that is wrong with Australia. His policy toward China is not in Australia’s interest from an economic, scientific, educational and cultural perspective. He is possibly the worst Prime Minister that Australia has had since Federation in 1901.
Since the ending of the Cold War the US Alliance has been of decreasing value for Australia. In fact, it has cost us in terms of our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, two totally unnecessary undertakings in terms of Australia’s national interest.
If Australia had the courage, it has the capacity for an independent foreign policy. New Zealand has demonstrated that.
Australia has ceded sovereignty to the United States for the reasons mentioned above plus the cultural dominance effected by the common language of English, whether through movies, music, magazines or Murdoch.
The Quad is a hasty and hopeless attempt to contain China. Only the current Australian government believes in it. Five Eyes is a western intelligence turn on but it delivers little because the US is not an honest broker. It with holds information. And it seeks to spin the information it gleans. Reading Five Eyes information is like reading a newspaper in Saudi Arabi, one must learn to read between the lines. And remember Pine Gap. A US spying facility in Australia where the host country only receives 60-70% of the information obtained.
Australia must treat China with the same respect it accords the United States. That is just a normal diplomatic courtesy. But there is more. There should be respect for China’s history, culture and military achievements, particularly in WWII and for the transformation of Chinese society over the past 75 years. There ought to be respect from Australia for what China has achieved for the people of China and for the Chinese contribution to mankind over those short number of years. There was a time when there was tremendous respect within Australia for China dating from Prime Minister Whitlam in 1972 which existed until Howard took power in 1996. There are many in Australia who still hold China with the greatest of respect, which contrasts with their attitude to Morrison and the LNP. We are in a bad place and seek the indulgence and understanding of old friends. There are people speaking for us who belittle us and break our hearts.