The following article appeared in Pearls & Irritations on 18 April, 2022
A manifesto for a new incoming foreign minister.
Some old Diplomats retire and never think about international relations, Australian foreign policy or their former profession of diplomacy. Most don’t. Many remain friends and talk, at length, about international and domestic politics, events, disasters, war and climate change.
They find it hard to support most aspects of the Morrison government, particularly as it relates to the trashing of our international reputation, reflected at COP26, the collapse of our relationship with China, the hijacking of an independent defence policy by AUKUS and ASPI and the derision of DFAT by the LNP.
It is agreed amongst these sober minds that a new incoming minister for foreign affairs has some serious issues to address in the collapsed mess of what was once Australian foreign policy.
After much discussion and lengthy consideration, a manifesto for a new incoming foreign minister has been produced.
The first major issue is climate change.
Australia needs to apologise to the world for it’s greedy, selfish and thoughtless promotion of fossil fuel. It needs to engage with progressive countries and regional neighbours to urgently address the issue of emissions. It needs to work with Pacific Island nations to help ameliorate the effect of climate change on their land mass. This can start with open visas, allowing people to move between island states and Australia.
The second is China and the US.
Xi Jinping is overseeing a more assertive China. He has trodden on toes in his quest to see China accorded international respect. America fears the growing power of China’s economic success. At a time of global warming, it has embarked on a policy of ‘containment’, which involves confrontation rather than co-operation. American diplomacy stands a number of paces behind the American military machine. Threat, real and implied, and coercion are the stock in trade of American diplomacy and although their diplomats speak the language of conciliation, they are in lock step with the US military/industrial complex.
Americans in positions of power and influence speak a language peppered with military phraseology. America is a military nation. It has militarised the world. For America, guns are the solution to difficult problems, either through surrogates or directly. This acts out domestically and internationally.
China has pushed back. There are those that argue that Russia has done the same thing, although Putin actions make that contention perverse. The Chinese military infrastructure in the South China Sea can be seen as a response to the American fundamentalist Christian/military reaction to China with all of the racist undertones evident to anyone who stands back from the Murdoch/White House version of reality.
Australia, without a lot of thought, has embraced the language and attitudes of their dominant ‘partner’. Their own incipient racism has been given comfort and encouragement, together with their low-grade militarism embodied in the poorly constructed ANZAC myth.
It was a short step for Morrison to respond to Trump and attempt to take a rise out of Xi Jinping over the origins of Covid. The undertaking demonstrated the stupidity of Morrison, an impression reinforced over the intervening years.
Believing the United States has its back, Australia ditched any pretence of conducting a diplomatic dialogue with China, instead it has been bellicose and bullying. There seems to be a belief that this approach to China will cause it to alter what Australia considers to be bad behaviour. Australia acts as if it had as much power and influence as China. Instead, it draws its bravado from a belief that its mentor approves and backs its behaviour.
In fact, the United States is using Australia. It has the LNP acting as a Punch and Judy show toward China. When Australia lost markets in China the US cynically and opportunistically picked them up. The US proposed AUKUS, an arrangement to give them enhanced basing rights around Australia, particularly in the north. They got the French submarine deal ditched to clear the way for their own nuclear submarines to be based in Australia. They will put the north of Australia on a quasi-war footing. They are using Australia to militarily confront China.
There are two major issues. One is for a proper and independent Australian analysis of the threat posed by China and for Australia to improve the relationship with China. For that to happen there will have to be an admission of mistakes made, including by the Chinese, whose economic sanctions have been overkill. They have not had the desired effect; in fact, they have hardened the attitude toward China by conservative Australians who comprise over 50% of the adult population.
Nonetheless discrete negotiations need to begin almost as soon as the new ministry is sworn in.
The other major policy issue to be addressed is pushing back the United States. There is no need or reason for Australia to share American paranoia toward China. Australia is struggling to retain its sovereignty; it would help considerably if it were to be demonstrated and explained to the US that the alliance has its limits. We can be friends without being vassals. Our standing in the region, indeed in the world would be enhanced and improved were we to do so.