Former Australian prime minister Paul Keating wrote about the mishandling of the relationship with China by the Morrison government (The Australian Financial Review 6 September 2021) and should be of considerable interest. In his own unique way, he attacks the beat up of the China threat and unquestioning fawning to Washington. Keating says Australia must find its own way forward as a part of Asia.
The Morrison government is wantonly leading Australia into a strategic dead end by its needless provocations against China.
China is not the old Soviet Union.
It is not attacking or forcibly incorporating countries into a grand union, nor is it exporting some kind of universal ideology.
And it does not threaten nuclear Armageddon on a daily basis, as the Soviet Union did. Save for its front porch, the South China Sea, it broadly keeps to itself.
Its great problem is that it is now a state as large as the United States, and with the potential of being much larger – an unforgivable sin for American triumphalists.
And that sin has radiated over those Australians with a fawning, obsequious attitude to the US. How dare China shirt-front American economic pre-eminence!
This is what all this warmongering is about – China’s presence and scale. China’s rise is simply not in the American playbook – its very existence and at this scale is an affront to America’s notion of itself as the exceptional state, the proselytiser of divine providence.
Australia is a continent sharing a border with no other state. It has no territorial disputes with China – indeed, China is 12 flying hours away from the Australian coast.
Yet the government, both through its foreign policy incompetence and fawning compulsion to please America, effectively has us in a cold war with China.
It is true that China, like all big states, has become ruder as it has got bigger.
Under Xi Jinping and in its new foreign policy adolescence – its grand coming out – it expects other states to afford it deference and jump to its tune. But big states are invariably rude; it is the role of foreign policy to navigate the dangers without pulling the roof in – without military conflict.
For big-state rudeness, we need look no further than Iraq and Vietnam.
But we now have an ambassador to the US, Arthur Sinodinos, usurping the role of the foreign minister by making declaratory statements to claim that China’s coercion in the Pacific is now a bigger threat than September 11 terrorism and that ANZUS will hasten military and economic tie-ups to counter Beijing.
photo from the ABC: Arthur Sinodinos the current Australian ambassador to the US,
Sinodinos has even invented a Chinese challenge to ‘‘the way we run our domestic economy’’. Would any sane person suggest the various Chinese trade bans are anything like a cause for war? But Sinodinos does.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton says Australia needs to be in a position to defend its waters in the north and south – implying, without any basis whatsoever, that China may be a military aggressor. That’s a posture China has never shown any sign of.
The Morrison government is needlessly and irresponsibly pushing Australia towards a headlong confrontation with China – and doing it, in the main, to be seen in Washington as America’s fawning acolyte.
The whole notion of Australia’s right to an independent foreign policy – a right to be itself and act in its own interests – is being suborned by a government determined to subordinate its interests to those of another country.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the conservatives put all their strategic faith in Britain.
Now, dull as ever, and with the same fear of abandonment, they are placing their faith in the US – having no faith in Australia’s ability to make its way in Asia as a proud, resourceful and intelligent state in its own right.