A briefing for Prime Minister Albanese for his discussion with President XiNov 3, 2023
You will receive briefings from many of your advisors, including from the Office of National Intelligence. My experience is that intelligence agencies have a lot of information but they often have poor judgement. The framing of issues by our intelligence agencies very often reflects the views and habits of the US and the Anglosphere.
I hope you will also find the following briefing useful.
Yours is the first Australian Prime Ministerial visit after seven difficult years in relations between our two countries. Hostility and fear of China is now widespread. Previous governments and our media have maliciously and in ignorance, fanned this hostility and fear. It will be hard to repair the damage.
We know how important the economic and trading relations are. With over 30% of our two-way trade with China, there would be very major disruptions in Australia, particularly in employment, if that trade was severely damaged.
Richard Marles and others promoting fear of China highlight how it is important to protect our shipping routes. But we have a common interest with China in protecting those routes. Our exports are China’s imports. China does not want disruption and neither do we. But our actions in association with US naval fleets in the South China Sea may cause problems.
China does not have its navy patrolling up and down the Californian coast or the Florida Keys.
Our histories, cultures and systems of government are different, so we must learn about each other. If we don’t, we will make the same mistakes again and again. We need to be much more Asia literate. Unfortunately there has been a dramatic reduction in our learning about Asia in our schools, universities, business and the media. The learning retreat has become a rout. Urgent action is necessary.
We are a settler community that is trying to come to terms with our Asian geography. Historically, we looked to Britain for support and protection. We were fearful of Asia. When Britain failed us, we looked to the US. One result of that is that we have inherited a US universe that dominates so much of our politics, economy, culture, intellectual and media life. It is hard for us to break free and determine our own course in Asia and with China.
There is a tug of war between our strategic and political relations with the US and our economic relations with China – between our history and our geography.
Unfortunately, America is falling into a trap by thinking the 21st Century will be decided by military and not economic leadership.
Since neither America or China think the other will invade and occupy it (because each has a nuclear deterrent), the contest will be won by which country is most appealing to the emerging nations, whose combined population already far exceeds that of developed countries and whose total GDP will soon overtake the rich world too.
America thinks that what the third world most wants is American style democracy and armed protection from China. But the main problems in these countries is rampant crime and violence and lack of jobs. China addresses both by offering police training to restore civil order and infrastructure projects to ignite economic growth. Also, it does not make its own governance model a condition for aid.
Of concern is the messaging out of Washington after your recent visit that if you pursue rapprochement with China, Congressional support for AUKUS will end. Ben Packham in The Australian of 27 October reported:
The US congress has been warned that the AUKUS deal will punch a two decade-long hole in the country’s already-stretched nuclear submarine plans, threatening America’s military deterrence.
A Congressional Budget Office report, published as Anthony Albanese departed the US, warns the Virginia-class boats that Australia wants to buy will not be guaranteed to support the US in any conflict, noting Australia’s refusal to pledge to join the US in a war with China over Taiwan.
The CBO, created to help congress make effective policy, said the AUKUS plan had imposed “major uncertainty” over the US submarine plans.
It warns the US Navy’s latest shipbuilding blueprint, which doesn’t yet factor in the boats to be sold to Australia, would require a 31-40 per cent budget boost.
The report comes amid concerns over the Albanese government’s push to stabilise ties with Beijing, with President Joe Biden publicly warning the Prime Minister ahead of his trip to Beijing about trusting Xi Jinping’s word.
There are several particular matters that you or President Xi may want to discuss.
Many Australians and particularly our Mainstream Media (MSM) accuse China of economic coercion. We are both trying to put an end to that by tying up some loose ends very quickly such as on the trade restrictions on Australian wine and lobsters.
The trade problems started with the Morrison Government. Foolishly and to ingratiate ourselves with President Trump, we very publicly pointed the finger at China over the Covid outbreak. That matter could have been better handled diplomatically, and together with other countries.
We also launched many anti dumping actions against Chinese goods coming to Australia. On advice from the Five Eyes, we banned Huawei and even rejected Chinese investment in one of our milk companies. China took exception and imposed trade barriers that our media, with encouragement from the US and others, transformed into stories of Chinese economic coercion.
Fears of China and Asia are so easy to promote in a settler society like ours.
It is also worth recalling that the US took advantage of our lost markets in China.
But we hope we can now put trade issues behind us and each learn from our mistakes.
Is China a military threat to Australia?
There has been much alarmist talk about this in Australia, encouraged by Richard Marles and others. But China has neither the intent or capacity to attack us.
The Nine Newspapers in cooperation with a Defence and a military funded think tank, warned us in ‘Red Alert’ that we should prepare for war with China within three years. That nonsense was allowed to run without any government rebuttal.
The Government’s Defence Strategic Review was authored by a senior officer of the United States Studies Centre in Sydney. That would cause China to be dubious about our independence in defence issues.
There certainly has been a significant build up in China’s military spending, but it is still small compared with the US. It is understandable, with many US military bases surrounding it, that China is concerned about self defence.
As Kishore Mahbubani, a distinguished Singapore former diplomat and academic and distinguished fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, noted…
“America’s behaviour during its period of emergence as a great power conforms to the historical norm. China’s behaviour so far, defies the norm. Of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (who represent the great powers), only one has not fought a war in 40 years; China. Indeed, China has not even fired a bullet across its borders since a naval skirmish with Vietnam in 1989.”
The US is perpetually at war. I have written about this many times. The US unfortunately believes that rising powers will be as warlike as the US has been and still is. As Chas Freeman, a senior ex US diplomat has put it, “the US sees China through the dark rear mirror of its own unbridled aggression.”
In Pearls and Irritations, Percy Allan has also written about Why China is not a threat: Sinophobia unites Americans. These articles would be useful background reading on your flight to Beijing.
President Xi may not raise this matter. He probably thinks that AUKUS is so absurd it will never happen. As Paul Keating has said, putting eight submarines against China is like throwing a handful of toothpicks at a mountain. The Chinese would also be well informed about the problems AUKUS faces: cost, delay, nuclear waste, US Congress and growing opposition in Australia. Even Alexander Downer now has doubts about AUKUS.
Force Posture Agreement (FPA)
President Xi is more likely to be concerned about the FPA that was first signed with the US in 2014, by the Abbott Government. The FPA is clearly directed at China.
- Facilitates the stationing in Darwin, for six months each year, of up to 2,500 US Marines; they are trained and equipped for immediate deployment and while in Australia, train for war in exercises with the Australian Defence Force. They are not under the control of the Australian government. They are under the control of the US Indo-Pacific Command.
- Facilitates unimpeded access to Australia’s airfields and airport facilities for US fighter planes and bombers including the stationing of up to six B-52 bombers at RAAF Base Tindal. B-52 bombers were used to devastate Vietnam in that war and some are capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
- Facilitates unimpeded access to Australia’s seaports for U.S. naval vessels including their nuclear submarines at HMAS Stirling in WA.
- Facilitates establishment of storage facilities for aircraft fuel, spare parts and munitions under US military control. This includes huge fuel storage facilities at East Arm, Darwin and logistics facilities for storage of equipment, munitions and spare parts at Bandiana in Victoria.
- The FPA opened the door for the imbedding of US military intelligence operatives within the Australian defence intelligence organisation, now called the Combined Intelligence Centre-Australia.
- Under the FPA, a US command centre has been established in Darwin to control US aircraft operations and another command centre in Darwin to control US marine operations.
Parts of Northern Australia are very obviously being taken over as a US military colony for possible attacks on China.
One matter which may affect this military colonisation of Northern Australia is the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People that Australia signed fourteen years ago.
As Henry Reynolds has pointed out, Article 30/2 of that Declaration states that:
“States shall undertake effective consultations with the indigenous people concerned, through appropriate procedures and in particular through their representative institutions, prior to using their lands or territories for MILITARY activities.”
Following the defeat of the Voice Referendum, Indigenous communities in Northern Australia may take an active interest in US military colonisation of their lands. They are also concerned about disposal of nuclear waste.
One particular matter President Xi might raise is US nuclear armed B-52 planes based at Tindal. Penny Wong has said many times that neither the US or Australia ‘will confirm or deny’ that these aircraft are nuclear armed. In anticipation of Chinese concern about this I checked what PM Fraser said in the Parliament on 11 March, 1981. He said:
‘The Australian Government has a firm policy that aircraft carrying nuclear weapons will not be allowed to fly over or stage through Australia without its prior knowledge and agreement. Nothing less than this would be consistent with the maintenance of our national sovereignty’.
Malcolm Fraser is a good guide on such matters.
The Australian position is quite clear. We support the One China policy like most countries around the world, including the US, although President Biden often walks backwards on the policy.
Despite continual American political and military provocations, we should urge China to be patient on Taiwan. There are strong ethnic, cultural, economic and personal links between the people of Taiwan and people on the mainland. We hope that these links will eventually help resolve this matter peacefully.
Unfortunately, Peter Dutton and others have been beating war drums over Taiwan and suggesting that it is inconceivable that we would not join the US in a war over Taiwan.
More concerning is a recent statement by Richard Marles to a Defence Dialogue in the ROK on 18 October last month that ‘the consequences of a US-China conflict over Taiwan are so grave that we cannot be passive bystanders’. Defence people can be very loose cannons at times, so it is important to assure President Xi that despite our strong ties with the US we will not be involved in any conflict over Taiwan.
There is good precedent for Australia sitting it out over Taiwan.
Alexander Downer, in August 2004, said in Beijing that ‘ANZUS did not necessarily commit Australia to siding with the US in a war over Taiwan.’
As Paul Keating said two years ago: ‘defending Taiwan is not in Australia’s interest.’
We should urge China to be patient over Taiwan and not be provoked by the US.
Three years ago, there was a serious disruption in reciprocal media representation in our two countries. It is the first time since the 1970s that we now have no Australian media representation in China. China was concerned about ASIO raids on Chinese journalist’s homes in Australia.
It may be some consolation for the Chinese Government to know that ASIO also raids Australian journalists.
In response to the ASIO raids several Australian journalists were advised to leave China.
We must put those issues behind us and get journalists back into each other’s country. Hopefully President Xi would be responsive.
Such an arrangement would help improve the quality of Australian media portrayal of China. It is badly needed as so often our media coverage of China is inflammatory and prejudiced reposts of legacy media out of Washington, New York and London.
Recently the All China Journalists Association hosted a short term visit by Australian journalists to China. Hopefully that could be the beginning of re establishing permanent long term reciprocal media arrangements.
We are very pleased that China has released Cheng Lei. We hope that China will also release Yang Heng Jun.
It is pleasing to note that China is more responsive to our representations on behalf of Australian citizens than is the US over Julian Assange.
On terrorism, we know that China is concerned about the large number of ethnic and religious minorities and has taken firm action against terrorism in Xinjiang Province.
The US has been less successful in stamping out terrorism in the Middle East which has brought death and dislocation to millions of people.
President Xi may also raise with you the defeat of the Voice referendum and whether it reflects some racism against indigenous Australians, particularly in remote parts of Australia.
For more on this topic, P&I recommends: