ABC shamelessly spruiks ‘China Threat’ stories on morning of ALP National Conference AUKUS debate

Aug 24, 2023
Early morning view of China highlighted in red on planet Earth. 3D

The morning of the ALP National Conference on 18 August, ABC online news led with two ‘Bad China’ stories. One about whether China is building an airstrip on a contested island, the other likely to cause great discomfort and anxiety to Australians because it showed the level of China’s spying on Australia via hundreds of satellites and Australia’s great disadvantage because we have no military satellites whatsoever.

Labor scrapped a Morrison government plan to develop our first 4 satellites fit for dual purpose – gathering both natural disaster and military data – along with a raft of other planned defence spending to create savings to pour into AUKUS.

The ABC report on Chinese spying during the recent joint military exercises generates the notion we are now on the back foot in the race for space as the ‘increasingly important domain for modern war-fighting operations across the globe’.

Curious then that no mention was made that the US has, not hundreds, but thousands of satellites monitoring eastern China and the South China Sea, collecting data on Chinese activity – information Australia would have access to via our 5 Eyes partnership, the biggest spy operation in the world.

What difference would 4 Australian satellites make?

Acquiring the satellites is both of practical and symbolic importance – the US is insisting its partners pull more weight in terms of funding the US war machine to enforce the Rules Based Order in a manner that both integrates all Defence procurement into that machine, but also guarantees the US control, and at the same time, with the assistance of the media, cements it as normal, because an enemy has been created from which only our alliance with the US can save us. Our acceptance of this as normal is where the current battle lines are drawn between the ALP Executive and growing parts of the Party’s membership.

The US doesn’t own all the satellites it controls. It can be mighty inconvenient if an owner steps in to exercise control, against US interests. The US can rely on Australia to never do an Elon Musk. The owner of Starlink drew the line at the satellites being used for military purposes in the Ukraine War, saying the service was intended to be used for communication purposes, not to start WW111.

Any Australian dual purpose satellites would be diverted at the drop of a hat according to US priorities – too bad if we are struggling with a natural disaster at the time. Of this we can be sure – our sovereignty has been relinquished. But, if there is comfort to be had, it is that we are members of a club of nations and outshone by Germany in its total capitulation and humiliation to US interests. A demonstration and a warning of how far the US will go in subordinating an ally to achieve its goals.

The mission Clinton Fernandes describes as ‘a full spectrum search for relevance to the US’ by Australia in his book Subimperial Power, is now more transparent than ever, and has enthusiastic bipartisan political support and a public largely convinced by the media its fear of China is warranted, though it is in fact our alliance with the US that is making us an enemy of China. China’s surveillance of joint military exercises conducted in preparation for war against China should surprise no one.

The effective monitoring of deep space can only take place in the southern hemisphere because of the earth’s tilted axis – hence Pine Gap has been hugely important. However new satellite technology has enabled many of Pine Gap’s functions to be carried out onboard satellites or in the US.

The war in Afghanistan gave Pine Gap renewed relevance, says Fernandes (p43, Subimperial Power), with the ‘Red Dot system’ which ‘integrates signals, imaging and all-source inputs in order to place a red dot on a computer display in a vehicle, alerting friendly forces to the existence of a possible IED (improvised explosive device) ahead.’ It has integrated Australia into US war fighting machinery since becoming operational in 1970.

However, new satellites with new capabilities, he says, need ‘greater space supporting infrastructure in Australia and a much larger analytical/interpretive effort at Pine Gap to keep Australia relevant – that means a greater and longer-term US presence (here)’.

Given Australia has agreed to AUKUS, the biggest transfer of wealth in our country’s history to another nation, as Bob Carr points out; and given that since the AUKUS deal more funds have been committed to integrating us into the US war machine with planes and missiles, if it pleases the US for Australia to spend public money on a few satellites to add to the thousands already operating, we will do so.

As deals struck at the recent Labor conference have shown, the government can buy off opposition to a dangerous alliance with jobs. Jobs are welcome, but should form part of government policy anyway. We should not have to exchange a few jobs for supporting the loss of Australian sovereignty and risking national security in the most fundamental and serious way – making the nation a US forward operating base and an increasingly likely nuclear target.

Jobs won’t help us if the US provokes a nuclear war with China.

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