China v Australia, and the national interest v The Australian

Jan 13, 2022
Peter Dutton
Aggressive posturing towards our largest trading partner: Defence Minister Peter Dutton. (Image: AP/Rod McGuirk)

Its readers could be forgiven for suspecting the News Corp broadsheet is trying to lead us into war under the guise of destroying authoritarianism.

The hawkish proclivity that resonates through The Australian — mostly duplicitous conversations around the benefits of the United States in the region at the behest of China — have ramped up to McCarthyesque levels in recent months.

This is partly a result of Defence Minister Peter Dutton’s aggressive posturing towards our largest trading partner, but also due to the continued aggressive stances published in the broadsheet by the public facing think-tank of the defence department: the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).

The fearmongering, which is part Sinophobia and part vacuous kowtowing to the US, has only helped to exacerbate any conflict that is likely to involve Australia in the near future. If that does happen, The Australian will harbour a great deal of the blame.

The paper regularly publishes opinion columns by the hawkish foreign editor Greg Sheridan, as well as a raft of editorials, all espousing the same pro-war, pro-military spending rhetoric. They also reserve a large section for letters to the editor that contain a raft of aggressive and Sinophobic views.

Some of its latest editorials have preached indefatigable militarism and aggression towards China-often with little to no subtlety or restraint. Take for example the following.

The opening lines to two separate editorials on December 27th:

Acceptance by the Solomon Islands government of a Chinese offer of police help and riot gear to deal with unrest is troubling.”

The deterioration in Australia’s strategic outlook has been well documented as Chinese militarism increases.”

On December 24th: “With China aggressively enhancing its offensive military capacity in every sphere of potential conflict, including space … [means] Peter Dutton’s disclosure that Australia will get the first of our nuclear-powered submarines five years ahead of schedule is unalloyed good news.”

 And on December 1st: “Facing up to the dangers of Chinese militarism [and] backing Australian Defence Force personnel have been important hallmarks of the Morrison government … such policies and actions serve our national interest.”

 Recently the News Corp paper published an article by Ross Fitzgerald with the garrulous headline “Are we even remotely ready for a real crisis?” The piece, penned by the emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University, laments Australia’s unreadiness as a society to go to war — as if any rational society would want this, let alone with a nuclear superpower. As with other opinion pieces in The Australian, the article plays on patriotism — or at least a perceived lack of it among the younger generations. Therefore, the paper is able to tie in the prevailing culture wars — namely an education system with a perceived ‘black armband’ view of history — to a need for military aggression. With the broadsheet already established as a mouthpiece for the increasingly conservative Liberal government, this editorial stance makes sense for them.

But why this aggressive and fervent obsession with a nation that continues to prop up large sectors of the Australian economy? The Australian knows the necessities of a strong relationship with the Chinese Communist Party — even if the two political ideologies are in many ways opposite. Rightly or wrongly, this is why West Australian Premier Mark McGowan is keen to maintain ties with China. The same can be said of mining magnate Andrew Forrest.

Undoubtedly China’s aggressive posturing towards Australia has played a part in the diplomatic breakdown, and its sensitivity to human rights violations in Xinjiang must not be understated. These issues are both serious and well documented. The Chinese Communist Party’s continued secrecy around the Uyghur population’s claims of being on the receiving end of mass imprisonment and ‘re-education’ only exacerbates many in the defence communities’ distrust of China as a whole.

To claim however, as The Australian so regularly does, that this conflict is one-sided, is inept journalism with more than a sign of jingoistic drum beating. Such aggression though, cannot be just down to bombastic nationalism. Financial incentives also play a part.

When discussing the actors behind the panicked tone surrounding claims China is corrupting Australia’s core institutions, author of China Panic, academic David Brophy, notes that “we can say with some confidence that security agencies have led the way.”

The ASPI’s former head, Peter Jennings, advised John Howard on intelligence going into the Iraq war and the think-tank has taken on his interventionist policies from the illegal war in 2003, expanding them into the Indo-Pacific. When he stood down in September The Australian stated that during his 10-year tenure, “China went from being an economic opportunity to a national security threat”.

The think-tank receives funding from both the Australian government and the US State Department. Stoking tensions in the region with a “get tough” rhetoric on China doesn’t harm these continued financial procurements. Funding also arrives in the form of contracts with defence groups. These include Thales Australia, BAE Systems Applied Intelligence and Lockheed Martin. It doesn’t take an Oliver Stone level of conspiracist to see that there is a pecuniary benefit in the ASPI continuing their obsequious and unwavering belief in the likelihood of a military conflict.

The Australian is all too happy to act as a stenographic mouthpiece for the ASPI, stoking fear and playing into the hands of the Australian government’s attempted strong handing under the guise of national interest. The paper’s raison d’être now revolves between unbridled nationalism and a focused and unwavering belief in the nation’s relationship with the United States. Anything else is met with scorn.

The bringing in of the new year should usher in hope of some respite from a two-year horror show that has been the pandemic. For Australia’s hawks however, a return to Canberra after the singing of Auld Lang Syne will only bring with it renewed aggression towards China. The national broadsheet is only too happy to play its part in this media conflict.

 

 

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