Diplomatic insanity: Canberra sacrifices China influence for US alliance

Nov 11, 2021
US Capitol
(Image: Unsplash)

Australia continues to damage its most important trading relationship — with China — by supporting the US’s limitless ambition in the region.

All vainglorious and limitless ambitions to rule the world are doomed to failure, regardless of which state pursues them.

The world, whether it be the global economy or the politics of other countries, is simply too complex for rational management, even by the world’s only superpower.

Cynical, promiscuous and unsuccessful interventions have, nonetheless, been a consistent feature of US foreign policy since World War II regardless of the president. In Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, to name only four of dozens, they have left the world more dangerous and uncertain, inciting anti-Americanism and provoking violent resistance to the unwelcome interference of the West.

Washington’s wars usually go awry and become uncontrollable. They produce unexpected consequences and insoluble problems, lessons which are painfully learned and then quickly unlearned by the imperial power, ensuring the cycle of conflict and instability continues without interruption.

The collapse of bipolarity with the demise of the USSR in 1991 not only destroyed the balance of power in the global system, it encouraged the United States to act recklessly and unilaterally in Latin America, Central Asia and the Middle East at a terrible cost to those who live in these regions.

The rise of China in the post-colonial era, from rapid economic developer and partner to strategic rival and competitor, marks the first serious challenge to this unipolar world, more accurately described as “full spectrum dominance” or American primacy.

Australia gets caught up in Washington’s China blame game

To understand Canberra’s bizarre decision to sabotage its own relationship with Beijing, Washington’s “limitless ambitions” in the region must therefore be properly understood.

As it has been reconstituted by Sinophobes in the United States and Australia, the “China threat” is little more than the emergence of a new Great Power which doesn’t take orders from Washington. As Paul Keating recently wrote, it is China’s mere existence as an independent actor on the world stage that angers the West’s political elites.

It poses no threat to other states in the region, or Washington’s strategic dominance in East Asia which features vastly superior naval technologies and numerous military outposts off the coast of China. For context, the US has more than 800 military bases around the world whilst China has one in Djibouti.

It is unlikely to discontinue or even interrupt its lucrative trade and investment relationship with the West because there is too much at stake. But China has the potential to influence other states in the region in ways that may not complement US interests, and this is intolerable. Like others on Washington’s enemies list such as Iran, Cuba, Russia and North Korea, China’s unforgivable sin is that it does not take orders from the boss. Successful defiance must be punished, especially for the bad example it might set for others.

Instead of the “US threat” and the “consolidation of American hegemony”, we are told about the “China threat” and the challenge it poses to the “rules-based international order” — a euphemism for a world where Washington sets the rules, allies shuffle along in obedience, and others must comply or expect violent retribution. To be clear, China poses a threat not to the security, sovereignty or the economies of the West, but to the unchallenged preponderance of American power.

In Washington’s determination to maintain its strategic superiority in East Asia, Australia is a willing, if minor support act. This is the context in which infantile diplomatic spats and more consequential submarine acquisitions should be understood. AUKUS is not just a retreat from regional engagement and a nostalgic trip down Anglosphere Lane. Together with the Quad and concomitant troop deployments which will surely follow, it is Canberra’s contribution towards Washington’s containment of China’s growing influence. For a country which heavily depends on the Middle Kingdom remaining its most important trading partner, this is nothing less than diplomatic insanity.

The cringe comes back: has Australia misunderstood its place in Asia again?

What began as a recent, if belated discovery of communism in China by jejune journalists and backbenchers, soon became a pillar of the Morrison government’s efforts to ingratiate itself with the Trump administration. It went from injudicious calls by Foreign Minister Marise Payne for a unilateral investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 virus to preposterous accusations about Chinese spies in Australian universities. And a plethora of unfathomable stupidities in between.

Export markets and foreign investment have been lost, ministerial contacts have ceased and necessary efforts to engage with China on the challenges of climate change, despite many in the Coalition still thinking the problem is a hoax, have stalled. What has been gained?

The Australian government’s complaints about Beijing’s repression in Hong Kong, threats to Taiwan and human rights violations in Xinjiang, are insincere and should be ignored. Or better still, matched with Canberra’s concerns about Saudi Arabia’s atrocities in Yemen which have produced an appalling humanitarian crisis, Israel’s war crimes in Gaza, Indonesia’s ongoing repression in West Papua, US interference in Venezuela and Bolivia today, or its 60-year embargo of Cuba.

In other words, Canberra speaks out loudly against China’s outrages, knowing it can do nothing about them because it has consciously sacrificed any vestiges of influence it once had with the Chinese Communist Party. It seeks the moral high ground, from which it can condemn miscreants who do not reach our lofty humanitarian heights.

However, Canberra remains conspicuously silent about the (arguably worse) crimes of friends, allies and partners which it could attenuate if it actually believed in the principled, ethical behaviour it likes to espouse. This is much more than hypocrisy, double standards and not giving a tinker’s cuss. It constitutes complicity in the heinous crimes of friendly states.

Having annoyed the Biden administration and betrayed the French over the submarine fiasco, Australia continues to damage its most important trading relationship without being able to identify one benefit from driving the relationship to its nadir.

Rather than being reluctantly dragged into America’s endless wars as the price of alliance security, Australia has been an enthusiastic advocate for, and participant in, Washington’s imperial adventures. Canberra’s direct and vicarious hostility to China continues this pattern.

Unless we remind ourselves that Australia’s political class is a fully paid subscriber to the “West versus the rest” global struggle, which centres on maintaining Washington’s strategic primacy around the world, recent events would remain inexplicable.

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