Foreign Minister’s Tokyo claims Australia’s contribution to disinformation?

Australia’s Foreign Minister has announced she will travel to Tokyo to meet with other members of the Quad (the US, Japan and India) to jointly counter disinformation campaigns by authoritarian states and to ensure supplies of minerals and technology. Does this mean it is only authoritarian states that are not allowed to engage in disinformation? Surely Donald Trump would not engage in disinformation!

This will be only Marise Payne’s second trip abroad since the pandemic, the other being to Washington.

You can choose your own cliché about people in glasshouses or those without sin casting the first stone but the idea of this bunch taking the moral high ground on disinformation is mind boggling.

The US has a long record of disinformation. The much-abused Native American in westerns told us that White Man Speak with Forked Tongue and he was right. The US fought a brutal colonial war against the Philippine republic in 1898-1902 after being presented with the Philipines after negotiating a treaty with Spain, which no longer owned the country. Many other examples could be cited but none rise to the heights of sheer chutzpah as Donald Trump, who has just discovered that Covid-19 is not mocked.

Japan’s version of what happened during World War II is another outstanding case. Glossed over are the comfort women, medical experiments and other atrocities, while students are taught a version of the war that is not found outside of Japan. The contrast with Germany is clear.

India is engaged in a Hindu nationalist attack on its large Muslim minority, which has given rise to all kinds of myths to justify religious oppression. India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, called desperate Bangladeshi migrants “infiltrators” and claimed that Muslims who marry Hindu women were part of a scheme to subvert the culture.

Australia’s refugee policy is different from most other countries and Scotty from Marketing is a past master at disinformation. A hundred years of mateship ignores the facts to promote a version of US interest in Australia that suits the Government.

The Tokyo meeting is clearly directed at China, which has reacted predictably. The meeting is very much inspired by the US campaign against China and it is hard to see what it will achieve apart from pleasing American hawks. Why do this before the result of the US election is known?

This is not to deny that China also practises disinformation, as do most other countries when it suits them. Chinese international disinformation is pretty clumsy and doesn’t seem too convincing. Few people outside of China believe what is said about its treatment of the Uighurs, for example. Meanwhile, the Belt and Road is controversial: some say it is not what it seems and others say it is. Perhaps it is a bit of both? Chinese domestic disinformation may be more effective in less sophisticated areas of the country but maybe less so in the cities.

It seems our subservience to the dysfunctional United States of America has not changed. It is sad to see an Empire that has many virtues, and many faults, decline so rapidly but Australia must look forward. The Foreign Minister said this meeting will further our interests but it is hard to see how. Perhaps her claims are Australian disinformation?

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Cavan Hogue is a former diplomat who has worked in Asia, Europe and the Americas as well as at the UN. He also worked at ANU and Macquarie universities.

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