Fractured consensus, fabricated facts, and the truth of Western wars

Feb 28, 2024
Aukus is a trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Relations between AUKUS and China

Why, when the majority of civil society opposes Australia going to war against China, and public confidence in the United States’ will and capacity to defend Australia is declining, do successive governments pursue AUKUS and a war with China over Taiwan with such enthusiasm?

The daily spillage from government and media delivers so little reliable fact that it’s hard to be sure about what we once thought we knew.

Most consumers of Western media think they know what happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989, and what has been happening in Xinjiang. Many ‘know’ how Alexei Navalny died in 2024. So those who disagree about Russia or China must be conspiracy theorists.

We aren’t so sure what we think about events in which the West may be implicated. Who, for example, orchestrated the Maidan coup that overthrew the president of Ukraine in 2014? Who blew up the Nordstream II pipeline in 2022? Who in the US or Israel knew in advance about the Hamas outbreak on 7 October 2023 and failed to prevent it?

Going back further, who was behind the plane crash that killed Dag Hammarskjöld in 1961, or the assassination of Ngô Đình Diệm in 1963? Why, during the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, did the USS Vincennes shoot down a civilian Iran Air plane? How did an American bomb ‘accidently’ destroy the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999? Who knew for certain that Saddam Hussein had slaughtered babies in Kuwait in 1990, and could attack the West with weapons of mass destruction in 2003?

A detailed dissection of the lies about such events appeared in 2023, so it predated some of them. After reading AB Abrams’ Atrocity Fabrication and its Consequences, even sceptics are likely to begin mistrusting everything put out by media and governments about foreign affairs and defence. The current wars in Ukraine and Gaza are selectively reported, and so is the prospective one in China.

In March 2023, five relentlessly Sinophobic commentators in the SMH and Age series ‘Red Alert’ backed Peter Hartcher in claiming that ‘the overwhelming source of danger to Australia is from China — and we’re not prepared for it’. Less than a year later, with Australian governments committed to spending enormous (and unspecified) sums on weapons systems, military facilities, and training to counter China, Hartcher accused former Prime Minister Paul Keating of wanting Australia to be ‘timid in defending its national sovereignty’ (SMH 24 February 2024).

To counter Keating’s assertion that China has no record of attacking other states, the only evidence Hartcher could produce was China’s border dispute with India in 1962 and its brief, unsuccessful attempt to ‘teach Vietnam a lesson’ in 1979. Yet the world record for attacking others is held by the United States. If Americans claim a right to maintain their influence in the Asia-Pacific region, why should Chinese have no such right?

Hartcher accused a rising China of becoming more oppressive at home and expansionist abroad, and President Xi of wanting to impose dominance and extinguish liberty. So Australia should not be timid in ‘defending its sovereignty’, Hartcher wrote, picking up the term much used and abused for two years by Prime Minister Albanese and Defence Minister Marles while they were handing large tranches of it to the United States.

What does Australia get in return? A diminishing number of second-hand American and as yet undesigned British nuclear-powered submarines that, as Hugh White has shown, are not what Australia needs or can build; multiple problems with maintaining, crewing, and delivering them; and an agreement that’s likely to fail, perhaps acrimoniously. It is, says Professor White (in ‘Dead in the Water: The AUKUS Delusion’, AFR February 2024), our most disastrous defence policy mistake ever.

Why, when the majority of civil society opposes Australia going to war against China, and public confidence in the United States’ will and capacity to defend Australia is declining, do successive governments pursue AUKUS with such enthusiasm? Hartcher credits Keating with Australia’s prosperity during the Asian and global financial crises, but as Keating knows, China underwrote that. So why, since the halcyon 1990s, has China been recast as a threat to Australia?

The answer lies in China’s rise, for which it expected acceptance and respect. Instead, it received mistrust and hostility from the US for daring to challenge America’s global hegemony. As US-China competition intensified, Australia and Canada had to choose which side they were on, despite China being Australia’s largest trading partner from 2007 and largest export market from 2009. Even as Australia welcomed President Obama’s 2011 pivot to Asia (and against China), Canberra joined China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, signed a free trade agreement, and Prime Minister Turnbull looked forward to cooperation on Belt and Road (BOR) projects.

But US warnings about China’s protection of its shipping lanes soon affected defence strategy reviews in Australia, producing legislation against foreign influence, and language about ‘pushing back’ and ‘standing up’ to China. Huawei was banned from Australia’s 5G network in 2018; joint military exercises were cancelled in 2019; Victoria’s BOR agreement was cancelled in 2020; and after Australia implicitly blamed China for COVID-19, import bans followed. In 2021, AUKUS was intended to ‘protect our shared values’ (even those of Trump).

In fact, AUKUS identifies Australia as hostile to China and increases our dependence on the US. Correctly, Beijing sees AUKUS as an anti-China alliance. As Alexander Korolev argues in the Journal of International Affairs (February 2023), it puts Australia on the front line of a potential US-China war. In such a war, Australia stands to lose the most.

For that reason, public opposition to AUKUS is spreading faster than enthusiasm for hostility to China.

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