Henry Wotton is perhaps best remembered as the author of the phrase that an ambassador was an honest gentleman sent abroad to lie for the good of his country.
Updated to the 21st century one might say that the modern Foreign Secretary is someone who lies for the good of their country. In Australia’s case as we progress through the 21st century we are constantly confronted with glaring examples of Wotton’s dictum.
We might not be so blunt as to refer to it as “lying”, but certainly, to use modern phraseology, the modern diplomat (or foreign minister as will be discussed) puts a particular gloss on events that on closer examination not only take liberties with the truth, but frequently amount to a total distortion of reality.
Making solemn pronouncements on the leaders of some of obscure third world country of minimal real world attachment to one’s own country is one thing; to make pontifical and manifestly absurd statements about the alleged policies of one’s biggest trading partner, by a considerable margin, is something else. An argument might be made that her comments border on the profoundly stupid, even if one chooses to ignore the blatant hypocrisy, which in the case under review is manifestly the truth.
In a recent speech in Sydney Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne indulged in some spectacular examples of comments that range from the blatantly false to the merely profoundly stupid.
China, she insisted, should be held accountable for their human rights abuses domestically because, she said, “countries that respect and promote their citizens rights at home tend also to be better international citizens.”
Ms Payne singled out the alleged treatment by the Chinese government of its Uighur people in Xinjiang province. The Chinese government has denied allegations of abuse and while the allegations are plentiful, especially from United States sources, actual evidence is remarkably difficult to find.
Had Ms Payne left it there it would have been relatively unremarkable. Unfortunately for her argument, she went on to say that “the United States has a record unmatched in modern times in leading an international system aimed at benefiting all people, not just its own.”
At this point one has to seriously ask: just what planet does Ms Payne occupy? Since the end of World War II in 1945 the United States has been almost totally engaged in warfare throughout the world. According to the late United States historian William Blum, the United States between 1945 in 2005 has attempted to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments, to crush more than 30 popular nationalist movements and killed more than 40 million people. Since Blum’s book was published in 2005 the carnage has continued non-stop
.Despite a manifestly illegal invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, all with the willing compliance and active assistance of Australia, the carnage continues, as does the blatant interference in the domestic affairs other countries.
Ms Payne is correct to say that the United States’s record is “unmatched in modern times” but not in the way that any country that really accepted the principles of international law that Ms Payne purports to uphold would recognise.
It is not just the hypocrisy of criticising the government of China and extolling the virtues of the world’s most dangerous and internationally unlawful government of modern times that stands out. China is Australia’s most important trading partner by a considerable margin, taking three times the value of Australia’s exports than its next largest trading partner, Japan. The value of trade with China was nearly $135 billion in 2018-2019 compared to less than $15 billion with the United States.
China is also Australia’s largest source of foreign students (a multi billion dollar revenue source) the largest source of foreign tourists (also worth multi billions of dollars to the local economy) and the third largest source of foreign investment.
It wasn’t just China that revealed Mrs Payne’s profound ignorance and stupidity. She also described Russia is being “revanchist” and “intent on disruption.” This is profound ignorance on a grand scale. It has led to such practically inconsequential actions as expelling Russian diplomats over the Skripal incident when the evidence is overwhelming that the alleged facts bare absolutely no resemblance to what actually happened, notwithstanding the absurd claims of the former British Prime Minister Theresa May.
To describe Russia as “intent on disruption” would be laughable were it not for the fact that it portrays a profound ignorance by the Minister, who is literally the countries top political figure on foreign affairs.
Australia under Ms Payne was one of a handful of countries around the world that rushed to recognise Juan Guaido as president of Venezuela (when he had not even been a candidate in that countries presidential election). It did demonstrate yet again Australia’s compliance with the United States view of the world, regardless of the facts or the law.
Her speech concluded with the observation that in the current period of political and strategic uncertainty, the Australia-United States alliance was more important than ever. The argument could and should be made that the precise opposite is true.
Not the least of the contributors to “political and strategic uncertainty” in the world are the actions of the United States itself, which as noted, has a history now extending more than seven violent destabilising decades.
A look at the map of the trading statistics should tell Australians where their interests and their future lie. By clinging to an outmoded and declining, violent United States, incapable of defending Australia even if it wanted to, is absurd. Any objective appraisal of the relative strengths of modern Russian and Chinese weaponry (as Andre Martyanov (2019) brilliantly demonstrated) viz a viz the overpriced and manifestly outclassed United States versions show, Australia is actually increasing its global risks rather than its safety.
Unfortunately the current political leadership seems incapable of grasping the strategic and economic realities of the 21st century.
*Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org