Malcolm Fraser would have agreed with Paul Keating on AUKUS

Jan 7, 2024
Chess pieces painted in US, UK, AUS flags

Like so many Australians, I am very worried by our commitment to AUKUS. I agree strongly with many other critics that we have been placed in peril by our government’s submarine agreement with the US and the UK.

As John Menadue wrote on 1st April “The AUKUS alliance has forever changed Australia’s sovereignty. Foreign policy and diplomacy have been pushed aside by military policy. Our Department of Defence employs US admirals to ‘advise’ on submarines to attack China. It should be renamed The Department of Attack.” John is also correct that any fear we had of China has been accentuated by much of our media.

John also expresses opinions that I have formed in recent years: “China is not a military threat to Australia or the US. The hysteria over China has given rise to a new age of McCarthyism displayed in the unforgivable sham of Red Alert by our own media. Albanese, Wong and Marles said not a word in criticism… We have been struggling for decades to build bridges to our region. But instead of building bridges we have become a spear carrier in the region for the US. With AUKUS we are retreating to the Anglosphere.”

I write today because of my deep concern about the possible consequences of our alliance with the United States of America. My father was in the Australian Navy and travelled the world with an open mind. From him I learned much about Asia and the Pacific and I became committed to trying to play a role in helping Australia gain peaceful relations with China. In 1973, as Director of the Victorian Chamber of Manufacturers I founded the Australia China Business Cooperation Association modelled on the successful association with Japan. I continued my passion for this and our integration into the Asia Pacific when I entered Federal Parliament and became close to Malcolm Fraser. We continued this passion until his death.

If Malcolm was alive he would support the views of another former Prime Minister, Paul Keating. Paul gave an outstanding address to the National Press Club on 5th March. Malcolm would agree with Paul that “a contemporary Labor government is shunning security in Asia for security in and within the Anglosphere.”

In an agreement signed in the UK by Scott Morrison, Boris Johnson and Joe Biden Australia became “subordinate to the United States, an Atlantic power.” Keating added that “Albo’s government has taken up Morrison’s commitment in full and with unprecedented gusto.”

Morrison breached the agreement with the French President Macron to buy French submarines and was determined by Macron to be “a liar”. This reveals how devious Morrison’s behaviour was. As Paul Keating said: “The AUKUS Agreement is for the US to supply Australia with nuclear submarines for deep and joint operations against China”. He then made a most important statement about an event of which few of us would have known:

“In the afternoon of Wednesday 20 September 2021 Morrison gave Labor a confidential briefing on dumping the French submarine to take up the US Virginia class boat and less than 24 hours later Labor adopted the policy unqualifiedly.” Yet, as Paul Keating said, the Australian people have not been told of the supposed threat that we face from China and why we need nuclear submarines. As a consequence we will buy 6-8 submarines from the United Kingdom and the United States will give us 5 aged Virginia class while we wait!

The Chinese coast is well defended and if we took our submarines there they could easily be destroyed. We must ask ourselves how we would react if China sent submarines around our coasts!

Keating’s important point is that “The US does not see itself as ‘the balancing power in East Asia’ but ‘the primary strategic power.’ Its geostrategic priority is to contain China militarily and economically.” Yet China is not a threat to the US or UK. China knows that it lacks the power to attack either country even if it wished to do so. China has enough to attend to domestically and is doing so admirably.

The issue of centuries of conflict between Taiwan and China is not relevant to the defence of Australia, the US or UK.

Paul Keating outlined succinctly the obligations that China has as a member of over five world organisations that oblige it to comply with international agreements and law. His criticism of American concerns about China’s competition with it as a world leader is excellent. He says correctly: “I believe that it is incumbent on any former Prime Minister, particularly now, a Labor one, to alert the country to the dangerous and unnecessary journey on which the government is now embarking.” He concludes: “despite its enormous cost, it does not offer a solution to the challenge of great power competition in the region or to the security of the Australian people and its continent.”

John Menadue on 1st April wrote that “Australia will pay a heavy price for what is being done in our name. We are being humiliated by our own government.”

Similar views have been expressed by some of our finest retired ambassadors. One to whom I am close, Garry Woodard, has strongly condemned Albo’s approach to China. So did another greatly respected diplomat, Bruce Haigh. Bruce wrote: “Albo is in denial. He seeks protection and reassurance. Instead of thinking through and independently acting in Australia’s best interests Prime Minister Albanese has followed in the footsteps of his discredited predecessors and outsourced defence and foreign policy to the US.” Sadly, Paul and I agree with this criticism.

Before I explain what Malcolm Fraser would say if he was alive, I will briefly praise two other contributors to John’s wonderful source of information. Colin Mackerras, a specialist on Chinese history, believes that the implication of AUKUS is that China is a danger to Australian security. Yet history of the People’s Republic of China reveals that its military is for defence, not aggression.

Mary Kostakidis on 14th April wrote in Pearls and Irritations that “our defence forces should be used to defend Australia, including to defend our economic interests and advance our security and prosperity. But this does not require us to be deeply integrated into the US war machine as US military activity increases in the north of Australia and might breach International Law. We are also paying US Navy officials to advise us! But our interests are not the same as the US. We need to work with our region and China from a different perspective from that of the US. US policy is based on US interests not ours”.

This is what French President, Emmanuel Macron concluded after a 3 day visit to China. On his return he urged Europe to reduce its dependence on the US and avoid being caught in a confrontation between the US and China. This is what Fraser and Keating would have insisted upon when Prime Minister.

The AUKUS deal is at huge cost. It will cost us $368 billion over the next three decades. Hence, at his National Press Club address Paul Keating labelled it “the worst deal in all history”! He condemned the “incompetence” of Labor for agreeing to sign up to AUKUS while in Opposition when it had no mandate to do so.

Not only is AUKUS a huge cost. It obliges us to follow the US on policy regarding China. We have certainly surrendered our sovereignty. China has lifted hundreds of millions of lives out of poverty by avoiding war. Why would it now want war? But it is ready to reply if it must.

Australia would not benefit from such a war. Surely we have learned from the follies of American wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan? All were American ideas. None was justified and all were costly in lives and money.

Each nation must decide its own interests. We must remove ourselves from US dominance. China and Australia are benefiting from trade. The cost to China of trying to invade and rule Australia would be unthinkable.

I have been concerned about our apparent dependence upon the US for a long time and discussed it often with Malcolm Fraser when he was researching and writing his last book, Dangerous Allies. It was published by Melbourne University Press in 2014. I have reread it several times and strongly recommend it to anyone interested in the consequences of our relationship with a country which has made so many mistakes in foreign policy. Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan were tragic mistakes for all countries that were involved in them.

Fraser’s reports on the evolving use of Pine Gap are of great concern. At page 256 he exposes the access that the US has to that excellent spy facility and stresses that “whatever the technical ownership of the base may be, whatever the agreement describes, if the United States has full access to the base it is an American base. If it serves US purposes, collecting information, which they might or might not share with us, it is an American base. If it is used to issue commands to American forces in far parts of the world and it is clearly serving American purposes then, once again, it is an American base.”

Three paragraphs later he wrote: “I believe our relationship with the United States has become a paradox. Our leaders argue we need to keep our alliance with the United States strong in order to ensure our defence in the event of an aggressive foe. Yet the most likely reason Australia would need to confront an aggressive foe is our strong alliance with the United States. We need America for defence from an attacker who is likely to attack us because we use America for defence. It is not a sustainable policy.”

On page 259 Malcolm observed: “Australia must consider the relationship between America and China as a key part of its thinking regarding foreign and security policy footings. As such it worth examining the issue of a rising China in greater depth”. On page 261: “China, as appropriate for any great power, demands respect, especially from those nations from Europe and the United States and Japan that exploited China’s weakness in times past. This needs to be understood as an inviolate part of China’s attitude. It will influence China’s future actions.”

On page 264 he observed: “Although America claims that China has become assertive and aggressive, the Chinese point of view would be markedly different.” Which comes first? In 2009 there was a major incident when USNS Impeccable was operating south-west of Hainan in the South China Sea, in China’s Exclusive Economic Zone. The United States Navy has admitted that the ship was conducting submarine surveillance, but also alerted that it required no permission from China. The Chinese claimed that the operations were much too close to the Chinese coast.

The Impeccable was surveying waters just off China’s new Hainan naval base for its nuclear submarines at Yulin, on the south coast of Hainan. If China had a surveillance ship anchored just outside the territorial waters, off America’s naval base at Norfolk, Virginia, I have no doubt that America would want that spy ship removed. Such incidents could easily become volatile and dangerous and emphasise the need for both sides to follow the precedents established between the Soviet Union and the United States in the Treaty of Wyoming.”

On page 269 Fraser warns of the use by America of offensive drones. If China used them “for the same purposes as the United States is now using them, the world would become even more unstable, more dangerous and more unpredictable.”

In his final pages Malcolm recorded more of the evolution of Pine Gap and the threat that China might perceive because of that. A very important issue for discussion.

In his Conclusion he explores the benefits and costs of strategic independence from the United States. He concludes that “we should, however, be prepared to bear those costs, to make our own way in cooperation with other countries in the region in which we live. By doing so we would be able to contribute in the best possible way to the security of our own region and, importantly, to secure Australia’s future.”

“Strategic independence does not mean ending our relationship with America and cutting our ties. It does mean having a different relationship, a more equal one in which we can feel to say no or offer a different opinion. Similarly, strategic independence should not mean acquiescing to all demands of a growing China, ignoring such issues as human rights. It does mean needing to appreciate and accept that China will increasingly seek out a new role for itself, as its power continues to grow. Strategic independence would allow Australia to agree and disagree with both Washington and Beijing, as it suits our interests. We should not be afraid to express our views and stick to our beliefs….It offers the best hope for the development of Australia as a nation, and the best possibilities for Australia playing a positive role in the region in which we live.”

Malcolm and Paul were Prime Ministers of great calibre. We have not had one of their quality since Paul.

(PS. Ian Macphee was Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs when I was Secretary. Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister. Together we administered the Indo -China refugee program. It was the most memorable job of my public life. About 100,000 came directly as refugees. Together with family reunion and the Orderly Departure Program we negotiated with the Vietnamese Government, about 250,000 Indo-Chinese in total came to Australia. That broke the back of White Australia. If only we could be generous again to refugees. But it requires political leadership to ‘appeal to the better angels of our nature’. We lack that leadership today….John Menadue.)

A repost from April 19, 2023.

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