No, it’s not a joke: China threat theory more alive than ever

Mar 9, 2023
Diplomatic handshake between leaders from Australia and China with flag-painted hands.

The idea that China is lusting after Australian territory is part of the fervid imagination of the worst China hawks. It simply isn’t true.

On 7 March an article appeared jointly in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, under the headline “Red alert: war risk exposed”. At the head of the story was a map showing military aircraft flying from a red China, at the centre, towards Australia at the bottom, almost as if gravity was helping China against a hapless Australia. I don’t recall seeing anything so outrageous in a serious newspaper since the 1950s. It’s as if the decades of engagement with China have taught us nothing. It’s worse than returning to Square 1.

The article’s main points are that Australia faces the real prospect of a direct attack on our mainland within three years, but Australia’s defence force is woefully unprepared, the population is complacent and the nation’s political leaders are unwilling to address the dire threats we face. These points are as incendiary and without evidence as the map.

The article’s main author is Peter Hartcher, a notorious China hawk. He claims the ideas come from a series of meetings by experts that will yield recommendations on what to do about China.

The people mentioned are not China experts in any way. They are people associated with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which was set up with Australian government, American and various other foreign money for the express purpose of creating a bad China image. According to its website, in 2021-2022, 15 per cent of its funding came from overseas government agencies.

Just a few main points.

Firstly, we know that the new Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives is leading a push against China. They have set up a committee with the express purpose of opposing China, and Biden seems happy, even eager, to agree with them. And we just tag along like subservient puppy dogs, doing American bidding. If the U.S. fights China, Australia automatically joins in.

Secondly, there is not the faintest evidence that China wants to attack Australia. Sure, it regards Taiwan as part of China (as does Australia and the international community in general, by the way). However, it certainly does NOT regard Australia as part of China. The idea that China is lusting after Australian territory is part of the fervid imagination of the worst China hawks. It simply isn’t true and such an idea can only breed hysteria of the precise kind we don’t need. The only reason China could possibly have to invade Australia is if its territory was being used by a hostile power in a hostile war. Our subservience to the United States makes us more vulnerable, not less.

Thirdly, I repeat that none of the members of this committee that’s coming up with the “red alert” are China experts in any meaningful sense. They include people like Peter Jennings, notorious for his extremist anti-China rhetoric, and Lavina Lee, a much younger scholar but gaining notoriety for her hostility to contemporary China. Despite a foreign interference law, the Australian government seems quite happy to pay out and receive money fanning flames hostile to China.

Fourthly, what worries me about popular opinion is not that it is complacent, but that it is explicitly and totally unnecessarily hostile to China. The most recent Lowy Institute Poll revealed that, whereas in 2018 45 per cent of Australians thought that China would become a military threat in the next twenty years, in 2022 the proportion had jumped to 75 per cent. What on earth has our mainstream media been doing to produce such a percentage?

As for the nation’s political leaders, yes in style Albanese and Wong are better than Morrison and Payne. In substance, I could wish that the Labor leaders were much more aware of China and more open to it than what I perceive. Yes, at least there are leaders’ meetings, and Albanese says he is open to going to China if invited. However, I always get the impression that they all think of China as at least potentially hostile, even verging on an enemy. That is precisely the wrong approach. China is not an enemy, and it shows no signs of becoming one.

Looking back on the world since the days of the Vietnam War, when Australia sent young men to die at the behest of the master against the creeping red menace, what’s striking to me is how often the U.S. has sent troops to invade foreign countries and overturn their governments, but how rarely China has done so. Compared with a stream of unjustified American invasions, from Afghanistan to Iraq, China has sent troops into another country just once. That was against Vietnam early in 1979. I’m not going to defend that attack, but I will point out that the Chinese made no attempt to overturn the government or attack the capital and they withdrew after just a few weeks. It was hardly an invasion. It’s not China that invades foreign countries, but the United States. What history tells us is that the fear of China is fanciful and downright dangerous.

Australia has everything to gain by getting on with China. It’s been our largest trading partner for over a decade and there is no reason at all why it should not be a friendly country. Despite the assertions of Jennings, Hartcher et al., it has no intention of invading us. Let’s adopt a policy of friendship and stop this hysterical nonsense fanned by people who know very little about China.


For more on this topic, P&I recommends:

China has neither the intent nor the capability to attack us


Follow the money: ASPI is a front for US propaganda


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