In the early sixties, in the midst of growing paranoia of the Red and Yellow Perils, portrayed by the Menzies Government as dagger-like arrows pointed at Australia’s heart, a TV variety show, perhaps Revue ’61 or In Melbourne Tonight, gave us comic relief with a parody on the Al Jolson song, ‘Carolina in the Morning’, which went, ‘Nothing could be Finer than to have a War with China in the Morning’.
Little did we imagine the horrors we were heading for – war in Vietnam, conscription by lottery, a tragic number or deaths and injuries among young Australians, Agent Orange and the devastation of Vietnam and most of Indo-China! When that disaster came to a merciful end with the humiliating defeat of the US-led invading forces, ‘never again’ was the deep-felt hope of most Australians – forlorn, as it turned out.
It wasn’t long before we were repeating our blunders, this time in the Middle-East, as part of the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ – again at the behest of our US ally. The consequences of that disaster – the destruction of Afghanistan and Iraq, more Aussie deaths, injuries, mental breakdowns and suicides and apparent war crimes by our soldiers. All of these tragedies were avoidable. Their repercussions will be felt for generations.
Worse still, we don’t seem to have learned any lessons from our past mistakes. Instead of a ‘Never Again’ resolve, we now seem to be itching for another conflict, this time against China, the world’s second largest economic and military power and our biggest trading partner, the very country that has underwritten much of our unprecedented prosperity. In this bellicose behavior, we are led by our Prime Minister, Defence Minister, Heads of Department and present and past Generals.
Their strident comments are evidenced in articles in Australian and foreign media. The AFR headline of May 6 2021, “Australia draws the China line at Taiwan”. Not to be left behind, the Defence Minister last week angered the Chinese government by saying a conflict with China over Taiwan could not be discounted, while Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo declared, the “drums of war” were beating (SMH and Age on May 3, 2021). Why did we think that we had to lead the push for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, something the WHO was always going to do anyway? Why do we have to be so bellicose over the Taiwan issue?
Whether our stance on Taiwan has any moral or legal foundation is also highly questionable. It doesn’t even seem to conform to our previous agreements with China, arrangements which, ironically, we struck following the lead of the US! Let’s examine the history.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has always claimed sovereignty over Taiwan. So did the previous Chiang Kai Shek Republic of China (ROC), even when it was a government-in-exile based in Taiwan from where it claimed to be the government of the whole of China. This myth was the official policy of the US and the UN until1971, and of Australia until Gough Whitlam recognised the PRC in 1973.
That Taiwan was part of China was acknowledged in the joint communique following the Nixon- Mao-Zhou summit, which acknowledged that “there is but one China” and “Taiwan is a part of China.” Australia’s position on Taiwan has been similar. The Joint communique of the Australian Government and the Government of the People’s Republic of China, which proclaimed the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and the PRC clearly states, “The Australian Government recognises the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal Government of China, acknowledges the position of the Chinese Government that Taiwan is a province of the People’s Republic of China, and has decided to remove its official representation from Taiwan before 25 January 1973”.
Ironically, Morrison recently seems to have acknowledged China’s long-held position, perhaps betraying a subliminal perception. As the Guardian reported on May 6, 2021, “When speaking about Taiwan, Morrison referred to “one country, two systems”. Commonsense, self-interest, national safety and integrity all suggest that he comes to terms with reality, stops sabre-rattling; recognises that we are at best a middle-power that is economically dependent on China, against whom we are entirely incapable of winning a trade war, let alone an armed conflict; and start mending fences without further delay.
We can learn much from our neighbor and ANZUS ally, New Zealand. As the Nikkei News Report of April 26, 2021 said, its Foreign Minister, Nanaia Mahuta, “jolted her country’s Five Eyes intelligence allies when she stressed a preference for a more independent stance on relations with China”. She was supported in her stance by her Prime Minister. Nikkei continued, “In response to the controversy, (Prime Minister) Ardern insisted her government was not breaking away from the country’s “most important” intelligence partnership. But she backed Mahuta by saying that “New Zealand also has an independent foreign policy.”
A more independent foreign policy is in Australia’s national interest too. It could lead to a rapprochement with China and, perhaps, even help us to influence our ANZUS and Five Eyes partners to develop a more constructive engagement with it. This could help save the world from sliding towards the ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ (MAD) strategy. While this mutual threat was probably all that stopped Russia and the US from a potentially nuclear catastrophe during the U2 and Cuban missile crises, surely we, our children and grandchildren deserve a less tenuous future!
The parody on ‘California in the morning, ended with a very sound and sobering piece of advice that should give our leaders sound and sensiv=ble food for thought. “Maybe we should make up – so that we can wake up – in the morning!”