America’s drive to war with Australia as a willing participant.

The world has moved a step closer to war. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s latest outrageous speech has signalled a change of policy and Australia has once again willingly agreed to aid and abet the USA in its provocative and dangerous actions.

Pompeo’s speech was calculated to make an already tense situation much worse. While the streets of the USA have become virtual battlegrounds, and while the US military has been continuously at war for the past two decades, Pompeo hypocritically railed against China as “increasingly authoritarian at home, and more aggressive in its hostility to freedom everywhere else.” He then warned that if “the free world doesn’t change Communist China, Communist China will change us.” These are not the idle utterings of an individual but represent a shift in policy and political outlook of the world’s most powerful state.

Pompeo further declared that “if we want to have a free 21st century, and not the Chinese century of which Xi Jinping dreams, the old paradigm of blind engagement with China” had to be replaced by a strategy whereby “the free world must triumph over this new tyranny” and that this same ‘free world’ must “induce China to change in more creative and assertive ways, because Beijing’s actions threaten our people and our prosperity.”

The United States is dismantling its previous doctrine of ‘containment’ of China, which of itself was marked by a belligerent approach. It now no longer sees ‘containment’ as enough. There is an alarming echo here to what went before the outbreak of the Korean war, when ‘containment’ was replaced by ‘roll-back’ as a strategy and with it the devastation of the Korean peninsula. Washington appears to be hell bent on revisiting such a strategy. The military doctrine of the USA follows its economic decline. American policy since Nixon’s visit to Beijing in 1972 was first to engage with China as it offered America remarkable business opportunities. With China’s astonishing economic rise came a shift in US policy and now a frightening new chapter is opening up.

Pompeo’s speech came as ‘war games’ in the South China Sea that included two US aircraft carriers and their strike groups along with military exercises involving Japanese and Australian warships were underway. While none of this is unusual (Australia has always been an active participant in US actions) things are even more than usually disturbing.

The secretary of state did not mention Australia by name but warned against some allies who, because of economic ties to China, might be fearful of confronting or alienating Beijing. In case there was any confusion, the US ambassador to Australia, Arthur Culverhouse clarified things for us. He reminded Australia of the significance of US bilateral trade with Australia and that “US investment is critical to Australia’s future prosperity.” The ambassador referred to a report of the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia that pointed out that US investment in Australia had, in the most recent past, surpassed that of China by 40 per cent and that US investment accounted for more than a quarter of all foreign investment in Australia. The same report stressed that for the Australian economy to recover from the COVID 19 pandemic, it must have access to US capital markets. He pointedly declared that it was not wise to try and separate economic security from national security, reminding his Australian audience that “it’s not just about the money.” This might just be construed as a veiled threat.

Whether there was a threat or not, the message that Australia is required to play an even more active role in the region on behalf of its American ally has been received loud and clear. Australia’s Foreign Minister, Marise Payne and Defence Minister, Linda Reynolds are heading to Washington. In an article in the Australian (25 July) the pair spoke of how important the meeting was, of the need to counter China’s ‘coercive conduct’ of its ‘militarisation of the South China Sea, and the threat of cyber-attacks, among a range of real or imagined outrages.

They spoke glowingly of how “our $270 billion investment in defence capability over the next decade, including in more potent, longer-range capabilities,” would “allow us to make even stronger contributions to the alliance and achieve greater combined effects with US forces to deter aggression and respond with military force.” Prime Minster Morrison has also been active. In a video address he let the US know just where Australia would line up. Australia, he reassured Washington, was “a trusted partner of the United States” but “we don’t leave it to the US. We do our share of heavy lifting in this partnership. We lead. We pull our weight.”

Australia is not so much being drawn into a possible conflict but is a willing participant. While it is true that the USA is economically important, it is a dangerous folly to endanger an equally important economic partner, and yet that is exactly what is happening. For the better part of a century, Australia has done the bidding of the United States and despite all the rhetoric about independence, about sovereignty, about our importance as a middle power and about being an honest broker, Australia remains in thrall to America. Nothing has changed apart from a degree of honesty from the US spokespeople regarding the economic power that might be exerted if we were to act ‘improperly.’

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Dr William Briggs is a political economist. His special areas of interest lie in political theory and international political economy. He has been, variously, a teacher, journalist and political activist.

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