Wong’s two card trick on Australians

Apr 22, 2023
China Australia flags.

Minister Wong’s speech to the National Press Club demonstrates that when she lays her cards on the table they do not present truly. A mathematician would advise to multiply her claims by minus one. Australia is well along on a path to make, not avert, war with China. Peace holds no weight with this government. Australians must count on failed leadership from our leaders, henceforth.

In addressing the National Press Club on 17 April, Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong began with  “today I want to talk to you about how we avert war and maintain peace”. Ah, at last, I thought, reality is about to surface – this Labor government is about to come clean that the United States has been tilling the ground for war with China, into which previous LNP governments have implanted Australia. And Penny is about to talk about how Australia will be extricated. And, I recall thinking, my publisher John Menadue would no longer want a piece on why the Australian government should be upfront with its people, and say we will not be part of such war.

Instead, the audience was mocked. War would be averted, it was explained, when “All countries exercise our agency to avert war, and maintain peace”. Duh. That wisdom flowed from a trail of undergrad banalities sprinkled with the word “agency”.

Paul Keating was way too kind in his response to this speech, its evasive half- truths and empty abstractions borrowed from respectable applications and slyly fashioned phrases. The ABC cameraman panning the audience caught the baffled brains brilliantly. Earnest professional men and women being ridiculed while dining finely.

Australians concerned about being swept into a superpower war of America’s making were dismissed as lacking focus –“viewing the future of the region simply in terms of great powers competing for primacy means countries’ own national interests can fall out of focus. It diminishes the power of each country to engage other than through the prism of a great power.” Others would say the reverse applies –little else will matter if we are part of a war between these two; that is where our national interest is most at risk, with overwhelming consequence. Comprehending the path of that rivalry and acting in our own interest has to be our top priority. Simple. Duh, again.

Indeed, Wong appears to be saying that also:

America has often been talked of as the indispensable power. It remains so. But the nature of that indispensability has changed.

As we seek a strategic equilibrium, with all countries exercising their agency to achieve peace and prosperity, America is central to balancing a multipolar region.

Strategic equilibrium? Infinite equilibria are possible, depending on how component states exert influence or agency.

America has long been clear which equilibrium it demands. Dominance over all other system states. China has a different equilibrium in mind. It will do things its way. So, the two appear mutually exclusive; daily becoming more so, assisted by Australia’s actions of the last decade. Wong’s ascribing the “central” role to the US is just a euphemism for dominance. So Wong is seeking a US-centric Asia-Pacific. No progress from Scomo.

But, ever the optimist, perhaps there is nuance, hope yet, by “lowering heat”?

So I will say it now to the National Press Club – to avoid any possible misunderstanding: our job is to lower the heat on any potential conflict, while increasing pressure on others to do the same. 

Entirely admirable. Wong put her cards on the table. So this is how Wong sees her job, the way to achieving strategic equilibrium. Perhaps, even, ”avert war and maintain peace”.

Alas, the facts say the opposite. Australia has been fuelling the fire of conflict for years, through a war preparation mechanism, by intergovernmental agreement, tabled quietly in Parliament in 2014 – enabling the United States to build the machinery to wage war with China from our territory, utilising our forces and resources – at its pleasure. While it should be called the “Pathway to War with China Agreement”, it goes by the debate-deadening moniker of “Force Posture Agreement” (FPA).

In a paper recently published by the Carnegie Institute for Peace, Ashley Townshend from the United States Study Centre, explains that “a tectonic shift is underway as Canberra positions itself as a critical node in supporting high-end U.S. military operations to preserve a stable balance of power in an increasingly contested Indo-Pacific region…”

“The posture arrangements are intended to reinforce the United States’ military position in the Indo-Pacific by leveraging Australia’s strategic geography, geopolitical alignment, and capacity for high-end military integration..developing the airfields, fuel depots, prepositioned weapons stores, and habits of interoperability required to operate U.S. Bomber Task Forces out of northern Australia. Elsewhere, through the annual rotation of around 2,500 U.S. Marines to Darwin, the ADF is honing its ability to support and deploy with Marine expeditionary units as they implement new operational concepts to rapidly deploy precision strike capabilities in contested littoral environments. Both aim to enhance collective deterrence in the near-term by dispersing U.S. forces, integrating U.S. and Australian personnel, and creating new attack vectors and targeting problems for Chinese planners.”

No cooling going on here. Wong knows that the heat on China has intensified implacably. And she acknowledges that it will be given incendiary assistance by Australia’s unparalleled future defence spending growth, without end, to be crowned with the fiscal travesty of nuclear submarines.

And Minister Wong knows that the equilibrium she espouses has already shifted profoundly – with Australia’s direct security capacity heavily diminished in order to enhance America’s dominance. It’s evident that our government will divert our taxes much more for America’s aims.

Minister Wong’s speech to the National Press Club demonstrates that when she lays her cards on the table they do not present truly. A mathematician would advise to multiply her claims by minus one. Australia is well along on a path to make, not avert, war with China. Peace holds no weight with this government. Australians must count on double talk from our leaders, henceforth.

That’s more than enough for now. Wong’s sickening regurgitation of the Morrison-era defence flame throwing, and the intellectually barren rot about Australia projecting force forward, is for another time. As is the America-on-the beg, its financial programs showing it prefers not to pay for its war. Guess who will?

Except to say how dismal it was of Penny Wong not to find the grace to acknowledge Paul Keating’s contribution to Australians’ understanding how we are being misled on the grave risks our nation faces. Or his sacrifice, of major disagreement with the party of his lifetime. He has nothing to gain. Unlike his detractors.

The Labor Party is sadly and badly diminished.

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