After a rather extraordinary month of steadily escalating defence PR and conspiracy opportunities, Australia was sat on its backside over the weekend and reminded to know its subservient place.
As the culmination of media beat-ups, photo ops, military exercises and top-level ministerial talks grew, Australia was delighted to be told it could become an even more integrated cog of the US military machine, a bigger American base and that American pride was much more important than granting a small favour to a compliant client government.
The last bit effectively is what the US government means by yet again snubbing the Albanese government’s mimsy request for Julian Assange’s case to “be brought to a conclusion”, or, you know, something.
That our government is incapable of even saying it wants the US to drop its prosecution of Assange is an indication of just how subservient we are.
To put it in plain English would make it more embarrassing for Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong when the US raises a middle digit in reply.
A small improvement
The only thing that might be construed as a small improvement in America’s bipartisan pursuit of the WikiLeaks publisher is that the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken only claimed that Assange’s role in publishing cables risked harm to America’s national security – he did not claim it actually did any harm as it is well documented now that it did not.
WikiLeaks’ co-operation with The Guardian, The New York Times, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El Pais certainly embarrassed the US – footage of a helicopter gunship killing journalists, details of various unprosecuted war crimes and many thousands of previously unreported civilian deaths can do that.
The US is not game to pursue the newspaper publishers, but claims the WikiLeaks publisher is not a publisher as a warning to others who might try to embarrass it.
Supporters keep up the fight for Julian Assange.
Republicans and Democrats hate Assange for embarrassing the government and military, and Democrats particularly hate Assange for publishing Russian-hacked emails that embarrassed Hillary Clinton.
But, hey, those war crimes were of only passing embarrassment. Beyond a little public outrage, nobody seemed to care and it has been business as usual. Certainly no client states objected.
US makes the rules
In the “international rules-based order” we have signed up for and our politicians and media relentlessly parrot, the US makes the rules as it suits and is not required to keep them itself.
A quick example lies in the background of China and the Solomon Islands signing several co-operation agreements last month, including one for police training.
(A passing point regarding media standards is the way it’s regularly reported that China “persuaded” the Solomon Islands to establish diplomatic relations with Beijing at the expense of Taiwan without mentioning that’s the case with Australia, the US and all but 14 very small countries.)
The repeated US/Australian inference or outright claim is that China should not be developing its interests in the South Pacific lest that “international rules-based order” be weakened.
What I haven’t noticed anyone else report is that the US used its rules, not international law, to impose a trade embargo on the Solomons in 1984 after the islanders dared exercise their sovereignty by arresting an American tuna boat fishing illegally in their waters.
No wonder the Solomons will play China off against the US and its local proxy, Australia, for whatever it can get.
Perennial spy yarn
Australian media’s longest-running Chinaphobia story last month though was the good ol’ “Chinese spy ship” yarn, with the ABC in particular seeming to wet itself about the usual Chinese intelligence ship arriving off our coast to hear whatever it might hear during the war games aimed at China.
It started on July 7 with the ABC warning the ship was on the way:
“Multiple military sources have confirmed to the ABC they are preparing for the imminent arrival of the auxiliary general intelligence (AGI) vessel, which is expected to closely monitor the massive biennial joint United States-Australian exercises from just outside Australian territorial waters.”
And then it arrived, and then the war games were under way while the ship was there, and then there was “an encounter” with a RAAF spy plane spying on the spy ship spying.
Never mind that the regular Chinese spy ship voyages have become as predictable as “killer toys” warnings before Christmas and amount to very little compared with our more aggressive spying efforts on China – a level of double standards comprehensively skewered by veteran security journalist Brian Toohey.
We spy, they spy, everyone spies – just ask the East Timorese and Indonesians about our spooks. And it can be quite healthy for each side to know what the other is up to, lest there be catastrophic misunderstandings.
The war games themselves provided plenty of US/Australia defence PR opportunities. Things that go “bang” can be guaranteed lots of television coverage.
The month of don’t-say-it-but-it’s-all-about-China US-Australian flag waving peaked with Saturday’s Ausmin talks, starring Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong, Defence Minister Richard Marles and their US counterparts.
After paying respects to the four Australian servicemen killed in a helicopter crash, it was down to announcing more US ships and subs more often in more Australian ports on top of the previously announced effective basing of B52 bombers and more US marines in the top end, and that we will be trained to manufacture or assemble missiles for the US.
Nobody officially says it, but that’s all part of the US desire to contain China. It’s not the US doing Australia favours, it’s the US doing what it wants done.
And in return?
In return – the US is not even prepared to drop its prosecution of an Australian publisher.
And Australia has kept Australian citizen Daniel Duggan in solitary confinement for nine months at America’s behest over allegations relating to Mr Duggan training Chinese pilots more than a decade ago.
Mr Duggan rejects the charges and says the pilot training was civilian.
Meanwhile, Australia has called on China to release details of the policing agreement with the Solomon Islands, to “provide transparency”, echoing the US criticising China and the Solomons for “a complete lack of transparency”.
China could well ask the same of AUKUS, the thrust of which is more threatening and the details more opaque.
For that matter, the Australian public could be asking the same question, not that it will receive answers. Even the ALP national conference is set to have debate on the AUKUS deal shut down.
Double standards, anyone?