Michael Pascoe: Worried about Australia’s sovereignty? Don’t bother, it’s gone

The stationing of US Marines in Darwin makes Australia a Chinese target, the letter's signatories insist.

The stationing of US Marines in Darwin makes Australia a Chinese target, the letter's signatories insist. Photo: AAP

In 1984, the United States imposed a trade embargo on the Solomon Islands after the islanders dared exercise their sovereignty by arresting an American tuna boat fishing illegally in Solomon waters.

Sure, that was 38 years ago, but it is not forgotten.

The US has long been highly selective about whose sovereignty it might respect or totally disregard while conferring on itself extraordinary extraterritorial powers to do pretty much what it likes – invade nations, engineer coups, seize assets and impose trade blockades.

It is no wonder that, given the chance, the Solomons will happily play China off against the US and its local proxy, Australia. That poor little country would be silly not to make the most of the opportunity.

So the US renews and improves a fishing agreement that was about to run out with small Oceania states, the Solomons flies 32 police officers to China for training and the game goes on.

Australia doesn’t have the capability of other South Pacific countries to make the best of America’s attempt to limit China’s economic growth – we’ve already signed away our sovereignty.

As John Menadue has summarised: “We have committed ourselves to ‘high end warfighting’ and combined military operations, and unfettered access for US forces and platforms in northern and western Australia.”

That’s what Peter Dutton signed us up for last year as Defence Minister. His replacement, Richard Marles, is on the same page.

“In AUKUS, at enormous cost and with great delay, we are planning to fuse our future nuclear-powered submarines with the US Navy to operate in the South China Sea against China,” Mr Menadue wrote.

“Minister Marles has told us that we are not only working ‘inter-operatively’ with the US military in numerous ways but we are now committed to ‘inter-changeabilty’ with US forces. We are locking ourselves even more to a ‘dangerous ally’.

“Minister Marles seems unconcerned about the dangerous path we are on. Even worse, he seems careless about surrendering our national sovereignty. He should be watched very carefully.”

The anti-China bandwagon

Mr Menadue is a former top public servant and ambassador, jobs that require knowing who to watch.

Australia’s media are overwhelming aboard the security and defence industries’ anti-China bandwagon, leaving little room for nuance and the possibility that, yet again, the US might not be entirely right, that again going all the way with the USA might not be in our best interests.

Dare to voice an alternative view, as Paul Keating did last week, and down will come the Murdoch pack for a start, hysterically ad hominem in the process.

Mr Keating quaintly suggested Australia could do its own foreign policy, its own security arrangements and pacts, and develop its own defence capability without being owned by anyone else. But “our strategic sovereignty is being outsourced to another country, the US”.

Our Anglophone-centric myopia is astounding in its ability to see beyond our masters’ wishes. Most of the world does not work like that.

The supposed American ally, Saudi Arabia, has just demonstrated that by cutting oil production, setting itself in Russia’s economic camp.

The US seems determined to induce a recession to combat inflation, but up will go oil prices.

And why wouldn’t the House of Saud prefer Russia to the US at present? If you’re a feudal dictator, capable of having the odd pesky journalist dismembered, you won’t give a damn about Ukraine, but you will see benefits in backing winners in your region.

Russia backed the winner in Syria while the US again proved impotent.

While the Prime Minister of India – our supposed Quad partner – belatedly advised President Putin “today’s era is not of war”, it is not weakening its long-held friendship with Russia. India is pursuing what it sees as its own best interests.

Australia,  a US military colony

And that’s what the world we take almost no notice of – Africa and South America – is tending to do, too. Ditto the countries of Southeast Asia, knowing they will be living with a powerful neighbour for a long time.

But not Australia. It’s another John Menadue line – as northern Australia becomes a US military colony, we are becoming the US proxy, or maybe patsy.

Surrendering our defence and foreign policy to a demonstrably erratic nation also precludes seeing China with objectivity.

From a couple of different directions recently, I have been reminded of the folly of viewing China as a solid CCP machine. When I was a boy journalist in Hong Kong as China was beginning to open up under Deng, it was clear there was as much diversity in China’s provinces as there was in Europe.

Former ambassador to China, Geoff Raby, has argued that the China threat diminishes drastically if viewed from the angle of capacity rather than intent.

“Fragmentation of the empire is a constant anxiety which commands the bulk of China’s security resources,” wrote Raby. “Over the ten years to 2020, expenditure on internal security grew faster than on external security, that is the military to defend the country.”

China has 22,000 kilometres of land borders with 14 countries, the longest border being with Russia, which is China’s competitor and not its natural ally.  China has plenty to occupy itself with without escalating the Taiwan issue, as the US chooses to do.

Xi’s real challenge

Meanwhile, investor and newsletter writer Anthony Peters, quoted here often enough, reported a conversation with a political risk consultant whose avowed conviction was that Xi had much greater priorities than the invasion of Taiwan.

“I believe he was inferring that the Taiwan question is of greater value to Beijing when used to keep Washington on its toes and riven with uncertainty,” Mr Peters wrote.

“We in the West do of course like to imagine China as one homogenous nation with 1.6 billion people marching in step and to the same tune whereas in reality it is highly diverse and holding the thing together is without a doubt a full-time challenge to Xi and to the CCP.”

Quite. But when you’ve surrendered your sovereignty to a troubled country fighting a rear-guard action, you’d have trouble seeing anything other than what you’ve been told to see.

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