by Susan Safi for The Saker Blog
To understand what is happening between China and Australia currently, we need to examine some of the undercurrents in Australian politics and culture.
In the West, including Australia, “Democracy” has been presented to and instilled in the people as the measure of civilization, development and justice. Maybe there was a time when this was true for some, provided they turned a blind eye to so many things.
This writer once believed democracy could be achieved by stronger, skilful participation in a political party where motions voted on and passed could even make their way into national policy. This is how it looked in Australia because the framework was there. Having ongoing access to Senators, Ministers, Members of Parliaments, shadow ministers and other senior politicians in opposition and smaller parties, indicated an accessible, tangible semblance of democracy where ideas, concerns, contributions to solutions could be freely discussed, including issues related to foreign policy, security and agricultural innovations. But was it all a cynical game? Some politicians, before they reached the most senior positions, were honest about many issues. One of them, not too long ago, told us in confidence something we already knew; that the West was supporting terrorists to take down the Syrian government. Did any of those politicians we had frank discussions with truly possess any power to discuss such issues or opinions with their peers and in parliament? If they had, would they have got away with flouting the “rules”; that is, to never go against big power interests, the American Embassy and any other big lobbies with clout. This is the status of democracy when it comes to Australia, and it should not be a surprise to anyone.
But is there also a cultural side to the current problem being discussed. Australia has a history of believing that it cannot stand alone and must have a protector, a strong military alliance with the biggest power of the day; first it was Britain, the former colonizer and then the USA. Until the end of the Second World War, Australia saw Britain as its protector, despite Australian soldiers being used as expendable cannon fodder by the Empire during WWI. But that was not enough to nudge Australia into waking up and seeking neutrality. The fear of invasion regularly entered the national discourse, likely at strategic times pushed along by government propaganda. After WWII, the geopolitical shifts led to Australia welcoming the United States as the new protector and ally. Australia is also a member of the intelligence alliance known as “Five Eyes” as well as the military ANZUS Alliance. Even in the political framework, which is based on a duopoly, a two-party system, each of the two major parties in Australia considers its political ally to be either the American “Republicans” or the “Democrats”. The two major political parties in Australia disagree and fight over every issue regardless how insignificant, but the one thing they both would never re-visit, is their bi-partisan approach to following America’s directives on foreign policy. And, when America asks Australia to jump, the Prime Minister answers “how high?” and the opposition does not bat an eyelid. Never mind what wars and mischief any of those American administrations involved themselves in, started or lied themselves into, dragging their small, compliant ally, Australia, into sharing the blame but not the “spoils” of wreaking death, destruction and sheer piracy world-wide, under the guise of “protecting our way of life”.
The COVID-19 issue seems to have caused some unintended consequences in terms of the perceptions and realities of the order of the world. Are the people of Australia going to allow their leadership, whatever party they come from, to, as usual, follow the orders of their “master” and sink with them to the bottom of the sea? Why would a nation such as Australia, a wealthy country with everything going for it do that? Does its leadership in parliament and its leadership–in-waiting truly think their great “ally” and “partner”, the USA, cares one bit about Australia and her well-being?
The only viable option for Australia’s politicians is to realise they must urgently engage in serious nation building, ensure good relations across the world and be officially a neutral county. Perhaps a good read of the book “Dangerous Allies” by the former conservative Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Fraser, might enlighten some. Here in 2014 he discusses his book. That’s a long time ago in this fast-changing world. Why is it that Australian leaders don’t take heed of his warnings? Australia must listen to Fraser when he addressed Australians saying that (we) must “recapture our strategic independence”. Retired, ageing leaders often are more open about such realities and have little to lose. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9F69baWypks
So commonly in Australia, there are displays of anger and outrage at some event affecting the country, intertwined with displays of a great sense of victimhood. Have we in Australia not done a study to identify our unique trading items which China badly needs? Have we not analysed whether or not disentangling from the USA is necessary and instead taking the road of neutrality, independently working on making that important trading relationship with China into one of win-win? And if that is not possible, have we not other trading partners? We need to believe in ourselves and we need to show that we possess strong bargaining tools and only accept fair, reciprocally beneficial deals.
Australia’s dependence on trade with China is not a one way street as many Australians, including the media and politicians seem to portray. It may well be the other way around. Afterall, Australia is by far the world’s largest producer of iron ore, which is very accessible, of very high quality and inexpensive to transport to China. As the largest producer of lithium, a highly strategic material for military and electronic applications, Australia is a reliable supplier of this to China. Furthermore, it is estimated that by 2021 Australia will be the world’s top producer of gold up from its current second position, and although Australia should be storing great reserves of it, the bulk of it goes to China. We have so much to offer, but we should come only from a position of strength, and, above all, the approach to this trading relationship should be from a national perspective of benefitting the collective rather than allowing individual business tycoons to dominate the relationship.
Australia imports 595 types of goods from China; that is 27.6% of total imports. Of those items, 167 are apparently deemed as “critical”. The rest of the Western world is in a similar predicament after allowing its manufacturing base to deteriorate and increasingly becoming dependent on goods from China’s burgeoning manufacturing sector. The implications of winding down the nation’s manufacturing base and other essential industries seem not to have been analysed during that winding down process, and neither has the potential impact on national security or compromising national sovereignty been considered. We are apparently now in a situation where we don’t have the ability to manufacture common medicines for the nation; https://www.smh.com.au/world/north-america/greatest-peril-study-finds-australia-most-dependent-on-china-among-the-five-eyes-20200514-p54ssg.html
The story of trade and relations with China, when it comes to Australia, is perhaps similar to that of many other Western countries where the good of the nation is not taken into consideration but rather, the big businesses rush to China to make dizzying fortunes and quick profits. The relationship of a sparsely -populated but resource rich country such as Australia with China needs to be part of the national development plan, and not a free game card for the tycoons. We somehow need to change the culture of Australian politicians and parties who only care about short-term gains, because they are only concerned with getting elected and re-elected. If we don’t take action urgently to awaken and alarm these politicians, where will their motivation be to engage in substantial nation-building projects, ensuring the viability, well-being and security of the nation and being true leaders and servants of the people? We will in fact truly become “victims” if we don’t heed this warning.
Australia should eschew all that is wrong with the ally we follow and obey. We followed their footsteps in taking our manufacturing base off-shore, thereby inevitably strengthening those nations and eroding the backbone of what makes a viable nation. We followed their economic models and many of their social policies, turning our backs on what underpinned commonly held values in Australia. Where do we stand today with the fall-out of the COVID-19 issue which exposes the reality of the nature of ruin in United States and the fact that we followed their philosophy of “the American/Western way of life”?
China often threatens Australia with trade sanctions and has already imposed an embargo on Australian beef. And recently, the Australian Trade Minister is having problems communicating with the Chinese because allegedly they are not returning his phone calls. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-17/coronavirus-china-investigation-trade-barley-beef/12256896 The beef industry is up in arms trying to resolve the impasse, and the government sees a silver lining in China’s rising dependence and “addiction” to Australian baby formula milk. As a matter of fact, Australian products are highly prized by Chinese consumers and are regarded to have exceptionally high quality. This is a huge plus for Australia.
It is as if the Australia Government is totally unaware of its bargaining power and the extent of Chinese dependence on Australian imports that they are unable to source from other suppliers.
China can get beef from Brazil or Argentina for example, but where would China go to find iron ore in the quality and amounts it imports from Australia? Where will it source its highly prized lithium from and what about Gold? And this is not to mention other supplies of which Australia is a major global producer.
The issue at hand here is that China deals with Australia collectively. In Western language, this is seen as “totalitarian” and taboo. But on the other side of the scale, Australia does not only pander to the USA, but it also allows Australian companies to make international deals even if they are damaging to the national economy and security. In the Western language, this is called “free enterprise”.
With all the above said, the manner in which Australia deals with China is rather farcical. Raising the ire of the Chinese would be the fact that, on the one hand, Australia implores them to remove Chinese sanctions on Australian goods, whilst at the same time, Australia sailing out with their strongman American ally, into waters are under dispute, just in order to demonstrate their “world policemen” cabal status. Then, at this delicate time, adding insult to injury, Australia enthusiastically participates in the US led push for an enquiry into China and the WHO, with the implication of legal ramifications. The hypocrisy of this all is palpable, a grovelling trade partner one minute and a participant in world policing the next. China must look at Australia and wonder whether this trading partner is a valued and reliable one, or merely one that when it is necessary, needs to show their loyalty to their military and political ally, America.
Australia needs to redefine its position in the world, be on good terms with all nations, including China and America, on terms that can be negotiated in a manner that suits all, with all parties on equal par with each other.
Afterall, if land-locked, tiny and resourceless Switzerland was able to stay neutral during WWII, why is it that Australia cannot even try?