Above Photo: Courtesy of IPAN – Clinton Fernandez.
Thank you for inviting me to address the Salon. I am greatly honoured and somewhat daunted, given the long list of eminent scholars, analysts and writers who have preceded me.
I am not a “writer”, although I have written a lot during my thirty-year diplomatic career, much of it in relation to China. None of it published and most of it buried in government archives. All I can bring to the table is my personal interpretation of current developments regarding US and China, in the light of my past experience.
One of your previous speakers, Patrick Lawrence, advocated putting the main point first. So here goes:
The United States is not preparing to go to war against China.
The United States is preparing Australia to go to war against China.
The Anzus Treaty
A look at the ANZUS Treaty and the way it has been manipulated over time will explain why I have come to this conclusion.
Originally defensive in concept, the ANZUS Treaty was seen by Australia from its very beginning as a means to “achieve the acceptance by the USA of responsibility in SE Asia” (Percy Spender) to shield Australia from perceived antagonistic forces in its region. It has, however, developed into an instrument for the furtherance of US ability to prosecute war globally – previously in Iraq and Afghanistan, currently against Russia and potentially against China.
The ANZUS Treaty, usually referred to in reverential tones as “The Alliance”, has been elevated to an almost religious article of faith, against which any demur is treated as heresy amounting to treachery. Out of anxiety to cement the US into protection of Australia, the Alliance has been invoked as justification for Australia’s participation in almost every American military adventure – or misadventure – since WW II.
Unlike NATO or the Defence Treaty with Japan, the ANZUS treaty actually provides no guarantee of protection, merely assurances to consult on appropriated means of support in the event that Australia should come under attack.
On the other hand, the Alliance has facilitated the steady growth of American presence in Australia, to the point that it pervades every aspect of Australian political, economic, financial, social and cultural life. Australians fret about China “buying up the country”, but American investment is ten times the size.
They are unaware or uncaring that almost every major Australian company across the resources, food, retail, mass media, entertainment, banking and finance sectors has majority American ownership. Right now US corporations eclipse everyone else in their ability to influence our politics through their investment in Australian stocks.
The transfer of Australian assets to American ownership has continued unabated: In the second half of 2021 then Treasurer Josh Frydenberg approved the transfer of $130 billion of Australian assets to foreign private equity funds, benefiting Goldman Sachs who facilitated the transactions, by multimillions of dollars. Josh Frydenberg now is employed by Goldman Sachs:
The USA and the UK between them represent nearly half of all foreign investment. China plus Hong Kong represents 4.2%. The 4 big “Aussie” banks are dependent on foreign capital which dictate local banks’ policies and operations.
Defence and military weapons manufacturing industries in Australia are now largely owned by US weapons corporations – Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, Thales, NorthropGrumman. The deep integration of Australia’s defence industries and economy into the US military-industrial complex greatly influences Australia’s foreign/defence policies.
That, plus US capture of Australia’s intelligence and policy apparatus through the “Five Eyes” network and ASPI (which has lobbyists from American arms manufacturers on a Board headed by an operative trained by the CIA) means that the US is able to swing Australian policy to support America in almost all its endeavours.
Despite the fact that it contains no guarantee of US protection of Australia, the Treaty and further arrangements under its auspices, such as the 2014 Force Posture Agreement and now AUKUS, have greatly facilitated US war preparation in Australia. This has accelerated exponentially in the past few years. The US now describes Australia as the most important base for the projection of US power in the Indo-Pacific.
Indicators Of War Preparations
- 2,500 US marines stationed in Darwin practicing for war with the Australian Defence Forces, soon to include the Japanese Defence Forces
- Establishment of a regional HQ for the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in Darwin
- Lengthening the RAAF aircraft runways in Northern Territory at our expense for servicing US fighters and bombers
- Proposed stationing of 6 nuclear weapons-capable B52 Bombers at RAAF Tindal in NT
- Construction of massive fuel and maintenance facilities in Darwin NT for US aircraft
- Proposed acquisition of eight nuclear-propelled submarines at the cost of $170 billion for hunter-killer operations in the Taiwan Strait
- Construction, at the cost of $10 billion, of a deep water port on Australia’s east coast for US and UK nuclear powered and nuclear missile-carrying submarines
- The long-established satellite communications station known as Pine Gap in central Australia has recently, and is still being, expanded and upgraded. It is key to the command and control of US forces in the Indo-Pacific (and even as far afield as Ukraine)
The Government and right wing anti-China analysts and commentators, whose opinions dominate main stream media, accept the Defence Minister’s contention that this militarisation enhances Australia’s sovereignty by strengthening the range and lethality of Australia’s high-end war-fighting capability to provide a credible deterrent to a potential aggressor.
Many analysts and commentators outside the governing elite, including myself, argue that these arrangements effectively cede Australian sovereignty to America. This is especially because of the provisions of the Force Posture Agreement of 2014, entered into under the auspices of ANZUS.
I understand that a paper has been circulated to the Committee, expounding the details of the FPA, so in summary, it gives unimpeded access, exclusive control and use of agreed facilities and areas to US personnel, aircraft, ships and vehicles and gives Australia absolutely no say at all in how, when where and why they are to be used.
All Australian analysts, whether sympathetic or antipathetic to China, agree on one point. That is, that if the US goes to war against China over the status of Taiwan, or any other issue of contention, Australia will inevitably be involved.
All these preparations are justified by the false premise that China presents a military threat. China has not invaded anywhere. It has never proposed use of force against other countries. It has enshrined in its Constitution the ‘Three No’s – No military alliances; No military bases; No use, or threat to use, military force. China has, however, reserved the right to use force to prevent secession by Taiwan.
It has recently rapidly increased its defence capability in response to the fearsome US naval presence and war-fighting exercises just off its coastline. Its defence budget is one third that of the US and the bases that it has constructed in the South China Sea pale into insignificance compared to the hundreds of bases that the US has ranged all around China.
So, if China is not a military threat, why is it designated as the primary systemic threat of the collective West, led by the US? The answer lies in the word “systemic”. China has expressed a determination to revamp the global financial system to make it fairer for developing countries. Kissinger is reputed to have said: “If you control money, you control the world”. The US currently controls world finance and China (with Russia) is out to change that.
The US, which played the leading part in the establishment of the post-World War II institutions, has become a leading revisionist, abandoning the UN for “coalitions of the willing”. The US has declined to join important Conventions like those on the Law of the Sea and on Climate. It has refused to accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, and has exempted itself from the Genocide Convention. It has played a leading part in the weakening of the World Trade Organisation by imposing trade restrictions on other countries, while not agreeing to new appointments to the WTO’s appellate tribunal, so preventing that body from functioning.
China is the second-largest (or by some calculations, the largest) economy in the world. It is the major trading partner of over 100 countries, mainly in the global south, but including Australia and a number of other Western countries. Hence China has the clout to undermine the “international rules-based order” set up by, and for the benefit of, the West.
China has already established an alternative to the Anglo-American international financial transaction system: – the Cross-border Interbank Payments System CIPS, (in which, ironically a number of Western banks are shareholders). In collaboration with Russia and within the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China & South Africa) China is creating an alternative to the almighty dollar as the preferred currency for trade and for national reserve holdings.
It seems that the US has concluded that, since it can’t constrain China economically, it will have to get it bogged down in a long-drawn-out war to hinder its economic growth and hamper its infrastructure development cooperation with other countries. On 25 March 2021 President Biden vowed to prevent China from overtaking the US as the most powerful country in the world – “not on my watch” he said.
Nevertheless, the latest CSIS computer modelling, like previous modelling by the Rand Corporation, indicates that all involved in a Sino-US war would lose.
All of these analyses overlook one significant point. US determination to pursue the Wolfowitz doctrine of preventing the rise of any power that could challenge US global supremacy (neither Russia, nor Europe, nor China) has not diminished, but has morphed into a strategy of fighting its adversaries by proxy.
This has been clearly demonstrated by the war in Ukraine. A White House press briefing on 25 January 2022, before the Russian intervention, stated that “the US, in concert with its European partners, will weaken Russia to the point where it can exercise no influence on the international stage”.
Political leaders from Biden, through Pelosi and on to Members of Congress have told Ukraine that “your war is our war and we are in it for as long as it takes”. Congressman Adam Schiff put it bluntly that “we support Ukraine… to fight Russia over there, so that we don’t have to fight it over here”.
In the case of China, defined in the NDS as the principal threat to the US, the proxy of choice is clearly Taiwan. The strategy envisages:
- a world-wide media campaign (going on for several years already) to portray China as the aggressor;
- goading China into taking military action to prevent Taiwan’s secession;
- leaving Taiwan to conduct its own defence, with constant resupply of arms and equipment from the US, at great profit to the military/industrial complex;
- sustaining Taiwan sufficiently to keep China ‘bogged down’, thus hampering its economic development and its infrastructure cooperation with other countries;
- avoiding direct military engagement, in order to maintain the full capacity of US forces, while China’s would be significantly depleted; Although Biden has publicly re-affirmed adherence to the ‘One China’ principle, the US has been goading China by;
- stationing the bulk its naval power off the coast of China;
- ‘freedom of navigation’ and combat exercises in the South China Sea and Taiwan Straits;
- visits by senior US officials using US military aircraft;
- creation of a putative ‘Air Defence Identification Zone’ (ADIZ) extending well over mainland territory and then alleging Chinese violation of it;
- secretly providing military training personnel (whilst denying it);
- including Taiwan in the Summit for Democracy (9-10 December 2021), implying it is a separate country;
Many Australian politicians, (although not the present government), joined in goading China, by encouraging Taiwan to consider the possibility of declaring independence, which would trigger military action by China.
If Australia were to make good on its promise to ‘save Taiwan’, it would be devastated:
- The Australian navy would be obliterated, given the disparity between China’s and Australia’s forces;
- command/control centres (and possibly cities) in Australia could be wiped out by Chinese missiles. Australia has no anti-missile defence;
- To preserve its own assets, and to forestall the descent into nuclear conflict, the US would not engage directly in defence of Australia;
- US ‘support’ would be through massive arms sales to replace our losses – just as in Ukraine – at further profit to the US military/industrial complex;
- ASEAN is unlikely to support Australia. It has renewed and up-graded its Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China. Each member country has infrastructure projects under China’s BRI, which they would not want to jeopardise in a ‘no-win war’;
- Support from India is unlikely, despite its membership of the Quad – which is nothing more than a consultative dialogue. India has security commitments to China under the SCO and gets its arms from Russia, which has a “better than treaty” relationship with China.
- Australia relies heavily on China for many daily necessities. In a war, deliveries from China would be severely disrupted.
Australians generally are more than happy for the material benefits of a trading relationship with China, which constitutes more than one third of Australia’s export earnings. But, any attempt by China to improve Australians’ understanding of China’s historical, social, cultural and scientific achievements, let alone its political systems or foreign policy, are instantly feared as nefarious attempts to infiltrate Australian politics and undermine the ‘Australian way of life’.
The increasing size of China’s economic (and, by extension military) strength, to which Australia contributes important resources and from which it derives so much benefit, is portrayed as a threat to Australia’s security. This has Australia trapped in the absurd policy paradox of preparing to go to war against China to protect Australia’s trade with China.
Recent developments in Taiwan, particularly the county and municipal elections, which caused the President, Tsai Ingwen, to resign her leadership of the pro-Independence Party, suggest that Taiwan prefers the status quo and is unwilling to be the proxy of the US in a war with Beijing.
Australia thus becomes the potential proxy.
In the name of the Alliance, American service personnel (active and retired) are now embedded in Australian defence policy making institutions and in command and control positions within the ADF. All of the American military assets installed in Australia under the Alliance and the AUKUS deal, are now “interchangeable” with the ADF, making it possible to use them as putative Australian forces against China, while the US stands aside and maintains the same pretence of “no engagement”, as it is doing in Ukraine.
This is why I said at the beginning that the US is preparing to send Australia to war against China.
Whilst these are the dangers that the ANZUS Alliance poses for Australia if the US instigates a war against China, there are risks for the US also.
1. There would be crippling expense that further exacerbates the US wealth divide and related domestic political breakdown. Supplying the weaponry and everything else required for a proxy war with China would be a bigger drain on the US budget than the Ukraine conflict. The expenditure would flow back to the military industrial complex, constituting a further massive transfer of wealth from the ordinary taxpayer to the plutocrat billionaires. It would blow out the already unsustainable national debt, and either take away from expenditure on essential services and infrastructure, or, if they print money, further blow out inflation. The political and social breakdown that the US is already suffering as a consequence of its real economic decline and widening wealth gap could only intensify to breaking point.
2. The slide into a direct war would probably be inevitable. Planning a proxy war is all very well as an academic exercise, but sticking with those plans when the fighting starts will be very difficult. There are already lunatic politicians and “experts” in the US who think American can win a direct war, so when China starts bombing Australia, and good old Aussie “mates” are dying in massive numbers, the voices of those in the US advocating direct engagement will be amplified. Combined with the already extreme polarisation of US politics in which ONLY war is bipartisan, the risk that extremists will take the US into direct conflict, and a nuclear showdown with China, is very serious.
3. The folding in of Japan into the AUKUS arrangements will increase the risk that Japan would be obliged to assist Australia in any military conflict with China. The US, because of its Defence Treaty with Japan, would then be obliged to join in the fighting, vitiating its plan to avoid direct military engagement.
A point of historical irony:
I’ll wind up with a bit of historical irony, in which I was personally involved:
In the early 70’s, we had been kept completely in the dark about the secret Kissinger visits to China, until the plan for Nixon to visit was announced. Feeling blindsided by a momentous change in US policy towards China, we produced Policy Planning Paper QP11/71 of 21 July 1971.
It recognised.. “political disadvantage resulting from the manner in which the United States conducts its global policies” and argued that this would mean that. “The American alliance, in a changing power balance, will mean less to us than it has in the past.”
It went on:
“If anything, this argument has been strengthened by recent United States actions and America’s failure to consult us on issues of primary importance to Australia. Accordingly, we shall need, now more than ever, to formulate independent policies, based on Australian national interests and those of our near neighbours…”
This is even more true today than it was in the 1970’s. For example, Australia was not consulted in the precipitate US withdrawal from Afghanistan, despite our role as ‘loyal’ supporter of the US in that ill-advised conflict. Our indignant protestations were met with Biden’s statement that “America acts only in its own interests”.
Our present predicament is due largely to the failure of a succession of Australian Governments to take this analysis to heart and act upon it. Prime Minister Fraser, who replaced Whitlam, ironically came to a very similar view towards the end of his life, which he set forth in detail in his book ‘Dangerous Allies’, but too late to do anything about it. He identified the paradox that Australia needs the US for its defence, but it only needs defending because of the US.
A couple of pertinent quotes, first from the late Jim Molan:
We were, in his view, abdicating our own defence and cultivating complete dependence on the Americans.
And from Chris Hedges: An (incomplete) list of some of the commentators from whom I have drawn:
John Menadue – former secretary PM&C
Richard Tanter– military analyst, Nautilus Foundation
Brian Toohey- author (political and historical analysis)
Mike Scrafton- was a senior Defence executive, and ministerial adviser to the minister for defence
Paul Keating- was the prime minister of Australia from 1991 to 1996.
Geoff Raby Ao- was Australia’s ambassador to China (2007–11); He was awarded the Order of Australia for services to Australia–China relations and to international trade.
Gregory Clark- began his diplomatic career with postings to Hong Kong and Moscow. He is emeritus president of Tama University in Tokyo and vice-president of the pioneering Akita International University.
Dr Mike Gilligan- worked for 20 years in defence policy and evaluating military proposals for development, including time in the Pentagon on military balances in Asia.
Jocelyn Chey- AM is Visiting Professor at the University of Sydney and Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University and UTS. She formerly held diplomatic posts in China and Hong Kong. She is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of International Affairs.
Joseph Camilleri- is Emeritus Professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Social Sciences, and President of Conversation at the Crossroads
David S G Goodman- is the Director, China Studies Centre, University of Sydney.
Geoff Miller- was Director-General, Office of National Assessments, deputy secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador to Japan and the Republic of Korea, and High Commissioner to New Zealand.
Cavan Hogue- was Ambassador to USSR and Russia. He also worked at ANU and Macquarie universities.