It’s not often I find myself in agreement with something Paul Keating has said or done – in fact, I’ve written on a few occasions about some of the rather wretched things he is responsible for. His admiration for Suharto, his work heralding neoliberalism to Australia as Treasurer and Prime Minister, and the introduction of mandatory detention for refugees are a few off the top of my head. But on his recent AUKUS statements, I agree. It is, ironically, a critique of Labor from the left, after all…
The suggestion of a military threat from China – up to an including an invasion of the Australian mainland – is not particularly new, but periodically gains traction in popular discourse when such a suitable threat is politically convenient. When AUKUS was announced in September of 2021, it didn’t take long for the press to pick up the story of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan by 2025. Now, with the announcement of at least $368 billion on the table for nuclear powered submarines – likely to be obsolete by the time they are built and a massive waste of public money that would be better served elsewhere – the threat of invasion is ramping up.
I do not have a subscription to the Sydney Morning Herald, but it is hard to miss the sensationalised headlines and provocative imagery. Along with his condemnation of the Albanese Labor government – particularly Deputy Prime Minster and Defence Minister Richard Marles, and Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong – Keating struck out at the media, which somewhat predictably resulted in a media frenzy. How dare the former Prime Minister be so disloyal, not just to the country and its security, but to the mainstream press? One article even compared him and his antics to an “ex-husband”, and that the former Prime Ministers ought to have a compulsory vow of silence.
How democratic and free…
It goes without saying the commercial stations and the Murdoch crowd are, for the most part, also in favour of both AUKUS and the need for nuclear submarines, with the threat of invasion as justification. Sky News noted that many Australians are more terrified of a Chinese invasion than even Taiwan – one can only speculate as to why that is.
Despite constant deference to the “experts” on these very important and very serious matters, I genuinely do not see an imminent threat of invasion from China against Taiwan, let alone a conflict with Australia. Unless it is a tightly guarded secret at the very top of Chinese deliberations, there has been no inclination from the Chinese government that they are prepared to lock themselves into such a conflict. Biden has already stated that the US will defend Taiwan against any aggression, and AUKUS provides a new bridge for Australia to once more become the staging ground for US dominance in the Pacific. As if our sovereignty and autonomy as a state wasn’t in such dire straits already, we can always find more ways to subordinate ourselves to the imperial superpower an ocean away.
Given that work done by the CSIS in Washington have concluded that an amphibious invasion of Taiwan by China – as it would have to be – would be devastating but, ultimately, unsuccessful, cries about the inevitability of such an invasion ought to be questioned. It seems quite clear that, even if China does achieve the required technological and military advancements to match the billions being poured into Taiwan by the US and the US itself, the costs tend to far outweigh the distant and not guaranteed benefits.
The Chinese government isn’t stupid. China has conducted its fair share of antagonistic activities in the region, but it would be well aware of their limits and of the West’s capabilities. All the reckless and borderline dogmatic reporting on the prospects of war are doing is sowing fear among the public and providing vile justification for the bipartisan robbery to bring in useless military hardware.
Keating is right to call out Albanese and the current Labor government for so enthusiastically adopting the Coalition’s foolish and dangerous positions. That neither major party are willing to stand up to American dominance or, at the very least, push for an easing of tensions in the region rather than sabre-rattling, is quite concerning. To see some Labor supporters online also lashing out at Keating, while amusing, also goes to show how little former glory matters in the face of contemporary loyalty.
One can only hope cooler and more rational heads prevail, both here, in China and in the US. The people should be demanding it.