Aussies going shallow with wrong-headed submarine deal: former diplomat
Published: Sep 28, 2021 03:26 PM
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison reacting during a press conference at Australia's Parliament House in Canberra on March 22, 2021. Photo: VCG

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison  Photo: VCG

Editor's Note:  

The AUKUS deal, under which the US and UK will provide Australia with technology to build nuclear-powered submarines, has drawn criticism and aroused wide concerns both within and outside Australia. Critics in Australia slammed the deal for ceding sovereignty to the US, and even the UK. Some think the deal has made Australia "isolated in Asia and Europe." Bruce Haigh (Haigh), an Australian political commentator and former diplomat, is one of those critics. In a written interview with the Global Times (GT) reporters Yu Jincui and Li Qingqing, Haigh said the deal with Australia is moving the country to become a pariah state whose only friend is the US. He also criticized the "shallow" Australian politicians behind the deal. The following is the full transcript of the interview. 

GT: You said on Twitter that "Australia is isolated in Asia and Europe" due to the AUKUS deal. Could you elaborate upon this point?

The ineptness with which Australia broke its submarine deal with France has angered that country and disturbed other European countries, who now view Australia as unreliable and crude. The haste and secrecy with which Australia moved to break the deal and to announce a greatly increased US defence presence had the hallmark of coercive American diplomacy. Why the rush? What is the US seeking to put in place?

Asian regional states look for stability. By upping the ante Australia has upset the balance. Indonesia and Malaysia have expressed disquiet and Singapore has indicated it can live with the decision. In my experience I know they will be angry. Australia's radically altered defence posture was done without consultation. To say the least, that is arrogant and rude. Australian diplomacy has been unprofessional, thoughtless and provocative. The US is seen to be behind it, Australia is viewed as a pawn and the effect will be to nudge the region closer to China. Australia and America have kicked an own goal. 

And this comes on top of the precipitate and humiliating US withdrawal from Afghanistan which once again brought into question the reliability of America as an ally.

GT: Some analysts believe that AUKUS represents the "death knell for strategic ambiguity" in Australian foreign policy. What is Australia's "strategic ambiguity"? How has it been influenced by AUKUS?

Australia for a long time maintained the fiction of even handedness in its relations with China and the US. AUKUS has blown that out of the water. Australia has thrown its lot in with the US. During WWII the Americans used Australia as a launching pad to retake Pacific islands and the Philippines from the Japanese. It seeks to do that again. It wants to turn Australia into fortress Australia.

Australia is moving to become a pariah state, a state just like white Apartheid South African, whose only friend was the United States. Through considerable stupidity, prejudice and lack of vision, it is in the process of losing trading partners around the world. Its standard of living will fall, it will return to the world community cap in hand. The only country able to bail it out will be China - with conditions.

WBruce Haigh 
Photo: Courtesy of Haigh

Bruce Haigh Photo: Courtesy of Haigh

GT: From the Five Eyes alliance, to Quad, then to AUKUS, how did Australia come to the center of the "anti-China forefront?" How will this affect China-Australia relations, as well as Australia's foreign policy in the future?

White Australian politicians and many administrators fear China. This goes as far back as the 1880s. It had to do with race and cheap labour. It led to the White Australia policy which excluded people of colour from emigrating to Australia. It was scrapped by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1972, who also happened to be a good friend of China. There was and remains a primal fear amongst conservative white Australians of an Asian invasion by boat from the north. What used to be termed the Yellow Peril; a powerful political tool along with Reds Under the Bed, which referred to an imagined threat from Communism - the Reds. People with that mindset still govern Australia. China fits the bill, Yellow and Red. These are very immature and unworldly people. They speak no foreign languages and have not travelled very widely. They only feel comfortable with people who speak English and/or look white.

The Five Eyes Alliance, the Quad and AUKUS have been resuscitated or implemented as part of American coercive diplomacy which Australia has embraced. Five Eyes is only as good as America wants it to be and their intelligence gathering is not that good, as their bungled drone attacks attest. The Quad is a figment of imagination. India has no interest in the Pacific. Modi is a cruel and disruptive Prime Minister who, like Trump, fuels internal dissent for short term political gain. India, like America, has big question marks hanging over it in terms of medium to long term stability. Japan is uneasy with the Quad and where it feels America is pushing it. Australia is out of its depth.

AUKUS signals a considerable loss of Australian sovereignty, which will make it hard for Australia to have an independent relationship with China. The US will seek to control Australia and use all the tools available to it including the CIA, which has a history of involvement in Australian politics.

GT: Australia is taking a gamble by completely falling to the US side with the AUKUS deal. Why has Australia chosen to go all the way with the US? Is it because Scott Morrison? Or is it a choice of the whole Australia?

Many in Australia are not happy with the AUKUS deal, indeed they have never been happy being close to and so overtly influenced by the US. Again, we can attribute this to a majority of white politicians, some academics and military officers. Morrison is not very intelligent, he is cunning, but not discerning or well read. He was sucked in by Trump to the extent of making stupid statements about Wuhan and COVID-19. He has been sucked in by Biden. He believes an anti-China agenda will help him win the next election. That is all he cares about. AUKUS is part of that, just a prop for a shallow man.

Australia is badly led and has been since Howard was elected Prime Minister in 1996. The Murdoch press has contributed to this steady decline. There is very little mental toughness and moral courage in Australia.

GT: Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said AUKUS could be, "a catalyst for a nuclear arms race in the Indo-Pacific region." What is your take on this and how will AUKUS affect regional security? Will it be a catalyst for a regional nuclear arms race?

I doubt it. Remember that the subs will not be operational until 2050. However, an increased US defence posture in Australia may lead to a conventional arms build-up in the region. The contest is between the US and China, the forum is the region. The region will look to China for a lead.

It is folly to be talking of war when the challenge is to deal with significant climate change. Resources should be put aside and used for that. China should take a regional lead. Talks should be held. Joint resources stockpiled for fire, flood and rising sea levels.