Abbott extends Morrison’s diplomatic disaster
Published: Oct 13, 2021 06:58 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott blundered his way on stage in Taipei city to deliver a most imprudent speech to the Yushan Regional Security Forum on October 7. Abbott was accorded all the courtesies of a visiting dignitary, including being received by Tsai Ing-wen.

Prior to Abbott arriving, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the visit was private yet he was accompanied by a senior Australian representative, Jenny Bloomfield. Her presence conferred official status on Abbott's presence in Taiwan.

However, before further discussing this visit, it should be seen in the context of the Australian nuclear submarine deal announced on September 16 by US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Morrison. The deal involved scrapping a contract between Australia and France to produce conventional submarines. The French were given no prior warning by Morrison that the deal was to be scrapped, and became exceedingly angry. It was an exhibition of the most appalling diplomacy.

The US said they will build eight nuclear powered submarines for Australia by 2040, but this will more likely be by 2050. Their capacity is stretched, so the British have said they might be able to assist. A major difficulty with the proposal is that Australia is not a nuclear country. It could not service the highly enriched reactors driving the engines. The three-way decision led to the formation of a new defense cooperation arrangement known as AUKUS.

The submarine deal is such an improbable arrangement that it should be seen as a smokescreen for other announcements quietly made at the AUSMIN (Australia-US Ministerial Consultations) talks in September. These saw Australia agree to the home porting of US naval vessels in Australia, including submarines at HMAS Stirling near Fremantle, a permanent US marine deployment in Darwin, and US bombers to be based in the Northern Territory. 

This undertaking will have the effect of considerably weakening Australian sovereignty. The US wants to use Australia as it did in WWII, as a military base and launching pad for military activities it might have in mind to the north of Australia. It will be able to undertake these activities without reference to the Australian parliament. 

The Australian people will be hostage to the American military/industrial complex. They are already hostage to the Murdoch media empire which controls 70 percent of Australian information services. The combination has Australia acting as a vassal state of the US with the people unable or unwilling to question any significant developments taking place around them. The comparative wealth of the extensive Australian middle class does not incentivize them to question the comfortable isolated cocoon of the status quo.

For Morrison, the submarine 'deal' and the American guarantees of closer defense relationship play into his election strategy of a strong pro-American, anti-Chinese narrative. 

Morrison is not bright and cares little about anyone except himself. He has little interest in the damage he is causing to the long and carefully nurtured relationship with China. To him, China is a foreign and hostile entity. He believes he can play to his domestic base because the US has his back. It does not. It only has its own interests at heart, it only ever has. Morrison's electoral base is narrow, passively racist and as noted above, and inward looking. Morrison is hoping to stoke fear and push chase uncommitted voters toward his party. It is short term, all about him, and destructive. It is neither constructive nor creative.

This is where Abbott pops into the picture. A weak man with limited intellect, he is a bully easily manipulated. He has been seized upon by those close to Morrison to deliver anti-China message in Taipei as part of the ruling Liberal National Party election strategy. His presence as a keynote speaker has been easy enough to organize with the Taiwan authorities - an all-expenses junket with a handsome fee thrown in. He is little more than an unbalanced pawn in the picture.

Prior to his Yushan speech, Abbott had not expressed himself in such rabid terms about China. The Abbott speech was in advance of anything he has said so far. So, who wrote it? It contained a strong message and a line that has been pushed by the US arms industry funded 'think tank' - the anti-China Australian Security Policy Institute (ASPI). The tone reflected the language we have become used to from ASPI. Did they write the speech and work with Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to help organize the visit?

ASPI has become Morrison's preferred organization on foreign affairs and defense issues. ASPI are assuming a greater role in the formulation of Australian foreign and defense policies. They appear to have become a conduit for the input of US policy.

Abbott's intervention has all the hallmarks of Canberra's approval if not backing. It has about the same inept diplomacy which has seen the collapse in relations with China, France and the EU. Talk of war to defend Taiwan is beyond the comprehension and capacity of the Australian ruling party, and their media backers.

The author is a retired Australian Diplomat and political commentator. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn