Dutton’s sabre rattling an election tactic to strike fear of China among swing voters
Published: Nov 30, 2021 01:48 PM
Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton Photo: AFP

Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton Photo: AFP

Speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra on November 26, Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton said Australia would join the US to "defend Taiwan" if the Chinese mainland attacked the island.

This indeed shows that the reactionary ruling Liberal National Party (LNP) has learned nothing over the past 50 years. Sharing in the American failures of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan apparently has not registered on Australian policymakers, or perhaps they are tacitly acknowledging that they do not make policies - wherever the US goes, Australia will follow without thought or consideration.

Dutton, a none too bright minister in an incredibly pedestrian and what many see as a corrupt government, appeared to have been briefed by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) that is partially funded by US arms manufacturers. The remainder of its funding comes from the US Embassy and the Australian government. It is anything but independent.

ASPI has been running with the line for some time that the region is facing a situation similar to the one in the 1930s. Dutton told the press club that dark clouds are forming in the region and countries "would be foolish to repeat the mistakes of the 1930s."

Dutton is out on a limb. There is no evidence that China is seeking or would seek to incorporate the Taiwan island by force and there is no evidence that the US would be prepared to "defend" Taiwan. Taiwan island is the pawn in the misguided US effort to contain China.

Dutton rattled his sabre long and loud, but in all of his hour-long diatribe he did not spell out how Australia would meet the threat that he had posed. Presumably he believes that the US has his back, but that is not assured.

US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping held an amicable virtual meeting on November 15, which is more than Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been able to manage. And to underline that the US will always look after its own interests first - it has picked up 40 percent of the trade Australia has lost with China.

Dutton claimed that every major city in Australia is within range of Chinese missiles. It was an alarmist and untrue claim designed to strike fear into the heart of every swing voter. That is what Dutton's sabre rattling was all about. It was electioneering at a time when the prospects for the LNP being reelected are falling.

Besides an election tactic, what is referred to as a khaki election, seeking to stampede electors into the home paddock with fear of an outside threat, it is hard to see what Dutton was on about other than delivering a warning to the region about the "evil intent" of China. And even Dutton must know it would not have been listened to. There is scant respect for the LNP government in the region.

The shadow foreign minister, Penny Wong, said Dutton's speech was a case of desperate political tactics. She thought he might be chasing Morrison's job.

Paul Keating, the former prime minister, labeled Dutton a dangerous personality. He said Dutton's posturing was inappropriate to Australia's vulnerable geographic circumstances and projecting Australia into circumstances that it is not in any position to manage or control, let alone succeed and prosper in.

Dutton is prone to making stupid, over-the-top statements. In March 2018 he offered refugee asylum to white South African farmers who he said were being murdered wholesale. They were not. Several had been. It was a racist response to a contrived issue.

Dutton has also signed an agreement between the US, UK and Australia on November 22 for the exchange of naval nuclear propulsion information. This forms a part of the proposed AUKUS agreement. The purchase of nuclear submarines from the US is never going to happen. It was a smoke screen for the US to base more planes, ships and troops in Australia. There is nothing in it for Australia. The USA reaps all the advantages. If the US adopts Cold War tactics from the north of Australia, it will fly bombers toward China on a fixed bearing, turning back at the last possible moment. These planes may or may not be armed with nuclear weapons. This was the game played by the US toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War era.

This would put the north of Australia on a permanent war footing. The US would seek and be given a measure of control over northern air and sea space. And Australia would have lost a lot more sovereignty than that denied by Pine Gap.

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