Weak Australian leadership inhibits potential relationship reset with China
Published: Feb 14, 2022 06:48 PM
Illustration: Liu Rui/Global Times

Illustration: Liu Rui/Global Times

A rip is a dangerous movement of water that can sweep swimmers out to sea. Struggling against a rip may lead to drowning; the best course is to move to the edge, away from the center, and swim ashore.

Australia became aware of a small rip generated by President Barack Obama. It ignored it and continued to surf. The rip strengthened under Donald Trump and Australia found itself swept along, made worse by believing the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which said there was no problem. It was false advice. Its predicament became worse with President Joe Biden maintaining the rush to deep water.

Its only hope is that the rip slows allowing it to make for shore which is now a long way off. 

Should Anthony Albanese become Prime Minister he will need help to get to shore. At the moment he is being swept along by a fear of upsetting voters prior to the Federal election due in weeks. The Murdoch-dominated media in Australia is anti-China and many in the Australian population go along with this view.

In addition, Albanese is a cautious person and politician. He is not an intellectual. He has demonstrated a propensity to believe the US view of the world without analysis. He appears to have accepted AUKUS and a dangerously increased US defense presence in Australia, particularly in the north.

Albanese could never be compared to Whitlam. He is not a lateral thinker, he is not creative, he will not be a charismatic leader. He will be a safe leader, if not an ordinary leader. If he were an officer in the army, he might lead a brigade but he would not be placed in a position to plan; stubborn defense might be seen as his forte.

Nonetheless, in comparison to Morrison, he positively shines, such is the abysmal state of Australian politics. Recently the head of ASIO, Mike Burgess, implied that he had thwarted attempts by a state player to infiltrate the selection process for Labor Party election candidates. The player was widely understood to be China. Under questioning he backed off giving just one example, without details, of an attempt to infiltrate the Australian political process through the Labor Party. Again, it was understood to be China.

Dutton, the defense minister, who is rabidly anti-China and believed to be heavily influenced by ASPI, the US state department and arms manufacturers (who also contribute to ASPI's funding), recently accused the Labor Party of being "soft on China" and of seeking to cultivate dangerous ties. 

Albanese pushed back, but it was an unequivocal indication of the thinking of the majority in the LNP.

All of which conspires to make Albanese very cautious in the run-up to the election. He will be under sustained pressure from the US to implement the dangerous AUKUS understanding, which the US hopes will translate into an agreement.

Albanese looks increasingly likely to win the election, not because of anything he has done but because Morrison's LNP is imploding, through corruption, failure to manage COVID-19 and a range of other anti-social programs and prejudices.

One would like to see a reset in the relationship with China, but Australian leadership is weak and American pressure is sustained.

The Australian relationship with China was fine until America became aware of its steady decline, a fact increasingly obvious to others since the end of the war in Vietnam, through growing gun sponsored crime and violence, deteriorating race relations, the disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan and the election of Trump.

America panicked when it rightly perceived its power and influence to be waning particularly when set against the achievements of China. Rivalry turned to competition, hostility and then threats. Trump with his inestimable stupidity and bombast pushed deed and rhetoric to dangerous levels coupled to unsustainable accusations.

The Murdoch media became his faithful mouthpiece and Australia, under sustained US pressure, acquiesced. Morrison signaled the dramatic turn with his Trump-inspired Wuhan/COVID aspersion.

It was a pathetic attempt to please a ridiculous President.

Morrison is a clown. Fewer and fewer people in Australia are taking him seriously, which is a hopeful sign for the future.

The hope for a reset in the relationship rests with diplomacy - careful, cautious and creative discussions, free from outside pressure or influence and conducted out of the spotlight. What other course would a retired diplomat advocate?

The author was a diplomat from 1972- 1995 and was a Tribunal Member until 2000. He writes and comments on domestic and international relations. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn