By Alison Broinowski
When Bob Hawke established SBS, he was responding to the pleas of first-generation migrants from Europe for news about their former homelands, delivered by people who were like them, and who could pronounce their names. For other Australians, SBS became popular as an alternative source of foreign information and culture. In due course, its funds were cut; it took on advertising; and migrant British broadcasters joined it in growing numbers. The result is increasingly uncritical use of UK newsfeed and unbalanced reporting from conflict zones, like those in Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine.
Unless Australians have the time and inclination to search for foreign news in translation, or have the language capacity for it, they get only one side of most stories. That includes many in government. This matters when the news concerns war, because then the media become recyclers of propaganda from one side, unchallenged by the other. The minimal presence of Australian foreign correspondents in most countries – none now in China, and few in Asia – makes observers one-eyed at best, dependent on Western sources.
Most Australians have been shocked by events in Ukraine since February, but many lack familiarity with the build-up from 2014, and the background going back to the fall of the USSR and earlier. Readers and viewers who get Western media accounts from Ukraine cannot understand why three peace agreements, at Minsk and Istanbul, have failed, or whose interest is served by having the war continue. Taking over in late June as head of the British Army, General Sir Patrick Sanders has been quick to declare that the UK must prepare to fight Putin’s armies in Europe.
Even if it’s true, that is not Australia’s concern. What is more significant for us is that NATO is to send its largest ever contingent to war games off Hawaii from June to August this year. RIMPAC 2022 will involve 38 ships from 26 countries, four submarines, 170 aircraft and 25,000 military personnel, and ground units from nine countries making amphibious landings. As well as the US and other NATO members, participants will include Australia, Brunei, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, the Republic of Korea, the Republic of the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Tonga.
Whether or not RIMPAC alarms China, that’s its purpose. NATO is supporting Ukraine as its proxy fighter against Russia, its enemy ever since 1947. NATO is now making its presence felt in the Pacific, where the proxy fighter in a war against China would be Taiwan. What propels NATO’s display of weapons of war at RIMPAC is the US intention to remain the global superpower, confining both Russia and China with barricades manned by small and medium countries including Australia, which obligingly buy American weapons for the purpose.
As Secretary of State Antony Blinken admitted in a speech on 26 May 2022, the US does not seek military equality with other states, but military supremacy, particularly with respect to China: ‘President Biden has instructed the Department of Defense to hold China as its pacing challenge, to ensure that our military stays ahead’. The US military supremacy has for long had no rival, if that can be measured in dollars. Its military expenditure is larger than the next nine highest spending countries combined.
Staying ahead militarily, however, depends on staying ahead economically as well. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in 2016 China overtook the US at as the world’s largest economy. By 2021, China accounted for 19% of the global economy, compared to the US at 16%. The gap is widening and the IMF expects that by 2027 China’s economy will surpass America’s by nearly 30%.
While the US spends record amounts on the means of killing people, China is devising peaceful alternatives. Its Three Rings Strategy puts economic relations with Eurasian, South Asian, and African countries ahead of military collaboration. At a summit in November coinciding with China’s Party Congress, BRICS+ countries from the global south will meet for further discussions on a Eurasian free trade area, a customs union, and a unified payment system, as well as the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) and interaction between ASEAN and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). At the recent St Petersburg International Economic Forum – a rival to Davos – China’s President Xi was virtually present, and an alternative G8 was announced, whose combined purchasing power parity is greater than that of the Western G8.
While US sanctions on Ukraine strangle supplies of Russian gas to Europe via Nordstream 1 and 2, China is building alternative pipelines from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India and from Iran through Pakistan to India. Both bypass the Suez Canal and the Persian Gulf. Another detour, opening up with global warming, is the Northern Sea Route from the Barents Sea, offering benefits to Russia, China and India. While Australia’s fast train remains a distant dream, a Russian north-south transportation corridor links Finland and north-west Russia to the Persian Gulf via the Caspian Sea and Iran. China’s BRI has six overland corridors from China, through India to Europe. (Pepe Escobar, https://thecradle.co/Article/columns/11928 ).
The competing developmental and militaristic options are on display. At a time when Australia’s interests depend on the right choice, it’s important that our new government makes it.