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Heading for another Cold War?

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Editorial By Alison Broinowski

As Parliament sat for the last time this year, a lot was going on in Canberra and in our region. The Prime Minister and Foreign Minister met with their counterparts in Phnom Penh, Bali, and Bangkok, keeping up some pressure on China while seeking opportunities to improve relations after six years of mutual distance. But Defence Minister Richard Marles continued to multiply our weapons orders and to increase solidarity with Japan, all directed against China. As well, ADF personnel are to work in the UK ‘training’ Ukrainian military, and are ‘interchangeable’ with the US in our region. Australia may yet be sliding towards war, if not against Russia, then against China.

This seems to put Australian leaders out of step with President Biden, who (according to Chinese reports) told President Xi in Bali that the US doesn’t seek a new cold war, doesn’t support ‘Taiwan independence’, or two Chinas. Nor does the US want ‘one China, one Taiwan’, or ‘decoupling’ of Taiwan from China.

As well, the US doesn’t seek to contain China. (‘Goodbye G20, hello BRICS+’). Biden said that when it comes to China, the US would ‘compete vigorously, but I’m not looking for conflict’. He added: ‘I absolutely believe there need not be a new Cold War’ between America and China.

Successive Australian defence ministers have anticipated war with China in support of the US over either the South China Sea or Taiwan. If Marles’ view is different from Biden’s, he should explain it to the Australian people. Such an explanation isn’t likely to be given soon.

The forthcoming Defence Review will probably propose further military spending and recruitment, intended more for an expeditionary war against China than for the defence of Australia. The AUKUS consultation period will likely end with similar decisions but little explicit detail. And we can expect the inquiry into how Australia goes to war to produce a compromise report, designed to satisfy the unwary public that reform has been achieved.

If the subcommittee of the JSCFADT merely recommends scrutiny and debate, it will affirm the status quo and achieve no change. That this is the intention of the major parties was made abundantly clear to the hundreds attending the IPAN conference, ‘Charting our own course’ on 21-23 November. There, support for war powers reform was affirmed, but up the hill in Canberra most politicians were preoccupied with more pressing matters. Our message still needs to find resonance beyond our core of supporters.

As we press on with our campaign, and present evidence to the inquiry at Parliament House on 9 December, we acknowledge with gratitude the generous support we have had from our major benefactor, to whom we wish a speedy recovery from illness.

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