By Peter Hayes
On 8 June 2020, The Australian carried the following online banner report:
“The Five Eyes intelligence network of Australia, the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand has agreed to discussions about a co-ordinated strategic economic response to the COVID-19 crisis in a broadening of purpose for the world’s largest security alliance.”
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg reportedly told The Australian he had been pushing for the five countries to coordinate their economic responses to COVID-19 to ensure global financial stability.
The NZ media reported NZ foreign policy watchers saw the move as “part of a broader effort by Australia and the US to shore up economic security and take a harder line on China.” It seemed to be yet another move by elements of the Trump Administration to further isolate China; dragging Australia (and other five-eyes partners) into its very dangerous vortex. And it is unlikely to achieve what the Trump administration might expect and could end badly for all.
A responsible Australian government should recognise American hostility to China’s rise for what it is – a risk to Australian national interests and a warning of more sinister developments.
The move should also be recognised as flying in the face of everything the US, Australia and many other nations have stood for and worked for since World War II: the proposition that the world is best served by a trade regime which is as free as practicable and in which all countries have equal access to every market. This approach was born of the bitter experience of the 1920s and 1930s in which the world became divided into hostile trading blocs, trade wars broke out, and many countries followed “beggar thy neighbour” trade policies.
China’s exclusion from talks about economic revival is provocative in the extreme; channelling the US-China strategic contest deeper into the military-intelligence domain. Given the presence of permanent reciprocal exchange officers in both Australian and US military operational HQ planning staffs, it is conceivable there is already some contingency planning for a range of US-led hostile engagements with China.
Defence convention and current Australian law will prevent the Australian public knowing anything about Prime Minister Morrison’s handling of the risk and consequences until a tweet from Trump reveals them. If that leads to war it will be a violation of our sovereignty and our democracy, and unacceptable to the Australia people.
Allying with the US and others to disadvantage China will only destroy our wealth and future in a futile US hegemonic contest which will not guarantee Australia’s security but endanger it.
It would be a better choice for the Australian government to include China in such “talks”. Australia should be seeking every opportunity to find areas of agreement with China. Any successful strategy to rescue the planet from COVID-19 and the ravages of global warming must include China and India. Why confine it to the Anglo-allies? What is the hidden agenda?
Reform of Australia’s War Powers is more urgent than ever.