Many Australians absorb world affairs only from the mainstream media. Most are appalled by the suffering inflicted on Ukrainians, and 81 per cent want Australia to support Ukraine with humanitarian aid, military equipment and sanctions. But those who identify with Ukraine might consider its similarity to Australia.
President Zelensky warned the Australian parliament on 31 March about threats facing Australia, implicitly from China. His message was that we cannot rely on the United States to send troops or aircraft to defend Australia any more than Ukraine can. He seems to understand that Ukraine is a disposable ally and collateral damage in the long-range strategy of Britain and the United States, which intend regime change in Russia. He knows that NATO’s founding purpose in 1947 was to oppose the Soviet Union, and now Russia.
Successive Australian governments have unsuccessfully sought written confirmation—which ANZUS does not provide—that the United States will defend Australia. But the message is clear. Your country is yours to defend, say Americans. The US Army’s Chief of Staff recently pointed to the lessons of Ukraine for America’s allies, asking, ‘Are they willing to die for their country?’ He mentioned Taiwan, but he could have been talking about Australia. Instead of paying attention, then Prime Minister Scott Morrison imitated past American presidents’ talk of an evil empire and an axis of evil, with bellicose rhetoric about a ‘red line’ and an ‘arc of autocracy’.
Meanwhile President Biden has three times publicly restated his commitment to the defence of Taiwan against an attack by China. Officials have scrambled to reinterpret his meaning, which contradicts 43 years of US policy. From 1979 it has been understood that the PRC in Beijing is the sole government of China. As well, the Taiwan Relations Act states that the people of the US will ‘preserve commercial cultural and other relations’ with the people of Taiwan, and those of ‘the China mainland’.
The US is not committed to intervene militarily in the event of an attack on Taiwan. But Biden appears to be ready to abandon this ‘strategic ambiguity’ and to resist the ‘idea that [Taiwan] can be taken by force’. (Quoted by Binoy Kampmark, ‘Biden in Tokyo: Killing strategic ambiguity’, Pearls & Irritations, 27 May 2022)
What happens in Ukraine and Taiwan will show Australia how reliable our American allies are. It should make opinion leaders who expect a war with China think about who will win it, and how best to defend Australia. An open letter to the new Government on 26 May proposed that public aggression is unlikely to be effective in dealing with China, and that international engagement should replace the language of war. Addressing Prime Minister Albanese and Foreign Minister Wong, 15 Australian academic China specialists argued that a China policy based on diplomatic and economic interests as much as on great power strategic concerns will best ensure Australia’s national and economic security.
We in AWPR congratulate newly elected MPs and Senators, and we are encouraged by the election results to expect an inquiry into how Australia goes to war in the first term of the new Government.