Written by: (Contributed) on 13 January 2022
A major statement about Australia's intelligence services and the division between analysis, action and bureaucratic functions in the corridors of power has revealed problems arising with the rise of Chinese social-imperialism as a serious competitor to traditional US hegemonic positions. (1)
The statement, however, can best be viewed as sadly deficient in two fundamental ways: it completely overlooks Australia's relationship with the US and the significance of the so-called 'alliance'; it provides no evidence of any understanding of the nature of the present US-led Cold War in relation to the previous one.
Changes to Australia's intelligence services appear an agenda item in Canberra; it was noted they 'may need to be seriously tweaked to demand a more sophisticated national security set-up to handle our current and future strategic environment'. (2) It was not idle pontification; the statement was prepared by a senior government official who introduced himself as 'a generator and user of intelligence'. (3)
Concerns have apparently arisen with the relationship between accurate intelligence assessments and 'what our plan or strategy should be'. (4) It was suggested that those employed with national security required a 'multi-disciplinary office … through a staff of perhaps 20 or 30 of the nation's brightest … to … produce options for the prime minister'. (5) The options, however, would appear, in practical terms, very limited.
At no time in the massive three column article was Australia's relationship with the US even raised, leading readers to conclude it was not a factor. Perhaps senior figures in Canberra did not want to draw attention to the role of the US; chicanery and subterfuge, it should be noted, have a long history in the 'intelligence community'. Elsewhere, however, information in the public domain has already provided ample evidence that the US are senior partners with intelligence considerations.
A recent media release about the new Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) between Australia and Japan, for example, drew attention to Canberra and Tokyo being the two regional hubs linked directly to a team of 'China watchers' and spooks who reside in the West Wing of the White House and 'work with allies and partners to create external constraint on China'. (6) There would appear little question about the nature of power relations in the diplomatic relationship between the three major players: it was noted, for example, it was 'a coalition designed to blunt Beijing's desire to dominate Asia … whereby … the US must play the role of cornerstone of this coalition'. (7)
Moves to upgrade Australia's intelligence system have also been accompanied by the Kishida administration in Tokyo to begin similar moves, revealing a co-ordinated approach. The Japanese government 'will upgrade all three fundamental security policy documents – the National Defence Program Guidelines, the Mid-Term Defence Plan and the National Security Strategy'. (8) There would appear little doubt that the US remains the dominant partner in the three-way diplomacy; their major concern would appear the very real prospect of China displacing the US before the end of the decade as the world's biggest economy. A major part of China's good fortune will be its ability to 'dominate Asia without fighting a massive war'. (9)
At no time in the recent intelligence statement from Canberra, however, was any time taken to explain the nature of the supposed threat by China to US-led positions using contemporary history narrative. The previous Cold War against the former Soviet Union was largely waged against what had been assessed as a geo-strategic threat with defence and security considerations. Soviet foreign policy was largely conducted through sympathetic governments and movements which identified ideologically with the Soviet system. Trade, with western countries, was rarely, if ever, an agenda item; the Soviet Union traded largely through Comecon countries and the Socialist bloc. China's trade relations, by contrast, are conducted in a globalised world economy, largely through economies previously dominated by US-led diplomacy.
A recent study has shown quite simply how China has been able to enter US-led trading blocs and increase its regional influence through mutually beneficial trade across the wider Indo-Pacific region. (10) And despite problems arising with the present Cold War, Australia's trade relations with China continue to get stronger; latest trade statistics show exports to China rose 24 per cent in the year to November, imports rose by 8.3 per cent. (11) During the same period Australian exports to Japan, the second trading partner, were less than half of those to China, and in long-term decline for nearly twenty years. (12)
(Above: China's view of the tank purchase, with Morrison spouting the Nazi command "Tanks, forward!")
The US and their allies, however, continue to equate the trade relations in a wider context of military and security considerations. In the same week the trade statistics were released, an announcement from Canberra confirmed Australia will purchase 127 army tanks from the US at a cost of $3.5 billion. They include: 75 MIA2 Abrams tanks, 29 M1150 assault breacher vehicles, 17 joint assault bridge vehicles and six armoured recovery vehicles. (13) Despite the claim the tanks boosted 'Australian sovereign defence capabilities', interoperability with the US in command control, communications, computers and intelligence systems was also noted, and partly justified because 'vehicles were vital for Australia's ability to integrate with coalition forces'. (14) Others within the military were not so pleased, “with some national security experts arguing that heavy armoured vehicles would not be needed in a maritime and air conflict with a major power such as China. Australia has not deployed a tank in combat since the Vietnam War.” (15)
The spooks are, in reality, faced with an intelligence dilemma of which there are very few, if any, credible options for planning and strategy to deal with China's economic, and globalised, position. The economic line of de-regulation, privatisation and liberalisation pushed by international financial institutions controlled by the US for decades, has proved counter-productive and has begun to unravel; they appear to have not even considered the basic factors of production at the onset. Their policies opened economies to increased levels of foreign trade, China stepped in. Its ready access to large amounts of capital and almost unlimited access to labour were decisive factors.
While the myriad of US agendas, was indeed murky, a well-placed source with high level connections in Westminster, has perhaps thrown light on intelligence considerations and related assessments during the period of the Sino-Soviet split. A confidential briefing, in the late 1970s, for example, noted, 'go a bit carefully on the Chinese. The South Africans are too inclined to lump them in with the Russians. The day may come when we need the Chinese … it's what the politicians call a realistic policy'. (16)
It is also interesting to note that there is no reference in Spycatcher by Peter Wright of any official interest in China or the Chinese by the British intelligence services, despite the strategic significance of Hong Kong. (17) The demise of the Soviet Union and rise of China has, however, established a new dynamic; China is now regarded as an adversary.
The present US-led position is, therefore, a dangerous line: as China continues to increase its regional economic influence, the US imperialists are likely to consider and eventually opt for 'real war scenarios' in order to deal with the serious challenge to their position. The US-led option to leave a trail of damage and destruction across economic systems in the Indo-Pacific to reduce China's regional influence has moved higher up their agenda list.
Before such scenarios take place: We need an independent foreign policy!
1. Intelligence must evolve to meet our growing threats, The Weekend Australian, 8-9 January 2022.
6. Nuclear subs pact 'has China rattled', Australian, 4 January 2022.
7. A coalition will blunt Beijing's ambition, Australian, 31 December 2021.
8. Former foe Japan could and should be our next ally, Australian, 6 January 2022.
9. A coalition, Australian, op.cit., 31 December 2021.
10. See: Closer ties with APEC members, China Daily, 8 December 2021, which has provided statistical information about mutually beneficial trade relations with APEC members.
11. China-Australia trade booming despite political tensions, Australian, 12 January 2022.
13. US tanks and combat vehicles to boost defence, Australian, 11 January 2022.
15. See: REPORT: Australia to buy US tanks, other armoured vehicles - APDR (asiapacificdefencereporter.com)
16. The Human Factor, Graham Greene, (London, 1978), page 65.
17. See: Spycatcher, Peter Wright, (Australia, 1987), pp. 1-382.