Albanese recognises is Australia needs to embrace the reality of an aspiring China and also enter new arrangements with the USA that can better protect Australia
ADELAIDE – Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese has articulated a view of Australia' long term defence requirements that is based upon a pragmatic and realistic assessment of history and current facts.
Albanese does not characterise China as an enemy, nor is he advocating that Australia become a humble supplicant to the USA.
The idea that he is doing this is a delusion of the 'woke' left of politics, although it is recognised that the US operates with a keen eye to its own national interests.
It is not contestable that the US is a flawed democracy, riven by internal division and dispute about what kind of country the US should be.
These things are well known and understood by anyone paying the slightest regard to the news.
For all its flaws and quirks, the current world rules-based order is a product mostly of efforts by the US to promote a world where the rule of law predominates, human rights are respected and, just as importantly, it is safe to do business, a point frequently overlooked.
The rise of modern China has been greatly facilitated by the US and the Western world in the mistaken belief it would lead to the democratisation of ‘the sleeping giant’.
This erroneous assumption has been deftly exploited by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)to create an economic miracle unrivalled in modern history.
This is genuine achievement and is recognised as such.
Now, as has always been the case for rising powers, China finds that, as it approaches economic and military parity with international rivals, it is unable to maintain the rapid growth of the past.
This is generating problems within China as a result of which the CCP and its new 'Great Helmsman', Xi Jinping, increasingly resorts to the promotion of nationalist sentiment as a means to divert attention away from the economic problems that now beset it.
Xi has exhorted the Peoples Liberation Army to prepare for war, apparently believing that this is inevitable when, as he has repeatedly stated, China feels obliged to resume control of Taiwan by force of arms.
All authoritarian regimes feel compelled to use such an approach when they sense their grip upon control is in danger of slipping.
It is a delusion of the progressive left that Australia can adopt a defence posture that does not involve an alliance with the US and other like-minded powers.
As Albanese rightly mentioned in an interview with Greg Sheridan of The Australian, this question was settled in 1941.
Two years into World War II, prime minister John Curtin began a pivot away from Australia’s historic dependence upon the United Kingdom and the British Empire, in decline and beset by Germany.
Curtin believed that the US, an emerging great power even though it was not yet in the war, would be a more reliable and capable ally.
This proved to be a correct judgement, as the US joined Australia in what is now called the Pacific War (1941-45) triggered by Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941.
The partnership was formalised by the signing of the ANZUS Treaty in 1951 which bound the US, Australia and New Zealand to protect the security of the Pacific.
In this 21st century the US is neither declining nor impotent, although it is indisputable that its power and influence is diminishing while that of China grows.
That said, China is not the power that we have been encouraged to believe it is.
It is not a superpower and, for a variety of reasons, informed commentators believe it will never achieve this status.
Nevertheless, it is armed with nuclear weapons and sufficiently powerful to be more than capable of defending itself against any single power, including the US.
The current Russo-Ukraine War has demonstrated yet again that authoritarian powers eventually fall victim to their own delusions and ambitions.
History is full of examples of where this has occurred.
The current conflict has also demonstrated that the nature of warfare has irrevocably changed and that a relatively small power can, with the right leadership and weaponry, together with significant external support, make a much larger power pay a dreadful price for initiating a war of conquest.
So what Albanese recognises is that Australia needs to embrace the reality of an aspiring China and build a defence force and enter new arrangements with its biggest ally that can better protect Australia and, should the need arise, inflict unacceptable losses upon an enemy.
This necessarily will involve a huge modernisation program for our military plus building and maintaining strong relationships with nations that share Australia's basic value system about how a country’s government and its peoples’ lives should be ordered.
The US is such a power while China manifestly is not. That is the reality of the world we live in today.
In Australia, the position I have articulated is shared by both major political parties and most of the others.
Of course, as Dennis Argall rightly observes in his article, ‘The role of a foreign policy PM’, the blundering incompetence and self-aggrandising posturing of the Morrison government needlessly alienated the Chinese government.
This dispute with an emergent power and our largest trading partner need never have happened had not Scott Morrison and others felt compelled to perform for their domestic right-wing base which has led to Australia losing trade valued at $20 billion and what was a calm relationship with China.
Albanese and his Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, are being hugely more subtle and careful as they seek to rebuild the relationship.
This would be symbolised by a meeting between Albanese and Xi, which the Australian prime minister hopes will occur this week
But the underlying strategic thinking I have described, in which Australia enhances its defence relationship with the US, will remain very much the same.
I also have no doubt that this view is being communicated to our friends in the various small Pacific Islands nations like Papua New Guinea and Fiji, as well as with our important northern neighbour, Indonesia.
For good or for ill there is no realistic alternative to maintaining our 80-year alliance with the US.
However, we should do this as a partner, not as a subordinate and that is, I think, the type of relationship that the Albanese government is seeking to create.