FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Cleaning Out the Anti-China Nutters

Inimitable to a fault, former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating had been fairly quiet on his party’s policies till an impromptu press intervention last week. Catching two journalists of the ABC off-guard, Keating took little time to land a few blows against Australia’s foreign and domestic intelligence security officers.  They had, in Keating’s view, “lost their strategic bearings”.  The security agencies were effectively “running foreign policy”; when such matters eventuate, only one conclusion can be reached: “the nutters are in charge.”

For the former Labor prime minister, the China Syndrome had clotted the grey cells of the security wonks, blocking perception and clarity.  Security chiefs were knocking on the doors of Parliamentarians; prejudices were doing the rounds.  Australia, the United States and other likeminded powers had been in denial about the Middle Kingdom and its aspirations, seeing them as defence and security threats in various guises.  They had to “recognise the legitimacy of China”; it had to be respected for rising from poverty even if that particular story did not sit well with the United States.

Keating took a particularly sharp interest in John Garnaut, foreign correspondent and former national security advisor to former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.  That particular China hand written in August 2018 that any spirit of democratisation worth its salt died with the protestors at Tiananmen Square in 1989. “Belatedly, and quite suddenly, political leaders, policy makers and civil society actors in a dozen nations around the world are scrambling to come to terms with a form of China’s extraterritorial influence described variously as ‘sharp power’, ‘United Front work’ and ‘influence operations’.”  In Garnaut’s view, the world’s many eyes were upon Australia to set an example.

Keating advocated a cleaning operation, a large broom applied with swiftness removing the likes of Garnaut and the carriers of paranoid whispers.  “Once that Garnaut guy came back from China and Turnbull gave him the ticket to go and hop into the security services, they’ve all gone berko ever since.”

On some level, Keating’s comments are bound to be relevant, even if they put the noses of such types as Peter Jennings at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute out of joint.  (No, especially if they do.)  Security chiefs and their cronies can get long in the tooth and worn in thinking.  Wrinkled and crusted, a clear-out is far from undesirable.  A salient reminder from Napoleon comes to mind: move your bureaucrats around once every five years; sedentary practices often result in unhealthy concentrations of power.

Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten was far more diplomatic, suggesting that his party had a good working relationship with the current chiefs, claiming respect and a co-operative working interest.  The potential prime minister is mindful who he will have to work with.  “The three Bs are the biggest threat to Bill Shorten once he’s in office: boats, bombs and bytes,” came an opinion from a senior official to the ABC.

A chance of sorts had been presented to the Liberal National government.  Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, generally quiet in this election, smelled an opportunity to use the Keating intervention.  “Since September 2014, Australia’s law enforcement agencies have disrupted 15 major terrorist attack plots and conducted 41 counter-terrorism operations, with 93 people charged.”  Such a statement reads like the body-count figures from the US effort in Vietnam: they are units of poor measure rather than attributes of effect.  But Dutton, like many a plodding police officer, misses the picture in favour of the stabbing daub.

Another effort was made by campaign spokesperson and Trade minister Simon Birmingham, speaking in a debate held in Adelaide.  Keating, he claimed, had insulted “the heads of our intelligence services”.  He did note that “Labor have distanced themselves from the remarks by Paul Keating” but found it hard to resist the point that the former PM “is not an isolated figure in terms of… Bob Carr and others who sit within the (Labor) ranks.”

Did the Coalition government have a better approach?  “We make sure we maintain a firm and consistent approach (towards China) and in doing so make sure we keep Australia’s economic interests strong (and) our national security interests strong too.”  Suitably weasel-like, in other words.

Labor’s Senator Penny Wong, also at the same event, expressed a degree of disgust (“really desperate,” she fumed), though it should only be treated in the context of her desire to be Australia’s next foreign affairs minister.  The China psychosis in Australian political thinking can be unpredictable, swaying between a “come and buy my coal” to “stay out of my backyard, Huawei”. Seeing the prospect of having to deal with the foot soldiers of the Middle Kingdom in a new government, Wong is attempting to play that Janus-faced game Australian politicians have proven rather bad at, whatever the likes of Garnaut and Jennings might think.

Not wishing to be either pleasing harlots or submissive doormats, yet wishing to keep a hand in the voracious Chinese market (Cathay, I hear you say!), the Australian political class has had to tailor, trim and modify their traditional fears of the Yellow Peril while still shouting from the roof tops about it.  Only the likes of mining magnate Clive Palmer can express unvarnished dislike for people he sees as his business competitors and hungry beyond satiation.  The rest, notably those wallahs buried in the security establishment, can rest easy that Keating’s eminently sensible suggestion will not come to pass.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
August 22, 2019
George Ochenski
Breaking the Web of Life
Kenneth Surin
Boris Johnson’s Brexit Helter Skelter
Enrique C. Ochoa – Gilda L. Ochoa
It’s About Time for Ethnic Studies in Our K-12 Schools
Steve Early
A GI Rebellion: When Soldiers Said No to War
Clark T. Scott
Sanders And Bezos’s Shared, Debilitating, Basic Premise
Dan Corjescu
The Metaphysics of Revolution
Mark Weisbrot
Who is to Blame for Argentina’s Economic Crisis?
Howard Lisnoff
To Protect and Serve
Cesar Chelala
A Palestinian/Israeli Experiment for Peace in the Middle East
Binoy Kampmark
No Deal Chaos: the Brexit Cliff Face and Operation Yellowhammer
Josue De Luna Navarro
For True Climate Justice, Abolish ICE and CBP
Dean Baker
The NYT’s Upside Down Economics on Germany and the Euro Zone
August 21, 2019
Craig Collins
Endangered Species Act: A Failure Worth Fighting For?
Colin Todhunter
Offering Choice But Delivering Tyranny: the Corporate Capture of Agriculture
Michael Welton
That Couldn’t Be True: Restorying and Reconciliation
John Feffer
‘Slowbalization’: Is the Slowing Global Economy a Boon or Bane?
Johnny Hazard
In Protest Against Police Raping Spree, Women Burn Their Station in Mexico City.
Tom Engelhardt
2084: Orwell Revisited in the Age of Trump
Binoy Kampmark
Condescension and Climate Change: Australia and the Failure of the Pacific Islands Forum
Kenn Orphan – Phil Rockstroh
The Dead Letter Office of Capitalist Imperium: a Poverty of Mundus Imaginalis 
George Wuerthner
The Forest Service Puts Ranchers Ahead of Grizzlies (and the Public Interest)
Stephen Martin
Geopolitics of Arse and Elbow, with Apologies to Schopenhauer.
Gary Lindorff
The Smiling Turtle
August 20, 2019
James Bovard
America’s Forgotten Bullshit Bombing of Serbia
Peter Bolton
Biden’s Complicity in Obama’s Toxic Legacy
James Phillips
Calm and Conflict: a Dispatch From Nicaragua
Karl Grossman
Einstein’s Atomic Regrets
Colter Louwerse
Kushner’s Threat to Palestine: An Interview with Norman Finkelstein
Nyla Ali Khan
Jammu and Kashmir: the Legitimacy of Article 370
Dean Baker
The Mythology of the Stock Market
Daniel Warner
Is Hong Kong Important? For Whom?
Frederick B. Mills
Monroeism is the Other Side of Jim Crow, the Side Facing South
Binoy Kampmark
God, Guns and Video Games
John Kendall Hawkins
Toni Morrison: Beloved or Belovéd?
Martin Billheimer
A Clerk’s Guide to the Unspectacular, 1914
Elliot Sperber
On the 10-Year Treasury Bonds 
August 19, 2019
John Davis
The Isle of White: a Tale of the Have-Lots Versus the Have-Nots
John O'Kane
Supreme Nihilism: the El Paso Shooter’s Manifesto
Robert Fisk
If Chinese Tanks Take Hong Kong, Who’ll be Surprised?
Ipek S. Burnett
White Terror: Toni Morrison on the Construct of Racism
Arshad Khan
India’s Mangled Economy
Howard Lisnoff
The Proud Boys Take Over the Streets of Portland, Oregon
Steven Krichbaum
Put an End to the Endless War Inflicted Upon Our National Forests
Cal Winslow
A Brief History of Harlan County, USA
Jim Goodman
Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue is Just Part of a Loathsome Administration
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail