As tensions continue to mount between the US and North Korea over the secretive nation’s military capabilities, a former ambassador to China is advocating radical change to Australia’s relationship with the United States which could mean refusing to follow it into another war.
Dr Stephen FitzGerald, Australia’s first ambassador to China in 1973 after Mao Tse Tung’s 1949 Communist revolution, says Australia must now have the resolve to say no to the US and to China in the event of military action against North Korea. He was also Australia’s first ambassador to North Korea in 1975.
Dr FitzGerald urged a “drop everything” urgency in efforts to build Australia’s ‘friend at court’ influence in Beijing to help steer relations through the Trump era.
He says there should be an Australia-China Commission similar to the Australian-American Fulbright Commission. Australia’s ultimate long-term security would come from its strong relationships within Asia.
He contentiously advocated Australia’s withdrawal from military engagement in the Middle East and from collaborating in efforts to contain China.
It required untangling those Australian military and defence arrangements which “have the potential to involve us in a US conflict, including the US marine base in Darwin and the use of Pine Gap for purposes where Australian interests do not align with America’s”.
Quoting an unnamed analyst, Dr FitzGerald suggested Australia should withdraw from active assistance in US actions “which are repugnant and strategically dangerous – most obviously drone assassination targeting and planning for nuclear war operations”.
“This may seem hard but it’s possible,” he said.
Dr FitzGerald said Australia also had to have a demonstrable capacity to say ‘no’ to China’s increasingly influential “soft power offensives”.
Coming from a non-democratic, one-party state with enormous trading and manufacturing power, Chinese money now flooding into Australia and other countries was a major concern.
“Amplifying this influence is the inflow of very significant sums of money from the PRC (People’s Republic of China). Last year this included $3.6 billion in what are called suspicious financial transactions, or black money, which the Chinese government itself is trying to stop. But clean money or black, this money pit has become a significant factor of influence in various sectors of Australia’s economy and society.
“And for Beijing to suggest Australian citizens of Chinese descent should unite and serve China is a direct challenge to Australian sovereignty. In these ways, it has clearly crossed the line.”
By saying ‘no’ to China and the US, where justified, Australia would be treated with respect.
Dr FitzGerald’s analysis comes as Australia is being drawn into the Trump administration’s confrontation with North Korea and its ally China over China’s ‘forward defence’ facilities being built on atolls and islands in the South China Sea.
So far the Turnbull government has rejected advice from all those advocating a rethink of Australia’s relationship with the US and remains all the way with the USA.
The advocates of change to Australia-US relations include former prime minister Paul Keating, former Labor foreign ministers Gareth Evans and Bob Carr and former Liberal Party PM, the late Malcolm Fraser.
President Donald Trump has declared that the US would go it alone to disarm North Korea if China and President Xi Jinping did not help in that objective.
The US and Australian navies are about to participate in ‘sea lane protection’ war games in the South China Sea scheduled for July.