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Diplomacy, China and Paul Keating

Former Australian prime ministers tend to be less conspicuous in public life than their counterparts in other countries. Occasionally, they make an appearance at political functions and events to remind us that they are still alive, their estate still breathing, their lawyers still working. For the most part, the pronouncements are less than profound, let alone relevant. But there are a few radiant surprises. Malcolm Fraser was one, considered dour when prime minister through the latter part of the 1970s and early 1980s, yet utterly provocative on becoming an elder statesman. It was he, a Cold War warrior so keen on keeping the US involved in the Asia-Pacific, who became the firmest critic of the US-Australian alliance.

The Labor side of politics has Paul Keating, the last, dare one use the word, visionary, in the prime ministerial pack. With his electoral defeat in 1996 at the hands of the undistinguished, anti-Asian John Howard, Australia returned, in large measure, to the reassuring protections of the US military alliance. The Asia-Pacific region was less one to accommodate than seek armour against. Ever risky, ever dangerous, they remained the swarthy barbarians of alien tongues and troublesome ambition. There were threats nearby and everywhere, and it would require a lengthy alliance without qualifications to protect Canberra.

This sort of foolishness is yielding its grim results. Not a day goes by that does not see Australian politicians sign themselves up to the next suicidal conflict that might take place over Taiwan or over the South China Sea. On November 10, Keating, at the Australian National Press Club, was bursting to speak to the audience about his taking of the geopolitical temperature. It was his modest effort to try to arrest this seemingly imminent move.

His targets were many, largely because so many have been offered. The AUKUS security alliance, made over the cadaverous remains of the Australian-French submarine contract to build 12 attack class submarines, involved an undertaking by the UK and the United States to aid Australia in building eight nuclear-powered submarines. Such submarines are never going to meet water till two decades have passed, and this was the equivalent of “throwing a handful of toothpicks at a mountain.”

As for Chinese ambitions themselves, Keating projected an attitude starkly reminiscent of that mischievous history don, A.J.P. Taylor, when he turned his eye to the ambitions and behaviours of great powers in Europe. China was not a rule breaker, but instead working within the very rules that had been created by an international order preceding their rise to power. They were behaving according to standard dictates of power and, along the way, “remodelled” in its entirety, the Australian economy. “They are in the adolescent phase of their diplomacy, they have testosterone running everywhere, the Chinese, but we have to deal with them because their power will be so profound in this part of the world.”

Reasoned in such a way, China was “simply too big and too central to be ostracised.” It was “now so big and it is going to grow so large, it will have no precedents in modern social and economic history.” The United States would have to play the role of a “balancing and conciliatory power in Asia” and Australia would be foolish to involve itself in the Taiwan dispute, it “not [being] a vital Australian interest.” Alas, Washington had other ideas – at least for the moment, having not “come to a point of accommodation where [it] acknowledges China’s pre-eminence in east Asia and the Asian mainland, in which case we can start to move towards a sensible relationship with China.”

As for where Australia fitted into the alliance structure of the Indo-Pacific and Asia-Pacific, Keating offered a razor-sharp assessment. “We have no relationship with Beijing, so why would the Prime Minister of Malaysia or Thailand talk to us about east Asia when we are non-speakers with the biggest power, the Chinese?” A significant power such as Indonesia had been consistently, and assiduously ignored. Canberra persisted in trying to find its “security from Asia rather than in Asia.”

He also levelled a blow at his own party’s shadow foreign minister, one Penny Wong, who had “taken a position there shouldn’t be an ounce of daylight between her and the [governing] Liberal Party.” Doing so, he suggested, meant that “you end up with a pretty quiet political life. No big disputes because you are glued to the government. But you make no national progress.” This was a source of much regret for the bruiser of old, repudiating that “proud history of engagement with Asia and including China” Labor held. “Now it’s just gone ‘pass’ so debate trickery goes on.”

His suggestion, and one that will be rebuffed with apoplectic fury in Canberra and the strategic fold, is to accord China a degree of recognition befitting its stance. “If we give China the recognition I believe it is due in terms of legitimacy … then I think a lot of these issues, the so-called 14 points, sort off fall of the table.”

On the role of Britain, Keating was appropriately savage. This desire to be involved east of Suez, again, was a childish nostalgia impervious to reality. “Can Britain help us here? No. The other state that was able to help us was France and we rudely turned our back on it.”

The reaction to such sober edged analysis was never going to go down well in the lunatic, zombie establishment gearing, and oiling, for war. There are invisible submarines to build, a regional arms race to encourage, false promises to make. Australia’s Defence Minister, Peter Dutton, suggested the title of “Grand Appeaser Comrade Keating.”

Australia’s noisiest shock jock commentator for Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News, Andrew Bolt, concluded that Keating was not of this planet. “Keating’s big message was this: Australia’s in China’s region. China is very big, and we, and we – and America – should stop challenging it … and instead, in his words, accommodate ourselves to China.” Such rubbish regularly gilds the tree of conversation on Australia’s strategic ambitions.

There have been some defenders of the former prime minister, insisting that he has something sensible to say. ABC host and commentator Stan Grant tells his audience that Keating “is not an apologist for Chinese authoritarianism but a cold-eyed realist about Chinese power and how it can be incorporated into a global political order.” But realism, for the moment at least, has been anathemised. The Anglophone alliance that is AUKUS is testament to that fact. Blood-thirsty nostalgia, and the fools, are intent on running the show.


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  1. Douglas Pritchard

    Paul Keating honoured us with some very wise words, and we should be so thankful that he takes the time and trouble to share this stuff. The current crop of LNP pollies are of the same calibre as their USA counterparts, and we know that they are significant shareholders in what we laughingly call “defence” industries… they want conflict, and the CIA will obligingly arrange that. Morrison is inclined to interpret the Anglo/US agreement to get us involved, so we really need to vote him out of office before he does any more harm.

  2. Phil Pryor

    Who would listen to a dropping from old fascist European obsolescent culture, killed off rightly by 1945, for that is this Dolt Bolt, an unqualified, undereducated fist fornicator with a stuck accelerator on the lacerating larynx, a knob polishing peanut for old Merde Dog the Mighty, self appointed deity of deliberate delusions of actual relevance. Keating has more sense than the boiled down accumulated silt of this government’s sty and stalls. Dutton, that raw material for a haemorrhoid transplant, is mentioned here, a figure of intellectual derision, while the P M, a Poxed Mentality, has less brains than a can of Pal. China is a monumental entity bestriding history of thousands of years and unlike any other culture. A future mass power with Europe, Russia, China, and the fringe support, will eat out the other declining rockets of self delusion, and Orwell’s hints will arrive upon us, revealed as a mighty Eurasia surpasses Oceania.

  3. Joe Carli

    Keating’s plea for a more astute understanding of that mighty dragon ; China, showed a degree of the panic that many of us sense is now endemic in this gormless diplomatic fumble that is The LNP Government…Keating was correct to point to the need to respect this rising power, NOT out of trepidation, but out of respect of the civilised manner in which China has risen to this is not a new thing for such a long civilised nation..

    “We are to consider some of the practices of a virile race of some five hundred millions of people who have an unimpaired inheritance moving with the momentum acquired through four thousand years; a people morally and intellectually strong, mechanically capable, who are awakening to a utilization of all the possibilities which science and invention during recent years have brought to western nations; and a people who have long dearly loved peace but who can and will fight in self defense if compelled to do so. We had long desired to stand face to face with Chinese and Japanese farmers; to walk through their fields and to learn by seeing some of their methods, appliances and practices which centuries of stress and experience have led these oldest farmers in the world to adopt. We desired to learn how it is possible, after twenty and perhaps thirty or even forty centuries, for their soils to be made to produce sufficiently for the maintenance of such dense populations as are living now in these three countries . . . “ ( Farmers of Forty Centuries..F.H.King .. pub’. 1911 )

    I wrote on this back in Feb’ 2021…: “Why join China’s One Belt- One Road”..

    I might point to the comments of THAT post to read some interesting debate… and as for Dutton’s attribution to international diplomacy compared to Keating’s.. Dutton “squaring up” to Keating…seriously..?…it’d be like a bursting pimple on the bum of sweaty pelaton rider next to an erupting Vesuvius…

  4. leefe

    “Keating’s big message was this: Australia’s in China’s region. China is very big … ”

    Well, he not wrong, is he? Do Duttolini and Morriscum expect their deity to protect Australia and ensure we win the conflict they seem so determined to cause? Because that’s what it would take to give us even a gnat’s chance of survival.

    They are totally bloody well deluded trying to pick a fight with China.

  5. Harry Lime

    Our politics is now an horrendous circus dominated by a pathological liar and his government of passengers with zero ability or integrity,opposed by an opposition peopled by stale unimaginative hacks who are shit scared of outlining the bold vision needed to pull us out of the ordure created by the the worst government the country has yet endured.And getting worse by the hour,if Morrison’s daily tour of desperate lies is any indication.

  6. Lawrence S. Roberts

    For about $1-5 Billion we could build a state of the art silicon chip factory. At this time, there are only 4 in existence, by some strange providence 2 of them are in Taiwan. They are a fabulously attractive target but we would want them capable of working. The Chinese still use intelligent Mandarins to plan their economy unlike Australia and I would wager they will be successful without bloodshed.

  7. Joe Carli

    Dr. Kampmark’s article and the subject in general demands a wider conversation than mere derision of the Fed’ Govt’ or the PM. in charge..if The Left is to be taken seriously, then it must address most severely this central issue that has the capacity to disrupt or shift the politics of not just our country, but the entire indo-pacific region..The increased presence of American attack forces on our territory…and let us not dispute THAT title…and the future stationing of American attack submarines and the associated back-up/support military materials makes Aust’ a prime nuclear target..these talks of cooperation between China and America are just the jockeying for PR. position..we can take example from historical precedence and Pompey and Cicero..that this oriental Caesar will NOT cross its own delineated Rubicon..or that their arch rival, simmering with economic jealousy on its many South Pacific bases is not “war-gaming” its own private ambitions for world dominance..a subject that contemporary history tells us is most dear to their heart………and then..incase we did already forget..there is our recently removed enemy..whose influence AND military presence in this part of the world is currently of not insignificant size, and can the drop of a manifoldly increased…France. So..let us “of the informed left”..discuss!

  8. Andrew J. Smith

    Difference for Labor nowadays, since the time of Keating, is dealing with a mostly right wing nativist libertarian media influenced by NewsCorp/Fox, ‘owned’ LNP, an electorate which has aged (above median has been less diverse) and the importation of strategies and tactics round the ecosystem of the GOP, including weaponisation of think tanks; it’s very uneven and unfair playing field for Labor to cut through but that’s the whole idea.

  9. Joe Carli

    Personally, I am in the Keating camp where I do not believe China has “territory colonising” intentions, and instead, using its own domestic population numbers to both promote and maintain its strong economic growth…the export of manufactured goods bringing much usable foreign exchange into the govt’ coffers…allowing it to extend its economic helping hand to those many Third World nations either overlooked as “shitholes” or just exploitable commodities by the “enlightened West”

    A perusal of the “China People’s Daily” wil show pics of this and that new railway, goods to Europe terminals, high-speed connection to amny points in South East Asia and noe forgetting either their African connections nor the heightened interest…riciprocated…in the South Pacific….more power to them I say!

  10. Uta Hannemann

    I am with you, Joe Carli!

  11. Phil Pryor

    Fri. morn., and the ABC site has some rubbish about a program called insiders, run by a Murdoch dropping, Spears, in which a great set up seems to have been organised to hurl abuse and rejection at P Keating’s intelligent analysis as he alone sees it. Media insiders rig, lie, corrupt, abuse and distort, as we should know, but some research over years tends to show the deep problem, for the types who get up and in on these shows KNOW they can do and say what they bloody well like for reasons to suit, and, GET AWAY with it usually. In the pestilential USA media scene, Fox is renowned for its imperious abuses, its glaring mediocrity and lack of honesty, rigour, openness. Pumped up pricks and mediocre misfits run these shows, all for “power”, ego, bottom line revenue, feeding the animals, posing. My observation of China in world affairs over time, in historical and political consideration, is to endorse much of Keating’s assessments and to reject the poor versions as summarised on ABC news from the aforesaid program, probably from selected biassed panelists. As for D Spears, what an empty, drycleaned, pressed and ironed type he is, hollow to the point of echo and feedback.

  12. Harry Lime

    I don’t think very highly of him either,Phil.As a matter of fact ,the ABC is only a shadow of it’s former self, as has been the bald intention of a series of conservative shitheads that hate a torch shone up their hypocritical kilts.Board stacking with cronies,criminally defunded and constant threats of litigation,although our former’chief law officer of the land’ kicked himself in the nuts through sheer stupidity.

  13. ajogrady

    More power to Keating. A Prime Minister that used critical thinking rather then photo ops.
    Once you strip away the blatant ingrained insidious and treasonous corruption, the obvious and absolutely consistent poor judgement, the culpable and dangerous incompetence, the continual deception and the constant distortion, the crippling of living standards, the devious and unfettered betrayal of Australias sovereignty, the trashing of Australias good international reputation, the shambolic and totally inept governance standards, the deceitful marketing spin and hypocritical sloganeering plus being a constant and continuous impediment to Australia and Australians reaching their true potential what does the L/NP actually stand for? What is left? What is left is a snide, sneering, sniping, selfish, smug and contemptuous ideology that nurtures, coddles and promotes corrupt to the core thugs, swindlers, chiselers, fraudsters, shysters, cheats and con artists, pathetic debauched degenerates and perverted misogynistic misfits, pseudo Christian cult wack jobs, fanatical religious lunatics, QAnon advocates, cowardly saber rattling war mongering hawks, sadistic and selfish economic vandals, problamatic climate skeptic fundamentalists, environmental saboteurs and desecrators, first nations people apathetic Judases, handicappers to the handicapped, oppressors of the needy and the disadvantaged, enablers of the obscenely wealthy, drunken lecherous fornecators and provocateurs plus egotistical born to rule privilaged sociopaths and psychopaths that are devoid of standards, principles, values, morals, ethics, honesty, and basic empathy always rorting, stealing, fiddling, fudging, obfuscating and basically out and out blatant lying while being protected by a maliciously biased, pathetic sycophantic and delusional media.
    Influenced by professional predatory lobbyists whores and directed by crooked callous conservative think tanks whose shadowy underbelly of criminality makes Ned Kelly look like a gentleman. The L/NP not only do not represent most Australians but do not respect them.
    The L/NP have managed to create a massive trust deficit not only domestically but internationally that has left Australias once good reputation in tatters and Australia is now bordering on pariah state status. “Private and confidential” is a misnomer to Scott Morrison. Diplomacy, critical thinking and cause and effect are foreign concepts to the L/NP. These failings will have or result in dire consequences and outcomes for Australia and Australians. The L/NP not only rewards lethargic sneaks, cheats and sly back stabbers but consider mediocrity as their gold standard.
    The L/NP are an insult to equitable governance and egalitarian rule. The L/NP are not fit to hold any public office in a functioning, vibrant nation and a cohesive humane society .

  14. LambsFry Simplex.

    “A cold-eyed realism on China”, mused Stan Grant,
    but the rotten Age and SMH lashed back at him for his jibes truth telling, thus amplifying the lies against his truths.

    A speech so out of the modern groove, the shock of honesty almost like a rock ion the jaw for the recall after so many years.

    But he is of such a unique stature and the generosity so tangible that the shallow shabby utterances of the mediocrity Morrison and his myopic shill parasites were forgotten for a day as a bright ray of reality penetrated the pea soup dysenteric gloom of Scomo propaganda.

  15. Jack sprat

    China and Taiwan a civil conflict yet to be finally resolved . Should the USA and Australia get involved in a conflict between the two opponent in what is basically a continuation of the Chinese civil war it is most likely to end up like the last time the US and Australia got involved in another country’s civil war that of Vietnam . Already I am hearing the war hawks of the west resurfacing the domino theory they used to justify their involvement in Vietnam claiming that if the communists take Taiwan that Japan and other countries will soon follow like domiinos

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