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Greater Australia-Japan Military Ties: another dangerous step for Australia in the coming age of pax-Sino

The upgrading of Australia-Japan defence ties by the Abbott Government sends a dangerous and irresponsible signal to China, writes Dr Strobe Driver.

Bishop, Johnston and what the West helped teach China

The recent trip of Foreign Minister Bishop and Defence Minister Johnston to Japan in order to build greater ties via the articulation of defence needs, and talk intellectual/product/intelligence interchanges is a very dangerous stance for Australia to adopt. The level of this type of political intimacy would be okay if times were different, but they are not. What should be understood is that China is rising at an astonishing rate and whilst this process is taking place it is utilizing the pathway of postulation via threat-of-force. This is manifesting in what it believes to be a ‘reclaiming’ of its territories. To be sure, China is only following the pathway that the United States (US) and the Soviet Union taught the world in the Cold War; and more recently what the US and its allies have consistently shown the world in the invasions of Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan (including ongoing US drone-strikes in the sovereign state of Pakistan) and with regard to the Soviets, Chechnya, the Ukraine, and to a lesser extent Georgia. France and its meddling in Indo-China and Algeria, Britain in Malaya and the Islas Malvinas/Falkland Islands have also succeeded in sending clear messages to China that invasion cum occupation are vibrant post-preponderance mechanisms. From these examples there is no historical reason for China not to pursue its ambitions using preponderance through the prism of threat-of-force with an understanding that there will be a follow-up application of actual military force if need be—this in current circumstances would happen most likely by the geo-strategic stretch of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, and has been recently displayed in their recent intrusions further into the Pacific Ocean.

Australia – Japan and ‘defence’

The political movement of significantly closer Australia-Japan relations at this friction-filled time in the region is dangerous in the extreme for Australia. Why? First and foremost it sends a message to China that Australia will show allegiance to Japan militarily if there is a China-Japan ocean clash. One must ask if this were to occur what Australia could do about this in order to defend show its allegiance to Japan. The answer is ‘very little,’ beyond voicing its concerns in the United Nations (UN). The unpalatable truth of the matter is Australia simply does not have the capabilities to facilitate a military response even if it wanted to, and with this in mind, what could Japan do if there was an Australia-China ocean clash in the region? Before an answer to this question is offered, it is timely to observe that as recently as the 11th June, 2014, a reference to the continuing frictions—which have a serious potential to drag Australia into a regional conflict—was brought up in a recent senate hearing. Australian Defence Department head Dennis Richardson in an assessment of the instability in the region and the possibility of a unilateral action (read: China) destabilising the region, he stated in part “…there is always the risk of an accident or a miscalculation … ”.[1] What then would be the outcome and what could Japan do if a Royal Australian Navy (RAN) ship sustained damage, or was sunk in an exchange of fire? Japan could also do nothing, as it does not have ‘blue-water’ or ‘ocean-going’ navy capabilities to exercise any form of significant control beyond its littoral boundaries. In simpler terms, Japan possesses a ‘green water’ navy only. Moreover, and contributing to the non-interventionist strategies that would come to the fore is Japan’s neighbours have deep-rooted animosities toward it, and therefore to act in such a way would signify a resurfacing of its historical expansionist tendencies; and create a storm of protest from its near-neighbours. Hence, Japan would be very hesitant to act on behalf of another country, whether Australia or the US, due to its severe regional history. Moreover, the sensitivity of its neighbours and the fact that such an action might trigger and then encourage China and Russia to act in a more definitive way on their territorial claims is the opening of a Pandora’s box that Japan simply does not want. Whether the territorial claims of China and Russia are valid is a moot point and beyond the scope of this essay, however the socio-psychological and geo-strategic intentions of Japan’s neighbours should not be underestimated as they play a significant role in Japan’ geo-political environment.

History and fear

To be sure, Japan’s other enormous fear, which one could suggest outstrips any other in terms of engaging in a conflict is its complete and absolute reliance on imported oil and this too, should not be underestimated. For instance, a concerted effort by China to limit and/or cut off supplies to Japan would place the Japanese economy in a parlous condition. Bearing in mind this is exactly what the US did in gaining the unconditional surrender of Japan in the Pacific phase of World War Two (WWII) is to acknowledge the issue remains alive in the island nation. More to the point and an important part of the scenario of geo-strategies is to realise, in more contemporary times, the aspect of Japan’s reliance on imported oil can be observed in that, part of the reason the US invaded Iraq the second time in 2003 was to exercise a level of control over oil supply exports from the country. This had, and has, the ongoing residual of contributing to an ‘understanding’ by Japan that it is somewhat ‘tied’ to the US geo-strategically; discourages the questioning of the ongoing post-WWII positioning of US forces in Okinawa; and extrapolating on Jacques argument, encourages Japan to ‘think of itself as an Asia-Pacific power rather than [an] East Asian power’[2] and further highlights Japan’s post-Meiji stance of respect for the West and contempt for Asia.[3]

Nevertheless, where does this leave Australia if an ‘accident or a miscalculation’ were to take place and if these closer Australia-Japan military ties resulted in an RAN ship being damaged/sunk in an engagement? The default position of the Abbott government is that the US would immediately step in and come to the ‘defence’ of Australia—the ANZUS treaty notwithstanding. Relying on an assumption as the region becomes more friction-filled is dangerous in the extreme; and has the potential of placing Australia in a perilous position. Essentially, Australia’s position is one of being involved in the region to the extent of overtly demonstrating an alliance with a distant neighbour that has no military response capabilities in terms of coming to Australia’s aid; and of assuming the US will respond immediately and precisely with a corresponding show of force is fragile. If Australia must take sides the Abbott Coalition and conservative government needs to seriously assess whether the US, in the next two decades, will exercise any form of robust response to Australia’s ‘needs’ in the Asia-Pacific (A-P) region. Moreover, it is an already acknowledged fact that America is a war-weary and “foreign policy fatigue[d]”[4] nation, whose people are perplexed by the lack of appreciation shown for its endeavours in saving and/or rescuing other nations (such as Afghanistan and Iraq), have the will to interdict in the A-P region, regardless of what their president states. To believe this stance would change if Australian forces were threatened/destroyed is a fantasy.

To assume the US would intervene, if there were a force-on-force collision on the high seas, is a belief that has its roots in a time long gone. America will do what is best for America, and to assume otherwise befits an historic underpinning that is now superseded. Moreover this attitude displays in the Coalition a genuine lack of awareness of the coming state-of-affairs; and what the coming storm—consisting of a deliberate containment of China—will bring. The historical situation remains transfixed in the minds-eye of this Coalition government (as it was the previous Labor government), by what the US accomplished in the ‘saving’ of Australia as the Japanese advanced through the A-P region in the (early) phase of the Pacific theatre in WWII. The US did come to Australia’s aid at this time and to be fair, after the bombing of Darwin Australian policy-makers had been caught completely off-guard by Japanese advances; and were in a state of disarray.

The here and now: how times have changed

The above-mentioned scenario, of Australia being caught by surprise and needing to have acute intervention is, in contemporary times, not applicable. In the late twentieth and the early twenty-first century the dissemination of information is much greater and the awareness, information and debate is robust in political, military and academic realms. There is a vast amount of information with regard to China’s rise and the possible trajectories, the threat it may pose, and the potential collisions that may occur—there are none of the ‘surprise factors’ that were present in 1941-42. Therefore, to not understand or to blithely ignore the enmeshment of history and the severe implications it could have for Australia—or to continue on an ‘as normal’ pathway when dealing with Japan in the current state-of-affairs—borders on a wilfull denial of Japan’s history in the region; a the impact the rise of China will have on Australia from a military perspective; and harnesses a misguided belief that the regional power-stakes will not undergo seismic change in the near-future. Ministers Bishop and Johnston’s behaviour on behalf of the Abbott government signal a retreat to the sanctuary of the past in which the US—as it did in the early 1940s—will come to the aid of Australia immediately and completely; and that Japan will remain steadfast in its military allegiance to Australia as the pressures from China grow. These are the gravest of mistakes and the positioning of Australia by Bishop and Johnston’s actions send a clear and overt signal to an up and coming regional strength that previous relationships matter at the expense of creating new and vibrant ones. Thus, the upgrading of Australia-Japan defence ties (even if the end result is one of only symbolism) sends a dangerous and irresponsible signal to a burgeoning China—a land of a sixth of the world’s population, and a country that has over a million-plus military personnel—and makes the coming era of pax-Sino for Australia an increasingly dangerous place, within a progressively fragile environment overall. Australia’s default should be one of striving for inclusiveness in all the A-P region, and not be one of sending exclusive signals to one country which might antagonise another.

It is timely here to consider the actual worth of US’ assurances, and reflect on the history of such ‘assurances’ in the ‘cold light of day.’ There were assurances given to the Southern Iraqi (Marsh) people during the latter stages of the First Persian Gulf War, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnamese Army) were also given assurances during the latter stages of the Vietnam War, the Hmong people of the Central Highlands of Vietnam were also given promises by the US government during the Vietnam War in their fight against the North Vietnamese. In recent times Iraq was told the US would stay the course, and Afghanistan was told it would be helped until complete independence: all in one way or another were rescinded upon. For Australians’ to think they are of greater importance than any of the aforementioned is irrational; and unsupported by reality. Lastly, a perspective on the Americans’ coming to Australia’s rescue in the Pacific phase of WWII should also be given its place, if only to observe what could happen if the above-mentioned Australia-China collision comes to pass and the region explodes into a kinetic-phase of military action. American policy with regard to Australia at the time of WWII is able to be seen in its true light when Wurth’s recent book, 1942 Australia’s greatest Peril, is examined. Wurth states:

The security of Australia had just been listed very low on a secret US Army list of strategic priorities – in fact, behind seven other priorities -beginning with maintaining Britain, keeping Russia in the war as an enemy of Germany, and maintaining the status quo in India, the Middle East and China.[5]

Foreign Minister Bishop and Defence Minister Johnston should ask the US where Australia actually is placed in its current list of priorities, as one could (and should) based on history, doubt that it is at number one. Regardless of where Australia is on any foreign powers’ list, a more measured and articulate approach needs to be taken toward China in the A-P region. A more coherent and sensible approach to China is sorely needed, if only because China is now on a pathway to exercising preponderance with the addendum of force; that we are in no way assured of America’s response if a ‘miscalculation’ leads to conflict, regardless of our joint histories; and that Australia wishes to show China it is an independent, critical thinking nation, one capable of making its own way in the region free of American influence. To go in the Bishop-Johnston direction on behalf of the Abbott government is tempting a future military fate; and Australians’ should further understand, time is running short to have a positive input in balancing the region before a war breaks out.

Footnotes:

[1] Mike Head. ‘Australian Senate committee discusses threat of US-China war.’

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/06/11/wars-j11.html?view=article_mobile

[2] Martin Jacques. When China Rules the World. London: Penguin Books, 2009, 400.

[3] When China Rules the World, 394

[4] Tom Switzer. ABC Lateline ‘Friday Forum.’ Presenter/Reporter: Emma Alberici http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2014/s4025260.htm 13, June 2014.

[5] Bob Wurth. 1942 Australia’s greatest peril. Sydney: Macmillan Australia, 2008, 19. Italics and highlight mine.

This article was first published on Geo-Strategic Orbit and had been reproduced with permission.

More articles by Dr Strobe Driver:

What a State demands, what a citizen gives, and what Abbott and Hockey simply don’t understand

People ‘cost too much’: the Abbott Government and Neoliberalism

21 comments

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  1. Pingback: Greater Australia-Japan Military Ties: another dangerous step for Australia in the coming age of pax-Sino | OzHouse

  2. mark delmege

    rubbish

  3. corvus boreus

    elaborate, mark.

  4. Bob Rafto

    The article does not take into account foreign economic interests in Australia, 80% of mining profits goes overseas, it does not take into account the highly secretive US listening bases in Australia. It does not take into account that the Americans have now an army/navy base in Darwin.

    There is a power play going on and I do believe that the Australian govt. is under instructions from the yanks.

    Move along, there is nothing to be worried about here, apart from America dragging us into another war.

    My take on Obama and Abbott.
    The cordiality was more business like.
    When listening to Abbott, Obama seemed bemused as though he was listening to a moron and trying to determine if Lying Tone was telling lies or bending the truth.

    True or not it doesn’t make any difference as we’ve been shafted by the yanks into buying fighter planes and other war stuff so we can be part of the yanks power play in the AP region.

  5. Kaye Lee

    So much money is wasted on the military. If China really wanted to invade us we wouldn’t be able to stop them but I an see no conceivable reason why they would want to. They have huge investments here, they need our resources, and we are also a market for many of their exports.

    All we are doing is keeping arms manufacturers in business wasting valuable resources on things that kill people. How about the world wakes up and spends the money on making it a better place for all. Stop making guns and grow food instead – provide shelter and water to the world’s poor. That would be the best way to stop wars – eradicate poverty – which could EASILY be done with the trillions spent on munitions.

    If you educate people and raise their standard of living it gets harder to find cannon fodder for zealots.

  6. corvus boreus

    The con job on the ineffective and expensive Joint StrikeFighters goes deeper.
    They also form the basis of submissions by the Dept of Defense to Congress, where Australia’s potential to rival the US in air superiority due to matching technologies is cited as justification for the yanks developing their own next generation of fighters.
    The industrial-military complex feeds itself, a classic positive feedback loop.

  7. Margaret-Rose Stringer

    This stance has probably been adopted because it’s different from the previous government’s.

  8. Matters Not

    Japan’s neighbours have deep-rooted animosities toward it

    Indeed! While ‘Australia’, generally speaking, has ‘forgiven’ Japan for its WW11 atrocities, at least to a significant degree, this is certainly not the case in China as any visitor will soon learn if the issue is raised. Generally speaking, the average citizen in China has an ongoing hatred for Japan. Remember also that Japan refuses to apologise for its transgressions.

    The Rape of Nanking (Nanjing) and similar ‘incidents’ still burn bright.

    Australia’s default should be one of striving for inclusiveness in all the A-P region, and not be one of sending exclusive signals to one country which might antagonise another

    Exactly. If China so desired to be aggressive, we would be at their mercy. The notion that these 73 planes and other new and very expensive purchases would ‘defend’ us is just laughable. Our best defence in the face of a Chinese threat would be a pre-recorded phone message, along the lines of “WE SURRENDER NOW”.

    Good article. Nothing new, but pulls the threads together.

  9. donwreford

    The Abbott, government to propose Australia have Japan to make or plan submarines for the defense is somewhat, I am not sure of the word? peculiar, what we now have as a result of the Western Allies having played so many games in the world of being instrumental in maintaining power and control, no longer knows if it is Arthur or Martha, we see this paradox of ambiguity, as example the so called enemy of the West, Iran, now collaborating with the Western Allies to deal with SITA, if we the planet had a external enemy such as a alien enemy from another planet hostile to humans, you would see the immediate collaboration of all human forces friendly or terrorists, would overnight amalgamate.
    Its all a big game to keep the main population diverted from who those who have as a minority control over your integrity.

  10. Tony

    War is an abomination on humanity, men have a need to kill and destroy, makes them men
    We need more women leaders, less wars and less war mongers running countries.
    Will be only way to rid wars started by greed, and to conquer wherever they feel like.

    Oil it’s always been about oil and other resources that are critical that other male leaders want, and will invade to get. They crap on about freeing the country especially females from oppression, it’s a front to kill anything that moves that’s all.
    Weapons of mass destruction, what a whopper of a lie, men will do anything, even lie to whole world
    Have men not learnt fools..

  11. Graham k

    Republicans, Tories, LNP all tightly held by the short and curlies by the Military/Industrial Complex. Always have been always will. What was Halliburtons profit over the last decade?

  12. mark delmege

    Tony that is very sexist of you. Women of the calibre of Clinton and Rice are as guilty as any man of lies deception and war (mass murder).

    And tell me Graham is the ALP any different?

    Here’s the thing – Lib Lab Dem Repubs it matters little.

    What do Carter Reagan Bush Clinton Bush Obama and Afghanistan Chechnya Kosovo Bosnia Libya Syria and Iraq (and others) have in common?

    It’s the CIA Sunni militants and Saudi Arabia.

    Like peas in a pod.

    One blighted country after another.

    For what?

    Have our politicians ever told the truth – or our media or anyone else who takes a cheque and calls themselves an expert?

    No No and No

    Funnily enough old Mal Fraser came closest but I can’t think of a (even a left) retired ALPer who stepped out of line.

  13. mark delmege

    The big issue is the development of a new Silk Road from China through to Germany not tensions withJapan.

    As for Japan – when it comes to empire it’s just a stepping stone… just like the invasion of the Philippines was in 1898 …to get closer to the worlds biggest market – and as a useful buyer of expensive military bits – so long as tension can be maintained.

    Will empire attempt a takeover of China through neo-liberal economic possession or some wet dream of military conquest? Nope I don’t think so.

    Or more likely will the mega state capitalists in China be able to advance the greatest ever (Asia Europe) economic enmeshment peaceably through mercantile self interest of all the states that will benefit from the new silk road being built overland from the Pacific to Europe?

  14. mark delmege

    If history is any guide, The Creative Chaos perpetrated in the Near(ish) East during the Carter to Obama years – is a warning of what to expect.

  15. margaret millar

    My father as a serving soldier in The 8Th Division of the Australian Army fought in Malaya
    they were attacked by superior Japanese air fire etc.
    The Australians were forced to withdraw south to Singapore Island -then a british outpost
    however Japanese army captured Singapore
    and nearly all of the 8th Div and various English and Indian divisions
    Were captured and became POW’s and slave labour for three long years –
    As force labour on the bulding of the Thai Burma Railway for the Japanese supply route
    they suffered severe conditions-starvation -torture and ritual killings !
    Many of their bodies were buried alongside the railway–recovered and buried after the war
    My father came back with many injuries etc -If he were alive today a compact trade agreement with Japan
    Would absolutely cause him great horror-!

    but I recognise tha ti tis adifferent generation in power now–
    but the way they kill whales does nto offer me much hope! Marg Millar

  16. Strobe Driver

    Thankyou for your thoughts and comments. I would like to expand somewhat on what has been said in my article/essay and make a few additional points. With regard to China there is an understanding in my area of interest (security in the Asia-Pacific with regard to Australia’s place etc) that between 2020-2030 this is what is known as the ‘dangerous decade’ and will place the A-P at a new epicentre in world geo-politics/geo-strategy. Hence from this point it is not whether China needs to express its power through preponderance but that it will, and that Australia will be deeply-involved whether it likes it or not and this aspect in my opinion is what Australians need to come to terms with — and soon. A correlation to this point is needed to make it clearer still. Australians should clearly understand is that there is no foreseeable reason why the US needed to invade Iraq–there was no threat to the US, nor was Iraq of deep military concern to its neighbours–yet the US did invade and establish a military footprint in the region. Why? For geopolitical, geostrategic reasons, and this is the path China will embark upon with a much deeper focus in the future, Australians’ should be aware that this is the way preponderance operates; and come to terms with it. Time is short.

  17. mark delmege

    For starters …

    Why assume that other countries will behave the same as Uncle Samuel? They have a very different history and culture. For starters the US is separated by water from the rest of the world save N and S America. It has been at war for most of its existence and its economy and social and political structures reflect that. China has been the leading and most organised society for most of the past thousand years or so. And it’s geography is entirely different. (Just for the record I don’t trust any government)

  18. mark delmege

    Strobe I don’t mean to bully my ideas though I conceed it may look that way. China and Japan may have spats over a few Islands but trade between the two is very much more significant for both. I react as I do when I see what I think is that same old US dominated world view of the world we saw exposed in the Wikileaks work – with the talking up of tensions as if they were really important when to me it is little more than a divide and destroy tactic so often used to muscle their way into where ever they want.

    For me the destabiliser is not China but the USofA. Any reasonable analysis of the last couple of decades would show that clearly. And the Chinese have been affected directly. I have seen first hand the US direct hit on the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade – probably destroyed by a DU weapon. The world saw how the US led NATO and backed al qaeda types into destroying Libya while purposefully removing China from that country. China would be well aware at how the US backed in snipers to create the coup that toppled the elected president in the Ukraine. And how US proxies used chemical weapons in Syria in an attempt to usher in another US invasion in the ME. And China is well aware at how prior to the invasion of Afghanistan the US was training al qaeda types their for terrorist operations in numerous countries including Western China.

    It will also be aware of just how divide and conquer tactics are being used in Africa today in one country after another in order to counter the growing Chinese influence in that continent.

    This of course is not discussed in our irrelevant lying pressitude media but that’s part and parcel of living in a vassal state.

    So anyway there is indeed a battle underway. One is using military tactics and the other mercantile might. I know which I find more acceptable, moral and decent as a world citizen.

    But ah back to your point. I have no problem with closer ties with Japan – its just a pity that its current leadership is so right wing and nationalist. I wish we had closer ties too with China and our other near neighbours even including the isolated North Korea. As a country our political and other leaders have to deal with all sorts of disreputable people – including the likes of Bush and Obama. (aren’t we fortunate that half the world didn’t blackban us after our invasion of Iraq?)

    Good relations are built through government business and people to people two way dialogues and trade travel respect and understanding etc. I’m not sure where you were going with your article but I don’t assume China with behave in the same bullying manner as the United States.

  19. Bob Rafto

    Give them time!

  20. Mohammad Rais

    The three powerful countries that will want unhindered access to Australian food and natural resources after any reduction in American involvement in the Western Pacific are China, Japan and India. Fortunately for Australia, these three have their differences and no two of them are likely to line up against the third. Thus none of them is likely to tolerate an attempt by another to gain exclusive access to Australia. A smart Australian government would be studying how to play each of these three off against the other two. (Why not also Indonesia? Because it has plenty of natural resources and spends little on its military.)

    Perhaps India and Japan vs China is an outside possibility but I don’t think they’d dare.

  21. strobedriver

    great set of comments (final got round to reading them all) and thankyou for your input/s.

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