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Penny Wong’s World View: AUKUS All The Way

If anyone was expecting a new tilt, a shine of novelty, a flash of independence from Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s address to the National Press Club on April 17, they were bound to be disappointed. The anti-China hawks, talons polished, got their fill. The US State Department would not be disturbed. The Pentagon could rest easy. The toadyish musings of the Canberra establishment would continue to circulate in reliable staleness.

In reading (and hearing) Wong’s speech, one must always assume the opposite, or something close to it. Whatever is said about strategic balance, don’t believe a word of it; such views are always uttered in the shadow of US power. From that vantage point, Occam’s Razor becomes a delicious blessing: nothing said by any Australian official in foreign policy should ever be taken as independently relevant. Best gaze across the Pacific for confirmation.

In Wong’s address, the ill-dressed cliché waltzes with the scantily clad platitude. “When Australians look out to the world, we see ourselves reflected in it – just as the world can see itself reflected in us.” (World, whatever you are, do tell.)

The basis for this strained nonsense is, at least, promising. Variety can, paradoxically, generate common ground. “This is a powerful natural asset for building alignment, for articulating our determination to see the interests of all the world’s peoples upheld, alongside our own.” Mightily aspirational, is Wong here, though such language seems pinched from the Non-Aligned Movement of the Cold War, one that Australia, US policing deputy of the Asia-Pacific, was never a part off. No informed listener would assume otherwise.

Like a lecture losing steam early, she finally gets to the point of her address: “how we avert war and maintain peace – and more than that, how we shape a region that reflects our national interests and our shared regional interests.” It does not take long to realise what this entails: talk about “rules, standards and norms – where a larger country does not determine the fate of the smaller country, where each country can pursue its own aspirations, its own prosperity.”

That the United States has determined the fate of Australia since the Second World War, manipulating, interfering and guiding its politics and its policies, makes this statement risible, but no less significant. We are on bullying terrain, and Wong is trying to pick the most preferable bully.

She can’t quite put it in those terms, so speaks about “the regional balance of power” instead, with Australia performing the role of handmaiden. She dons the sage’s hat, consumes the shaman’s herbal potion, insisting that commentators and strategists have gotten it wrong to talk about “great powers competing for primacy. They love a binary. And the appeal of a binary is obvious. Simple, clear choices. Black and white.”

It takes one, obviously, to know another, and Senator Wong, along with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, have shown little resistance to the very binary concept they supposedly repudiate. Far from opposing it, we might even go so far as to see their seduction by US power as a move towards the unitary: there is only one choice for the Canberra cocktail set.

Much of the speech seems trapped in this register. It rejects the “prism of great power.” It abhors the nature of great powers scrapping and squawking over territories. And yet, Wong is keen to point the finger to one great power’s behaviour: unstainable lending, political interference, disinformation, reshaping international rules and standards.

Finally, the dastardly feline is out of the bag – and it is not the United States. “China continues to modernise its military at a pace and scale not seen in the world for nearly a century with little transparency or assurance about its strategic intent.”

Oh, Penny, if only you could understand the actual premise of AUKUS and the US modernising strategy, given that Washington’s defence budget exceeds those of the next nine powers combined. Yes, you do say that a conflict over Taiwan “would be catastrophic for all,” but there is nothing to say what will restrain you, or your colleagues, from committing Australia to such a conflict. Given that the Albanese government has turned up its nose at war powers reform that would have given Parliament a greater say in committing national suicide, confidence can hardly be brimming.

The assessment of Australia’s own role in international relations is not just off the mark but off the reservation. “We deploy our own statecraft toward shaping a region that is open, stable and prosperous. A predictable region, operated by agreed rules, standards and laws. Where no country dominates, and no country is dominated. A region where sovereignty is respected, and all countries benefit from a strategic equilibrium.”

To this, one is reminded of the remarks of former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, who describes Wong’s alms-for-the-poor routine as, “Running around the Pacific Islands with a lei around your neck handing out money.” This could hardly count as foreign policy. “It’s a consular task. Foreign policy is what you do with the great powers: what you do with China, what you do with the United States.”

Much of the speech inhabits the realm of the speculative. Wong is delusionary in assuming that regional states will accept Australia’s observance of the Treaty of Rarotonga, whatever the stance taken by the AUKUS pact members. Otherwise known as the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, Wong has revealed Australia’s ambivalence in observing its provisions. For one, she is on record as accepting the position that the US need not confirm whether nuclear-capable assets visiting Australia have nuclear weapons. She merely says that Washington “confirmed that the nuclear-powered submarines visiting Australia on rotation will be conventionally-armed.”

This hardly squares with the assessments of her own minions in the Department of Trade and Foreign Affairs, who have confirmed that Australia will accept the deployment of nuclear weapons on its soil as long as they are not stationed.

The last word should be left to that great critic of the Albanese tilt towards Washington’s military-industrial pathology. “Wong,” observed Keating, “went on to eschew ‘black and white’ binary choices but then proceeded to make a choice herself – extolling the virtues of the United States, of it remaining ‘the central power’ – of ‘balancing the region’, while disparaging China as ‘intent on being China’, going on to say ‘countries don’t want to live in closed, hierarchical region, where rules are dictated by a single major power to suit its own interests’. Nothing too subtle about that.” The Washington establishment will be delighted.

 

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16 comments

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  1. Harry Lime

    One could be forgiven for thinking Penny had come straight from a US State department indoctrination session.Complete with all the expected bullshit.Where are the politicians of Keating’s stature?

  2. Douglas Pritchard

    She simply stonewalled questions on Keating, and US dominance in our foreign policy.
    She speaks well but not so much for this country, but US aspirations.
    Penny is big disappointment, but what presssure she must be under to perform like this.

  3. RomeoCharlie29

    I think you can, perhaps, understand a certain reluctance on the part of the Labor leadership to not only become, but seem to become, a bit Bolshie in regard to the sainted US, given 1975 and that country’s well-known propensity for sticking their CIA where it’s not wanted by other wannabe independents. Even though spud and his diminished band of henchpeople are nowhere near the calibre of Malcolm Fraser’s team a sudden spurt of mysterious support would not be beyond the bounds of possibility. Even though Joe does seem to be able to remember Albo’s name, we have to remember presidents are largely irrelevant when the US military/industrial complex senses its interests are not being well served. I don’t think reneging on the Aukus deal would be viewed very favourably by the said MIC even though a lot of us agree with Keating and feel betrayed by Labor for the apparent blind acceptance of a deal negotiated by the worst government in Australia’s history. That said I am no supporter of the dictator Xi Jinping and his views on Taiwan( or his treatment of Hong Kong if it comes to that). So put me in the baffled by bullshit camp regarding Penny Wong.

  4. Jack sprat

    Ease up on Penny Wong , she must by now have a very sore wrist from constantly applying that huge rubber stamp on all of the foreign policy initiatives coming to her from Washington.

  5. New England Cocky

    Without any doubt the Albanese LABOR government is becoming totally irrelevant to the needs of Australian voters.
    .
    Continuing Scummo’s USUKA subs deal is economic madness and information from the USA (United States of Apartheid) suggest that the present alleged delivery dates will NOT be met because the US sub building industry is running at maximum capacity supplying US needs. Then there is the loss of national sovereignty and, based on previous experience with military purchases from the US, the ”projects” will be long over-time on delivery, way over cost estimations and well under alleged performance abilities ….. if those ”projects”[ are ever in fact delivered.
    .
    Many Australian voters are asking why are we wasting taxpayer funds propping up the declining American & English economies when we cannot house or feed our own people? Why are USUKA subs more important that homeless, underemployed, starving Australian voters?
    .
    A long time political sceptic may reasonably conclude that the Albanese LABOR government has merely stepped into the shoes of Scummo’s COALition by continuing the neo-liberal economic policies – refusing to increase Jobseeker payments to a living amount, refusing to recognise that the present ”economic crisis” is caused by corporate profit gouging rather than worker wage demands, maintaining the Stage 3 tax breaks for high income earners ….. including politicians and senior public servants to the detriment of real workers ….. self-interest usually reflected by the COALition perhaps?
    .
    Indeed, a sensible LABOR voter would be forgiven for changing their vote to the Greens at the next election as a consequence of this betrayal of Australia voters..

  6. Roswell

    Geez, NEC. I’m agreeing with you a lot lately.

    Where’s my mind?

    PS: An admission – I’m American born and I’m a Labor voter.

  7. margcal

    What NEC said.

    With regard to his last para…. Is Labor living in its own bubble? If Albanese is aware of his (at the moment) unassailable lead over the LNP, he’s sure hiding it well in his adoption of Liberal and Liberal-lite policies. He could be making bold decisions for Australia’s benefit. Even a shadow of Whitlam would be better than the shadow of Morrison that we’ve got.

    Albanese also seems oblivious to his thin majority. Quite a lot of the Cross-benchers have pushed for various bits of legislation to go further. Does he really think they’d settle for “as good as they could get” if they held the balance of power in a minority Labor government? Albanese would have to give a whole lot more, like what Australia “really” needs, if voters turn further to the Greens and Independents.

    To say I’m disappointed in Labor, Albanese and Wong would be a major understatement.

  8. Andrew Smith

    I’d like to think that Labor is being very cautious, in government less than a year, and as other analysis suggests with long time lines, AUKUS could well not happen, especially if Labor in the medium term are given enough forceful feedback from Reps, members and voters, but neither media nor ASPI ‘wedging’, to kick it into the long grass; ditto Stage III tax cuts.

    However, one is still ignorant after a decade or more, regarding Australia’s overall self defence and regional security strategy, exemplified by short term back of the cigarette packet procurement or PR stunts and supply strategies e.g. submarines…… when we can’t even man existing submarines…. the latter reflects our media and laxity in avoiding details….

  9. Florence nee Fedup

    I am confused when it comes to AUKUS. I am surprised Albanese said he would have been proud to sign it initially. I have great faith in both Keating & Wong. I hope this government can rely on the information our security services are giving. I hope they remember what Whitlam found when his minister raided ASIO. Not much to be proud of. We have the messages of false weapons of mass destruction that took us into Iraq.

    I suspect much has not changed. It might be time for another Whitlam-like raid or investigation of our security services. I don’t trust going all the way with the USA. I am more in favour of joining the Gillard Asian Century.

    IMHO, the USA will protect us if it is to their benefit, regardless of whether we sign with them. They were extremely slow in both world wars.

    I hope that Albanese & Wong are not being misled. Saying that I don’t trust AUKUS or the submarine deal.

  10. Jack sprat

    ” To be America’s enemy is dangerous but to be America’s friend is fatal ” by the war criminal himself Henry Kissinger .

  11. Florence nee Fedup

    I think I fully agree with Kissinger.

  12. Harry Lime

    The travails of Penny..she is currently in New Caledonia,and judging by the coverage in the Guardian,she is basically regurgitating the Press Club address,complete with platitudes,and appears to have swallowed a corporate speak dictionary.She may well be in line for a Presidential citation,which would be faint praise indeed.I don’t know what pressure she’s under,but an early exit from politics would not be a surprise.As far as I’m concerned,the shine has gone right off the Albanese government.

  13. Douglas Pritchard

    Harry L,
    I think you could be onto something when you suggest an early departure from Penny.
    There seems to be a few pollies who are putting their true belief above the party line.
    She makes an excellent choice when it comes to foreign affairs, but this knuckle dragging behind the Washington blob is not a good fit for neither her, nor the Labour movement in Australia.

  14. Clakka

    A tour de force of breathy motherhood doublespeak, choc full of veritable global panaceas. A tolerable fence-sit until we can ascertain who will most sharpen the pickets. It seems we are being told OZ is not ready for manumission ….. at what cost is diplomacy?

  15. Benjamin

    HELP US PAUL KEATING, YOU’RE OUR ONLY HOPE !!!

    You’ll do it nice and slowly, to the LNP and bring LABOR back to the Hawke / Keating years.

  16. Douglas Pritchard

    We plunge ahead with Aukus which was decided for us by Messrs Morrison, Johnson and Biden
    Morrison has been voted out of office rather firmly at the ballot box.
    Johnson has been booted out of the UK parliament.
    Biden still stands…..just.
    If these clowns were as incompetent, as we have judged them to be, then why, on earth, do we honour their poor judgement with tax payer funds, when they are put out to grass ?

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