By Denis Bright
The W.H.O. Assembly reached a remarkable consensus on the need to investigate the spread of COVID-19. Australia co-sponsored the initiatives at the Assembly as part of a team effort by thirty-five other players, including the European Union with its twenty-seven additional states.
Regrettably, this achievement received far less attention than the evolving war of words between Australia and China. Australia was a loyal player in the Trump Administration’s efforts to marginalise Chinese influence across the Indo-Pacific Basin.
Australia’s Defence Connect (20 May 2020) called for even greater loyalty to the US Global Alliance from Australia in this time of crisis over the spread of COVID-19:
“It is Australia’s indispensable relationship, the core of our national security and the key enabler, that has allowed Australia to freely engage and prosper within the post-Second World War order. However, in an era of mounting great power competition and disruption, the US-Australia relationship will become ever more important, explains retired Army officer Jason Thomas.”
Now to earlier reports in Defence Connect (24 April 2020) on Australia’s involvement in joint patrols in the South China Sea with US naval vessels.
“The Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Parramatta (FFG 154) began sailing with Ticonderoga Class guided missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) then rendezvoused with amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) and Arleigh-Burke Class guided missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) on 18 April.
Their combined operations started with force integration training and manoeuvring exercises between Parramatta and Bunker Hill.
Captain Kurt Sellerberg, Commanding Officer of the USS Bunker Hill, welcomed the opportunity to operate with the Royal Australian Navy again, saying, “It is great to be operating with the Australians again. Every time I have deployed to this region, and to the Middle East, I have had the good fortune to operate with the Royal Australian Navy.”
Operations with USS America started with a precision manoeuvres that included Barry in the South China Sea.
Rear Admiral Fred Kacher, Commander of the America Expeditionary Strike Group, said, “We look forward to every opportunity we get to work with our stalwart Australian allies at sea.
“To bring this much combat capability together here in the South China Sea truly signals to our allies and partners in the region that we are deeply committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Operations with Parramatta have included integrated live fire exercises, co-ordinated helicopter operations, small boat force protection drills, command and control integration, and manoeuvring interoperability.”
Only political insiders could explain the apparent contrasts between operations on the high seas and the productive diplomacy at the W.H.O. Assembly. Here are key clauses from the resolution which was carried unanimously and without amendment.
OP9.10 Initiate, at the earliest appropriate moment, and in consultation with Member States, 1 a stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation, including using existing mechanisms, 2 as appropriate, to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19, including:
(i) the effectiveness of the mechanisms at WHO’s disposal;
(ii) the functioning of the IHR and the status of implementation of the relevant recommendations of the previous IHR Review Committees;
(iii) WHO’s contribution to United Nations-wide efforts; and (iv) the actions of WHO and their timelines pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, and make recommendations to improve global pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response capacity, including through strengthening, as appropriate, WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme;
OP9.11 Report to the Seventy-fourth World Health Assembly, through the 148th session of the Executive Board, on the implementation of this resolution.
OP9.9 Ensure that the Secretariat is adequately resourced to support the Member States granting of regulatory approvals needed to enable timely and adequate COVID-19 countermeasures.
How can Australians understand the gyrations in our defence and foreign policies? Here are two contradictory explanations.
Tentative Explanation 1: Australia wanted to act as an honest independent country in coming to terms with the horrific spread of COVID-19 as the number of cases approaches 5 million with an extra 4,500 deaths each day recently and a total death toll of almost 350,000. It was clearly within Australia’s strategic and commercial interests to cool the war of words between the Trump Administration and China. So much of Australia’s recent prosperity since the election of John Howard in 1996 was indeed due to the rise of China with its positive benefits for Australia from profitable trade in commodities and services with China as well as substantial net investment from China in the Australian economy:
Tentative Explanation 2: Australia was acting as a staunch ally of the Trump Administration to fester the war of words between the USA and China in the longer-term. President Trump would indeed use this war of words to appeal to his support base across the USA to maintain his hold on the votes from the Electoral College on 3 November 2020 as in the previous presidential election in 2016:
The two Tentative Explanations are of course not mutually exclusive. Should President Trump gain his cherished second term, his administration will certainly be on the offensive against a rise in the global strategic influence of China.
Reporters Julian Borger and Alison Rourke in The Guardian (19 May 2019) support this foreboding about our future in such a staunch political, economic and strategic alliance with the USA under current Australia United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) protocols which make Australia a virtual 51st state:
“Donald Trump has threatened to cut funding to the World Health Organization permanently and even pull the US out of the global body altogether unless it makes “major substantive improvements” which the president did not explain.
In a four-page letter to the WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Trump claimed the organisation had shown an “alarming lack of independence” from China and accused Tedros of presiding over “repeated missteps … that have been extremely costly for the world”. The letter, he said, followed a US investigation into the WHO’s “failed response to the Covid-19 outbreak”.
Trump’s threat came on the day the WHO member states met for the first day of a two-day virtual assembly. Tedros had invited both Trump and Xi Jinping to speak, in the hope of resolving differences between the two leaders on handling the outbreak, but Trump did not take part.”
Commitment to a Space Warfare Agenda will be a crucial strategic initiative if President Trump is re-elected. This will require a network of ground stations in both global hemispheres including parts of the expanding NATO network across Europe where ties are being strengthened with countries like Georgia, the Ukraine and Poland.
Our own Pine Gap Base near Alice Springs will have a vital role to play in President Trump’s Space Warfare Agendas after 2021.
Sustainable peace across the Southern Hemisphere is still compromised by blind-spots in the UN Treaty arrangements to promote collective peace and security for our Indo-Pacific Basin. Can submarines bearing nuclear weapons transit across the oceans from Atlantic Ports in the USA to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and then move through the stormy waters of the Southern Ocean to cross the Pacific Ocean?
Although most countries have ratified the Outer Space Treaty (OST) of 1967, there are still grey areas in the protective cover available. This permits accurate targeting of military vessels in transit across the various Southern Oceans from surveillance bases like Pine Gap in Australia.
Monitoring of expanded geospatial surveillance is surely consistent with the need to monitor pandemic threats with power to assess new initiatives in surveillance from satellites in an era of renewed great power rivalry.
The Cold Fleet Report from the Royal Navy has been around for four years. There has been little discussion of the cost of Australia’s involvement in military initiatives to support geospatial surveillance of the windswept and dangerous oceans to the south of Australia.
A future federal LNP national government is likely to be highly enthusiastic about Australia’s involvement in US Space Warfare Programmes.
The appeal of a return to our traditional role as the Deputy Sheriff to any Republican Administration in the White House will be almost irresistible to future LNP Governments seeking a higher profile for Australia in the global strategic profile of the USA.
However, the possibilities of a more independent role for Australia in the Indo Pacific Basin should be just as irresistible. The surprising level of consensus-building at the W.H.O. Assembly could be extended to strategic policies. Trillions could be saved in expenditure on future space warfare programmes if nuclear weapons free zones were extended and perhaps the role of the Pine Gap Base transferred to the protection of these new treaty obligations.
Ironically, it is the US which is ready to take advantage of Chinese embargoes on the export of Australian commodities, services and more open Chinese investment (AFR 15 May 2020):
“China is preparing to slap steep tariffs on Australian barley imports after an 18-month anti-dumping investigation. China also this week suspended beef exports from four Australian abattoirs.
“US barley products have similar quality levels to Australian barley which is replaceable. It is a shame that Australia is losing its competitive advantage in beef and barley,” said Lin Guofa, an analyst with consulting firm Bric Agriculture Group.
“The suspension of the four abattoirs is designed to send a strong signal to deter Chinese traders to import beef from Australia. Most buyers will be fearful now about continuing their business with Australia.”
Commodities traders and state media played up the barley announcement, saying it highlighted China was less dependent on Australian agricultural imports than it used to be.
China has indirectly threatened to punish Australia economically after the Morrison government called for an independent inquiry into the origins of coronavirus pandemic.
One trader quoted a Chinese idiom “Kill the chicken to scare the monkey” which means making an example out of someone to threaten others. “With barley and beef, China is now using Australia as an example (to threaten other countries),” he said.”
However, on a positive note in the interests of our commercial and strategic relationships with the USA, there is a possibility that the USA will want to raise the banner of modernism to overcome the excesses of the Trump era. I am too remote from the USA to call the outcomes of the presidential elections on 3 November 2020, still several months before the actual event.
With Bob Dylan’s 79th Birthday approaching on 24 May 2020, Australians need to ask for real paradigm changes that distance our country from the eccentricities of the Trump Administration relating to both global action on COVID-19 and his future strategic plans to involve Australia in future space wars programmes.
The old folk song for more peaceful agendas is even more relevant today than in 1963 when it was recorded before President Kennedy’s assassination and released the following year.
Australia is being hurt commercially by its growing antagonism towards China, our best and most profitable trading partner. What is going on behind the scenes in the corridors of power in Canberra in the halls of the Defence and Foreign Affairs Departments to justify this wanton folly to protect US interests across the Indo-Pacific Basin?
Surely, the Trump Administration with the support of the Department of State and the Pentagon can fight their own battles with China. So, what is the real payoff for Australia in these difficult times? And if the war games in the South China Sea go astray, are Australians instantly at war with China through the chain of command in these joint patrols?
Denis Bright (pictured) is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback from readers advances the cause of citizens’ journalism. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Replies Button.
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