Australia’s China strategists are complete dills

Various pundits have criticised last week’s cancellation of Victoria’s Belt and Road deal with China. The AFR editorial is typical:

  • Dead little deals like BRI are irrelevant.
  • We must engage China where we can.
  • Defending values is aided by finding common interests.

These are weasel words. The main reason Australia pivoted away from China was its intent to corrupt the country. The BRI deal is a perfect example of that attempt and the ideal target for pushback.

Historically, Australia’s China engagement transpired in two distinct phases. The first was commodities-based up to 2011 as Chinese economics and politics liberalised. The second was services-based after Xi Jinping took China back down the path of economic restructuring and tyranny.

The second phase came with a lot of tourists and students plus soft commodities. But as people-to-people exchanges deepened, China also injected a massive corruption push via lobbying, political bribes and various influence operations.

This was a plan by the Chinese dictatorship. It sought to wedge Australia from ANZUS by capturing interest groups, misusing our immigration program by occupying ethnic Chinese electorates, and to outright buy political parties.

The push back against this “silent invasion” is the most important feature of Australia’s Chinese decoupling given it is the feature of engagement most likely to destroy our values (that is, liberal democracy).

The BRI may be a largely dead deal, but it is the perfect symbol of this push by the CCP to quietly occupy Australia. On that basis alone it was right to can it.

But we must also look forward. On that basis, canning the BRI was even more important. By doing so, the Morrison Government has applied a corrective salve to what were deteriorating Australian normatives around the CCP.

Canceling BRI has reaffirmed an Australian value system that all such deals are inappropriate, that they comprise the national interest and that they will erode our freedoms. It has directly bulwarked what were warping political, business, education and community values around Chinese influence.

On that rationale, all such sub-national deals with China should be erased with prejudice.

While we are finally winning this battle at home, there are still some pretty scary ideas floating around on another front. A relevance deprived Tony Abbott was on the hustings on the weekend:

  • Xi Jinping is dedicated to taking back Taiwan.
  • If he succeeds, then other allies will no longer trust the US alliance network.
  • They will collapse into Beijing’s arms.
  • The US should remove all strategic ambiguity and back Taiwan to the full.

Even worse is Hugh White this morning:

  • US can’t win Taiwan war without nuclear deployment.
  • US is bluffing.
  • But if it does not fight then US strategic leadership collapses in Asia.

Both articles are typical Thucydides Trap drivel. Taiwan is not in the formal US alliance network for a very good reason. The Chinese/Taiwan conflict has always been a civil war played out on the global stage.

Taiwan is not the equivalent of Singapore for the British Empire in WWII, the point at which the rising power overruns the declining. It is the US’s equivalent of the British Hong Kong arrangement. China has always had a long-term lease on Taiwan, even if it is written in blood and not ink.

We should all be very thankful that generations of US strategic planners have had the foresight to see it this way, even if binary Australian dunderheads cannot.

If China invades Taiwan, then it will strengthen all formal US alliances in the region because every Asian capital will immediately be forced to ask themselves “are we next on the CCP target list?” They will scurry straight to Washington to sure up the alliance with big, fat cheques for new US naval bases in their home countries. Ask yourself, which southeastern Asian country wants to be occupied by a vicious and racist north Asian fascistic state a second time?

The US should absolutely play hardball over Taiwan. It should absolutely arm it to the teeth. It should absolutely see it as a crucial Cold War conflict and push China all the way. And, if the worst comes, it should absolutely destroy Taiwan’s strategic strengths such as semi-conductor production.

But it does not need to fight the war to save the empire. Instead, the US should build a global coalition of liberal states to make it plain to the CCP that if it does annex Taiwan then it will be unceremoniously booted out of the global economy via commodity, trade and capital blockades. Accompanying this ought to be a liberal BRI. A global Marshall Plan that rips all US-supply chains out of China and rains them upon the Asian alliance network instead.

That would make any CCP victory in Taiwan entirely Pyrrhic as, before long, it faced collapsing living standards and mass unrest at home.

We can already see the beginnings of this from the Biden administration:

  • Like-minded allies must come together to fight the rise of autocratic states.
  • They should act collectively on Xinjiang slave labour.
  • Values should permeate trade relationships.

The realist question facing the liberal world is not whether or not to defend Taiwan to save the US liberal empire. It is how to make that conflict the end of the illiberal Chinese upstart.

David Llewellyn-Smith
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Comments

  1. Ronin8317MEMBER

    The Kumingtong invaded Taiwan to scale from the CCP. It is not a ‘lease’ like HK. China’s claim on the island does not even have the thin veneer of legality.

    For China, Taiwan is a symbol of failed nationalism rather than as an existential strategic threat, so a war will be a disastrous exercise in hubris with no possibility of a positive outcome. Leaders make strategic mistakes in history with disastrous consequences, like the Second Iraq War under G.W.Bush. If Xi invades Taiwan then all trade and sea lanes will be closed to China, and people in China will starve, literally, leading to the collapse of the country, and the Chinese well resort to cannibalism like in past periods of famine. (Happened many many times throughout Chinese history, I kid you not..)

    • ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

      “the Chinese well resort to cannibalism like in past periods of famine. (Happened many many times throughout Chinese history, I kid you not..)”

      You could certainly make a lot of Mongolian Lamb out of 1.4 billion people!
      Would it taste as delicious as Mongolian Lamb made from Labradors though?

      • Ronin8317MEMBER

        It’s ‘white meat’ rather than red meat apparently. From someone who ate it during the Great Famine in the 1960s, he said “it tasted like pork”.

        If you want to know a bit more about the Great Famine in the 1960s, the book to read is ‘Tombstone’,

        https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/dec/07/tombstone-mao-great-famine-yeng-jisheng-review

        It’s not a easy book to read. There are too many statistic and locations that makes no sense to most Western readers (including me), but it does give you a sense of how and why the Great Famine happened. One story that I’ll always remember is the mother who decided to reserve food only for the eldest son so at least one child survives.

        The famine during the Qing Dynasty wasn’t too bad, but the Ming Dynasty was a shocker with famine every few years. It is so common, they even wrote recipe books for human parts!!

        • You maybe thinking of the famine which occurred during the Ming/Qing transition in the middle of the 17th century. That was a really bad one. By the way “Tombstone” is a very controversial book.

    • Ronin – agree in the main with what you say – the links that mainland China has to Taiwan are not all that strong or long (the indigenous Taiwanese are actually closely linked to the maori so not chinese, and han chinese from Fujian Province only settled in Taiwan relatively recently).

      I don’t think the Chinese political system will collapse in part because it will not be the CCP cadres and PLA grunts that will starve and in part because China is such a massive unit that there could complete anarchy in a number of regions but normality elsewhere.

  2. If Taiwan is inevitable, Asia follows, with the exception of Japan (and Indonesia, for different reasons).

    Totally disagree with the analysis, no one will fight China, no one diplomatically recognises Taiwan. The US cannot defend any one in Asia effectively with the exception of arms (which will not be free). Nor does it have to… China will use soft power to control the rest.

    Europe won’t care. Germany and Russia are forming an economic alliance, which is in Russia’s best interests because eventually it could lost the East.

    It is just us, and much which is about to happen is inevitable. All the strategy in the world won’t stop this happening. We are alone, with several of our friends, and that is it… Biden’s reign will be as frail as he is. Once Asia realises how impotent the US truly is, it’s over.

  3. mikef179MEMBER

    I agree. Taiwan will be ultimately let go if necessary. But it will be the last victory that China gets.

    I wonder how much of an Iraq-type situation Taiwan might become for the Chinese or whether they would be easily able to subdue it. Hong Kong seems to suggest that they would, even if it is a slightly different situation.

  4. This is an excellent article. Dead on the money! I only have one nit to pick:

    “The main reason Australia pivoted away from China was its intent to corrupt the country.”

    I don’t think that Australia has pivoted away from China. The sole example that I can think of that consists of actions, rather than words, is the end of the BRI in Victoria. Aside from that, some Australians are talking tough, but I’m seeing no actual decoupling happening, whether it’s resource exports, ag exports (China has been the leader in reducing ag trade with Australia), education exports, or selling off the country’s land and strategic resources.

    What am I missing? Is Australia actually doing anything specific with regards to China decoupling? Or is it a bunch of tough talk, with the reality being the exact opposite? Because I’m seeing the latter.

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