Pascometer redlines on China grovelling

Weeoo, weeoo, weeoo.

It’s been far too long since the Pascometer last registered a redline moment. Almost so long that some readers will not even be acquainted with one of MB’s former favourite contrarian indicators.

Today the mechanism returns with a vengeance to redline on a subject for which it has zero expertise: China. To wit:

Nearly all Australians last month missed the most important piece of journalism yet to examine the origins of and motives for Australia’s botched diplomacy with China – it was behind the Australian Financial Review‘s paywall.

The 9000 words spread over three parts were so good the usual China hawks and defence and security industry promoters seem to have run away from it. Sometimes being ignored can be the biggest compliment.

Yet, when a couple of politicians acknowledged one of the core conclusions of the series – that domestic political advantage is now the key driver of our China policy – the knives were quickly out.

The series, starting with How Australia got badly out in front on Chinawas painstakingly researched and written by Max Suich, a former deputy editor of the AFR and editor-in-chief of the Fairfax Sydney papers.

It’s old-school journalism. Multiple trusted and trusting sources sought out and cross-checked over months, in contrast to retailing lines pushed by anonymous individuals and organisations with their own agendas.

…Never mind that there’s a massive disconnect between what the Defence Minister says and what he does. As one of Suich’s sources with deep knowledge of defence policy making said: “If the Morrison government was genuine in its talk about war with China, it would be criminally negligent not to be spending 5 to 6 per cent of GDP on defence. Doubling our 100 strike aircraft. Not waiting till 2030-2040 for submarines.”

Suich divides the devolution of our China policy at the urging of security and intelligence types into three stages: “Push Back” since late 2016 followed by “Call Out” and finally “Out in Front” of our allies and other democratic nations in needling, then confronting China – a policy that became more strident after Scott Morrison took over from Malcolm Turnbull.

Part of what seems to dismay Suich and his sources is that we have fallen into the current mess by misadventure, by negligence, by policy creep.

“There has been a note of the casual, the she’ll-be-right, the scary shoot-from-the-lip, even insouciance, in the development of our China policy over the past four years,” he writes.

“While we dramatically changed our approach, we did not define a policy objective for the new relationship with China or a strategy to achieve it. Nor did we thoroughly review alternative options.

“We elevated anger about Chinese activities in Australia and latent ministerial hostility towards China, turning threadbare slogans into policy.”

…Suich doesn’t quite say it, but I shall: The spook industry has effectively captured Australia’s mainstream media. They have become tools in a dead-end game when the governments of Australia and China cannot concede errors or back down, the arguments on both sides retreating into slogans.

I know Max Suich a bit. He’s a journo of immense talent and integrity. I’ve read his series. At the end of the day, I have two things to say about it (and the Pascometer).

Just about all of what Max Suich uncovers about policy creep, domestic political drivers for rising hawkishness, manipulated scoops and media by spooks, foreign policy gaffes, poor policy process and lack of planning are 100% right. If you’ve been reading MB over the past four years this will be no surprise to you.

But that is all entirely beside the point. That China has turned openly hostile to the liberal order is also not in question. That it is committing multiple genocides is not in question. That it has destroyed Hong Kong is not in question. That it has plans to do the same to Taiwan is not in question. That it plans to dominate the Indo-Pacific economically, strategically, intellectually and diplomatically is not in question. That its autocratic system has unleashed a plague upon the earth is not in question.

That it undertook a silent invasion of Australia to wedge it from ANZUS and its liberal roots is not in question.

And this is where Max Suich’s wonderful journalism misses the woods for the trees. The spectacular blundering of the Morrison Government actually worked in favour of the national interest. Our personality disordered PM so bamboozled the CCP that its friendly mask slipped off and exposed the truth of what is underneath. The fourteen conditions to get along with our new CCP overlord are unequivocal:

The takeaway from this extraordinary episode is not that Morrison fucked everything up, which he most assuredly did, but that he accidentally exposed China’s plan for Australia and that it can fuck right off.

I mean, seriously, is Max Suich, legitimate legend of Aussie journalism, really suggesting that we should embrace the above crushing of press freedom for a few yuan more?

The second point I will make about Max is that he comes from a generation and culture of Asian engagement ideologues. This school of thought predominated especially at ANU. Like Labor greybeards, many of the leading intellects of this school are embedded in the architecture of a vision for a wondrously free and free-trading multilateral Asia. I used to believe in it too.

Well, sorry, to say it, but the vision has collapsed.

Blaming the Morrison Government for this is preposterous. The forces at play are epochal.  China tried to liberalise politically and failed. We tried to help it and almost illiberalised ourselves instead. There is no meeting place between the two systems if the CCP is determined to become an autocratic hegemon.

This is the issue now. The deep and abiding enmity between liberal and illiberal systems. It is a structural divide that is going to sunder the entire global economy in the decades ahead.

Clearly, any pollie with half a brain is going to get on the right side of this (which makes you wonder what is inside Labor pollie’s heads).

In conclusion, yes Morrison is a foreign policy idiot. Yes, he has no plan. Yes, we are taking on water that we would not have had to if others took the lead. Yes, Morrison is playing domestic politics.

But none of that matters. What does is that we need to divorce China as soon as humanly possible to protect our liberal democratic system for our children. Such a Herculean unraveling of thirty years of painstaking diplomatic and economic engagement was never going to be orderly, nor pretty, nor planned, nor nice.

Nor was it ever going to feel good to those whose vision is being dismantled. But that’s just too damn bad. What matters is it is getting done.

A redlining Pascometer only underlines how out of step with the emerging reality that Max Suich and his old China guard now is.

Weeoo. Weeoo. Weeoo.

David Llewellyn-Smith
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  1. I can’t help but agree with you, DLS:

    Many seem to be missing the main issue and instead are effectively nit-picking and, ironically, engaging in petty domestic politics themselves – the main issue is that an intolerant, authoritarian regime bent on soft power domination of its region (half the world, according to its own self-defined sense of entitlement, without negotiation) versus that same region’s general desire for some sort of more liberal standard.

    The economics and the domestic politics come second; even so, it also implies that the economics are really just a general tool of said authoritarian regime to further goals that even it thinks are more important.

    The CCP wants compliance – bought or willing – from those around it, as it pushes on to do what it always intended to do.

    Yes, we don’t need to hate China (what an amazing country and people group!) but the CCP are thugs; the Chinese people, and everyone, would be better off if they didn’t exist as an organisation.

  2. Why does Australia always have to be someone else? Are we really that insecure?

    One moment we want to be just like America… then the next we want to be just like the Chinese.

    Why cant we just be Australians?

    If we werent blowing up our country every five minutes, maybe we’d have some inner strength that didnt require us to rely on external nations.

    Its almost like the Country with the name ‘AUSTRALIA’ has completely overlooked Australians and said, ” Nah. They dont exist. “.

    • Anders Andersen

      Mathias, how old are you?

      “One moment we want to be just like America… ”
      I would call this “bracket creep”. Australians have been mocking Americans since forever, while adopting their cultural behaviours and it’s still happening to this day. It’s embarrassing to say the least, but people seem to be unaware of our behaviour.

      “…….then the next we want to be just like the Chinese.”
      I don’t see any evidence that Australians want to copy, or are copying Chinese culture at all, I don’t see how you’ve come to this conclusion. If anything I think we mock asian cultures in general.

    • Mike Herman TroutMEMBER

      I’ve been thinking about that too. The world busy with a man made virus…. what’s the next move…. or maybe I give too much credit…

  3. Pascoe adopts the GT narrative that it’s all ‘our fault’ in his industry super funded position as business lobbyist at the New Daily.

    When confronted with the reality of the situation he just digs in deeper.

    Pascoe is an i d 1 o t.

  4. C'est de la folieMEMBER

    With all due respect to Max Suich – as noted, a legitimate legend of Australian journalism – there are a vouple of things to note……

    The first is that he is on the leeward side of 80.

    The second is that is such a legend of Australian journalism and of such a vintage that a load of luminaries of the Australian Defence and Diplomatic world – who have effectively been caught with their intellectual pants down with the embedding of Australia face up into the economic cheeks of China and the sudden national realisation that this position has downsides relating to wiggle room, hot air, and ambient rich organic matter levels – need someone of his stature desperately to put their case.

    Those luminaries want someone of Suich’s stature running their cause simply because they have become that exposed. They are that far adrift of contemporary geopolitics, and have cut off that much of their credibility or ability to walk back their positions and assumptions as espoused until just 18 months ago.

    He is their last hope of regaining ‘control’ of the discussion.

    None of that is to say that many of the points made are not very valid. But it is to say the whole box and dice of Australias positioning vis China needs revisiting, and it will require more thoughts than those who have crafted the socio economic cul de sac we now find ourselves in. And Suich himself will be perfectly aware of that. What the Pascoemeter is onto this for is anyones guess.

  5. For redlining, you can’t beat serial US-hater Bruce Haigh, on P&I, and just now Independent Australia. According to Commissar Haigh, Wuhan flu never came from Wuhan, and Australia should at once apologise for injured CCP feelings.

  6. Lord DudleyMEMBER

    Great article. China is an authoritarian, racial-supremacist nation with a system that Mussolini would recognise pretty quick.

    One thing though… Australia has already taken several steps down the same road. Legalising indefinite detention of asylum seekers comes to mind. There is a solid chance that Australia disengages somewhat from China, while continuing to emulate some of its odious practices.

  7. Anders Andersen

    The narrative today on China seems to be far-right (Newscorp / MB) or far-left (P&I), very little in-between for some reason and that’s likely to be because anyone who is (SG, MS or MP) gets attacked as a China apologists by the right or as a war mongerer by the left.

  8. El MerenderoMEMBER

    Never one to miss a good opportunity:

    “I’m more attuned to the interests of Western Australia and West Australian jobs. I have a view that they are our biggest customer; we sell them literally 20 times as much as we buy from them, why do we want to undermine that?”

    Well, let me see, where do I start…

  9. ScoMo would be a fool not to use China to wedge Labor, given how Australians views on Chinese government have plummeted, granted he could have been a bit more diplomatic, there again we are dealing white wolf warriors.

    When I watched Albo last night making political hay out of the Bilboa family I thought then, thank dog he hasn’t been in power to deal with the China issue.

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