The strange story of Paul Keating’s China “steel fence”

The AFR has a weird story today:

The rising power of China was a key driver behind Australia’s groundbreaking 1995 security pact with Indonesia, as then prime minister Paul Keating cast aside an outdated fear of Jakarta to put in place a “steel fence across the top of the country”.

James Curran, professor of modern history at Sydney University and a former analyst with the Office of National Assessments, was given exclusive access to archival and policy documents detailing the secret negotiations leading up to the pact.

“They show that Keating was thinking about the rise of China 25 years before the current debate kicked off and more than think about it, he put into place a huge bulwark into our strategic positioning,” Professor Curran said.

Mr Keating told Professor Curran he was putting a “steel fence across the top of the country” in case of a major Asian power disturbing regional harmony.

Professor Curran spent four months researching the deal after being given access to briefs from the departments of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Foreign Affairs and Defence, along with records of conversations Keating had with the two emissaries he selected to undertake the negotiations, his foreign policy adviser Allan Gyngell and the former chief of the Australian Defence Forces, General Peter Gration.

So, as Chinese power has burgeoned, why has Keating turned so dovish? As well, why was Professor James Curren, persistent China fanboi at the AFR, given “exclusive access” to these documents? Did he sniff them out? Even so, why was it “exclusive” if it is the public interest?

Is this story, which first appeared in Australian Foreign Affairs,  a Morrison Government plant?

Houses and Holes
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Comments

  1. I suppose context is the thing. At the time, it wasn’t long after Taiananmen, when he was treasurer.
    And then they seduced him with money and the world with the expectation of liberalisation.
    And he got old, and lost his edge.

    And, I’d say yes. It damn well is a Morisson plant. Trying to head Labor off at the pass as it were. Pity Howard ruined the steel fence.

  2. There is probably no change in Keating’s strategic posture. He says we should accept China’s rise. This means we don’t sally forth like Don Quixote to the shores of China with nuc subs. Instead as Hugh White (and probably still Keating) counsels, we pull back to a defensive position which we can realistically defend and supply etc. And Morrison IS as deluded as the Don. He has taken up an American posture NOT an Australian one. He is as mental as Howard with Bush in 2002. This ongoing Quixotic Australian LNP leadership delusion will probably only be solved by the appropriate justice actions toward Howard for his crimes against Iraq.

    • ”There is probably no change in Keating’s strategic posture.”
      Keating was no slouch in his day but, I do think his light has diminished significantly of late. The geographic buffer he was speaking of is probably the most important element of our own security – more so than nuclear subs.

      ”This means we don’t sally forth like Don Quixote to the shores of China with nuc subs. Instead as Hugh White (and probably still Keating) counsels, we pull back to a defensive position which we can realistically defend and supply etc. And Morrison IS as deluded as the Don. He has taken up an American posture NOT an Australian one. He is as mental as Howard with Bush in 2002. “
      I heartily agree. I have in the past suggested people look up the Millennium Challenge to get a sense of what a coherent defensive posture might look like that plays to our strengths and wont cost us $$ we desperately need elsewhere. The Chinese had their own version of this when the US had a far superior navy and is basically involved building a large number of smaller and far cheaper weapons platforms. The aim was to overwhelm any attacking force’s defences with a more distributed attack.

      So you are exactly right in saying we have adopted a posture for the US, not Australia.

    • “we pull back to a defensive position which we can realistically defend and supply ”
      This requires preventing ships from reaching our shores. Guess what has been the preferred method of denying shipping since ww2, and was highly effective in that capacity. Submarines.

          • Not if you have friends in the region. Any friendly port or ship can refuel/replenish. I am well aware of the capability of nuclear subs but, Roberto is right. This purchase only makes sense if you intend to fight in distant, more contested waters (eg: like the waters around Taiwan). That means this decision makes us far more dependent on the US than before – a vassal state less capable of defending itself without its master and bound to a future of ever-increasing defence purchases from that master. Not smart for a whole lot of reasons.

          • I’d have concerns that conventional subs wouldn’t even have met that requirement, it might have done years ago against our neighbours but now China is being more aggressive AND has the ability to block our borders (China’s grey warfare strategy ie they don’t shoot but they enforce blockades etc as with fishing grounds, reefs etc in SCS) given their naval capability etc they would only have to blockade for a few weeks & our subs would have to expose themselves. Whereas nuke power mean they can sit it out while we organise against the likely grey warefare while still providing a threat and stretching anyones ability to shut our borders.

          • ” ..they would only have to blockade for a few weeks & our subs would have to expose themselves. Whereas nuke power mean they can sit it out while we organise against the likely grey warfare while still providing a threat and stretching anyones ability to shut our borders.”
            You are talking about distant waters and I have to ask, what are we blockading from? Are we stopping stuff getting to them or they stopping stuff getting to us? I think it is fairly safe to say by that time it would be a hot war and their marine militia would be blown out of the water. Grey warfare is a legitimate concern but, you don’t need nuclear subs to deal with that.

        • Hugh White has the details on what pulling back to a defensible position without the US (worst case) looks like. He has us getting rid of surface ships basically as they are too easily sunk. Buying 32 off the shelf diesel electric subs like the German ones offered to us in 2016 for $4bn and which are to RAN specs. Boosting our fighter jets to 200. Boosting missiles & cyber etc. He also has the strategic logic of it.
          https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/ssn-vs-ssk
          And see book: How to defend Australia

  3. Anyone with any experience in Indonesia knows it’s corrupt to its core, it’s military are mainly geared up to bullying its own population and it’s utterly incompetent and under funded. Only a frickin’ moron would place their security in the hands of Jakarta. But then it’s pretty clear that Paul Keating is a frickin’ moron…

    • ”Anyone with any experience in Indonesia knows it’s corrupt to its core, it’s military are mainly geared up to bullying its own population and it’s utterly incompetent and under funded. “
      Yes it is corrupt and so is our government. The point being made is that working with neighbors to stay close will be critical for our security. If Indonesia is swayed to China, we’re in a lot of trouble. The kind nuclear subs wont help us with.

      ”Only a frickin’ moron would place their security in the hands of Jakarta. But then it’s pretty clear that Paul Keating is a frickin’ moron…
      PK is greatly diminished these days but, one could argue putting our security so completely in the hands of the US is equally crazy given their democracy is in trouble. They may well re-elect Trump or someone like him in the foreseeable future. It is a real possibility given the Fox network etc seems largely captured by lunatics now.

      For all of the above reasons, a more independent self-defence capability is needed and that is not what we get from the US/UK nuclear subs.

    • Talking to our nearest neighbour about the region’s common emerging threat was bad? What’s more this agreement to discuss said threat signifies us putting our security in their hands? No and no.

  4. The nuclear sub deal is absolutely what Australia needs, to guarantee its defence. It provides Australia with massive strategic independence and flexibility. It also provides Australia with a retaliatory strike option. Scomo needs to be getting loaned subs in – old Los Angeles class – as soon as possible because you just know Labor will scupper the deal and leave Australia defenceless.

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