WHY IS AUSTRALIA so keen to bring the finance ministers of the “Five Eyes” together? Since when did the intelligence gathering and sharing arrangement launched nearly 70 years ago as the UK-USA Agreement start morphing into an economic and military alliance? More importantly, how long has Canberra been anticipating New Zealand’s participation in this transformation? Clearly, the promoters of what is looking more and more like ANZUS 2.0 are not particularly worried that such a policy would jeopardise our relationship with China. Indeed, alienating China from New Zealand may be one of the key objectives of the whole exercise.
Canberra clearly believes that if Beijing is ready to impose a heavy economic cost on Australia for its unwavering allegiance to the United States, then Wellington, too, should be prepared to endure the lash of Chinese displeasure. And make no mistake, Canberra is paying a price. Its food exports to China are being impeded and the Chinese Government is warning its citizens to avoid visiting Australia on account of its deep-seated racial antagonism towards Asian peoples. This warning will damage not only the Australian tourist industry (already stricken thanks to Covid-19) but it will also choke off the multi-billion-dollar flow of Chinese fee-paying students to Australia’s schools and universities.
These are merely the preliminaries, however, should Australia persist in its determination to be the best deputy-sheriff Uncle Sam has ever had. New Zealanders often express concern at their own country’s growing economic dependence on the Chinese market. Our economic vulnerability pales, however, when set alongside the Australian mining industry’s reliance on China’s apparently insatiable appetite for the Lucky Country’s mineral exports. A full-scale boycott of Australian coal, copper, bauxite and iron-ore would plunge the Australian economy into an even deeper recession.
What reward is Canberra hoping to receive in return for jeopardising its economic future? Why is it so keen to take up such an exposed position in the “New Cold War” which is fast intensifying between the Peoples Republic and the so-called “Quad States” – the USA, Japan, Australia and India? Has the rise and rise of China awakened all the old atavistic Australian fears of the “Yellow Peril”? The existential fears which fuelled the frankly racist “White Australia Policy” which lasted from federation in 1901 until well into the 1970s. And if that is the driving force behind Canberra’s reckless willingness to put at risk Australia’s own vital economic interests, then how does it expect the USA to make good the loss of its Chinese buyers?
The crucial feature of a declining power is its diminishing capacity to offer a credible quid pro quo for its friends’ and allies’ loyalty.
Why was New Zealand (a nation of barely one million in 1914) prepared to sacrifice upwards of 12,000 of its young sons for the greater glory of the British Empire in World War I? The cynical answer: because the primary produce importers on London’s Tooley Street were willing to take everything Britain’s South Seas “farm” could send them. Not to put too fine a point upon it, we traded blood for butter. A Devil’s bargain, no doubt, but a profitable one!
Is Canberra labouring under the illusion that the USA will absorb all its vital mineral exports should China decline to receive them? Does the Australian Government really believe that America’s own mining industry is just going to sit back and let Australian imports flood their markets and drive down their prices? The United States is a mature, almost post-industrial, capitalist economy. It passed through the phase through which China is currently passing more than a century ago. Australia’s much-vaunted “luck” stems from it being handsomely endowed and strategically located to supply the needs of a rapidly industrialising Asia. Overwhelmingly, for the last 40 years, that has meant China. What has Washington told Canberra about the region’s geopolitical future that has made Australian politicians so willing to court the ire of Beijing. What does Scotty Morrison know that we don’t?
The name of the “Quad’s” new geopolitical initiative, the “Indo-Pacific Strategy”, offers a pretty big clue. Simply recall that, until very recently, all the talk among the Five Eyes and their allies was about their “Asia-Pacific Strategy”. The shift in focus, from East to South Asia, from China to India, points to the overall direction of travel of Anglo-Capitalism in the twenty-first century. With China stubbornly refusing to follow the same path as the Soviet Union; with Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan significantly failing to replicate the fates of Ukraine, Georgia, the “stans” and the Baltic states; with Beijing forging ahead to reclaim its historical primacy in the region; the time has apparently arrived for the Five Eyes powers to sink their talons into yet another vast population of peasants. For India, what came around in the seventeenth century is about to come around again.
The politics required for the Five Eyes powers to pull this off isn’t pretty.
Remember the BRIC countries? (Brazil, Russia, India and China) Remember the Anglo-capitalists’ alarm at the emergence of a bloc determined to step out of the shadow of its individual members’ tragic histories? Where are they now? Brazil and India – like the USA and the UK – are (mis)ruled by far-right populists hellbent on leading their people back into the steely embrace of the imperialists. The survivors, China and Russia, are now – according to the Five Eyes powers – Public Enemies 1 and 2.
And so, at last, we can answer the question of why the Australians are so determined to ensure that every last one of the Five Eyes are on the same economic (i.e. ideological) page. Why it is so important that no one (and, yes, they’re looking at you Jacinda and Grant) breaks ranks by declining to see China as an enemy. How vital it is that no member state draw attention to the fact that the planet cannot possibly sustain the massive carbon investment required to turn India into another China.
It was the “Asia-Pacific Strategy” that fouled the lungs of Planet Earth. The “Indo-Pacific Strategy” threatens to bring on a fever that will stop her heart.
We should inform Canberra, Washington, Ottawa and London that we are taking back our eyes – the better to find and follow an independent foreign policy path. If remaining in the Anglo-Saxon alliance means embracing a far-right version of populism already indistinguishable from incipient fascism; if it requires New Zealand to join its “allies” in repeating all the horrors of Anglo-Capitalism’s imperial past; then we must have nothing to do with it.