Europe, China and Australia: How Far Apart?


By Robbin Laird

With the European Commission spearheaded a closer relationship with China, the gap — not just geographical — between Australia and Europe is clearly growing.

My own recently published book on the evolution of Australian defence strategy highlights the shift from the away game to the home game for the Aussies. The focus is clearly upon the Indo-Pacific and the Chinese reworking of the global rules of engagement and stepping up a wide ranging challenge to the liberal democracies.

As Ross Babbage has recently argued:

Current tensions between Australia and the Chinese regime are often described as a trade war.

It is much more than that.

What we are actually seeing is a far-reaching sovereignty war.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is using a vast arsenal to coerce Australian governments to cede key parts of our political independence. Trade pressure is just part of a larger offensive.

This type of coercion has been a feature of the CCP’s campaigns to defeat domestic and international opponents for over a century.

They used it during the long-running struggles against the nationalists and the imperial Japanese Army in the 1920s, 30s and 40s and in every campaign since, including their current struggles against Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia in the South China Sea, with Japan over the Senkaku Islands and with Taiwan over its sovereign status.

In every case the CCP has launched sophisticated operations to penetrate, divide, corrupt, weaken and incapacitate their opponents and to force their collapse or capitulation.

The Chinese see these forms of comprehensive coercion as a type of warfare because their goals are the same as violent combat – to overwhelm opponents and deny them their independence.

How would one reconcile this trade and political war of China against Australia with the current efforts of the European Commission efforts to more fully engage China?  Well you could, but only if you were a European diplomat, of the old school, perhaps the 1938 vintage.

A measure of the gap can be provided by the perspectives of Senator Jim Molan on the need for a comprehensive national security strategy for Australia.

In this article, I have focused on the final episode in a podcast series looking at the way ahead and how Australia might address the challenges which its faces which he generated.

This is the final podcast in his series and I have now gathered the transcripts of those podcasts — with selected parts of the broadcasts — and put them into a single report which can be found at the end of this article,

We Stress Test Banks, Why Not National Security?

We started off by saying that most Australians thought that we were doing enough on defense on our national security, because we’ve been aiming to spend 2% of our GDP on defense. I’ve made the point that national security is far broader than just defense and covers every aspect of government and society. We also spoke about the fact that major wars, unlike the small ones I fought in, are not a thing of the past and could still happen.

And healthy paranoia is very, very wise. And I did say that, and we’ve discussed the appalling nature of modern war. And it’s such an awful proposition that everything we do must be focused on stopping it. Australia’s view on our security has been shaped by the fact that market forces and globalization have delivered great prosperity to this country over the last 75 years. And this has been facilitated by the strength of our great ally the U.S. but that’s now changed. US power is not what it was, and challenges have risen.

And we’ve also spoken about the vulnerabilities. We have vulnerabilities. Some, we create ourselves internally by allowing ourselves to become overly dependent on foreign supply chains. And some are forced on us from overseas, such as the illegal occupation of maritime areas or regional border disputes that threaten sea lines of communication.

But all is not really gloom and doom. Australia has an extraordinary defense potential, far greater than most Australians realize. And we spoke about that in the last podcast. But until you organize it through security, through strategy, it’s all just potential.

We need to bring all this together in the form of a strategy that makes us secure and prepares us for the future. Prepared for conflict and war for the first time in our history, what a revolution. And a strategy is only ever 10% of the task, but it’s a critical 10%. And with the other 90% of the journey towards a truly secure nation, being the implementation of the strategy we decided on.

And if it’s good enough for us to regularly stress test our banks, because they’re so important to us, why is it that we don’t ever stress test something as important as national security?

What do I want is for Australia for the first time in its post Federation history, to be prepared for our uncertain future? By being prepared, perhaps we will not have to endure the appalling possibilities that lie before us. Given what we have endured in the past, it could be an awful lot worse than what we have just come through.

Now, I don’t advocate irrational preparation. I don’t advocate panic. I don’t say we should do this at the expense of our freedoms or our economy, or even globalization. I’m not denying particularly what this government has done brilliantly since 2013 in the field of national security. The preparation I want is the logical calm preparation based on facts and knowledge rather than doing it just whatever we can too late in a crisis as we’ve done for most of our existence as a nation.

I don’t even want the implementation to start now because priority for the Morrison government must go to getting the economy back on its feet. And the greatest thing that we can do for this nation and for national security right at this moment is to recover the economy. The economy is the basis of our national security because it gives us the funds to prepare and it maintains that critical social cohesion.

But the thinking, the preparation, the examining of processes must start now, and it can start now. The Morrison government has proven during the pandemic that it can do many things at the same time. And thinking to produce a comprehensive strategy, not just for the military, but for the entire nation, doesn’t cost a cent and should not compete for critical government brain space. And as I’ve argued, none of us how much time we have to prepare. So let’s start as soon as possible….

Deriving a strategy is an essentially intellectual process, but it does require a few decisions and it does require a few resources. And those particularly are of smart people. I want Australia as the very first step to acknowledge that we face markedly changed strategic circumstances, which is a way a politician talks about the threat towards us. And we need to acknowledge that there are implications for this nation of that change.

The threat that I see is emerging now, and we need to act now. Not when the wolf is at the door. And that’s been our historical reaction to crisis. We need to act now. Many countries that share our national philosophy are threatened by a rising power that is hostile to everything we are. Free, democratic, prosperous, occupying a full continent, and an ally of the United States.

We haven’t seen anything like this since 1945. This is what the prime minister means when he talks about the twenties and the thirties. Perhaps he’s not saying that war is going to break out in the modern equivalent of 1939, although that may happen, but a serious shifting of power relativities is what he’s talking about.

Who is the big boy on the block?

The power relativity, the strength in our region is changing from an ally of ours, the United States, to an authoritarian power who is very assertive and even aggressive. And that power Sarah, the pair of China has proven it has no respect for international laws as has been shown in many ways.

Most markedly, I guess, in the South China Sea. In full view of a weak US president, the West did nothing in the South China Sea. China saw our weakness and has taken lessons from that.

History might be echoing from the twenties and the thirties. It may never repeat itself, but as people say, sometimes it echoes. And Australia must accept that tension may lead to war between the U.S. and China. And the result of that war will shape the world and particularly Australia. And it will shape us for decades to come. We need to be prepared and we are not prepared….

Primarily we need to build a self-reliant Australia. Not just militarily, but across the entire nation, which can secure our future. But we must also build alliances, be protected by them and be a significant contributor to them. The days of mindlessly and selfishly hoping the U.S. will be our savior in national security have gone, if they ever were there. The days of being complacent about national security are over, and it’s time for some constructive paranoia, as we’ve discussed.

The world has changed. We must accept that this is our responsibility, and we must act. And when it comes down to what specifically we must do to achieve the aims of self-reliance, my suggestion to everyone is that we leave that for those who are going to write the detailed national security strategy.

I could come up with a whole range of ideas, but that means nothing. What I’m trying to say to people is let’s be self-reliant, let’s pull together an organization can analyze this and look at it and come up with a really specific actions that we need to take….

For the first time in our history, since Federation, we will be successful in fact, and in the eyes of the people, if we secure our sovereignty by being prepared for the uncertain future we face through a policy of national self-reliance based on a comprehensive nationwide strategy. Implemented through a modern national security organization, the equivalent of the national intelligence organization, which can both prepare Australia for high levels of tension as well as advise and manage all levels of crisis and war. To me, that’s success….

If the need for a self-reliant approach to national security was acknowledged before the end of 2020 for example, a national security organization might be set up in 2021, able to produce a basic national security strategy. Addressing the security obligations of defense, cyber, manufacturing, diplomacy, health, energy and fuels, society, finances, education, borders, intelligence, food, and infrastructure, and anything else that I can’t think of at the moment.

This could then be submitted to cabinet by the Prime Minister and considered by cabinet. So it shouldn’t be a long period of time. As I’ve said, time and time again, we should aim to have this process in train within three years.