July 28th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The Strange Case of the Vanishing Safe Schools Resources

EDITORIAL By-elections will test Shorten's 'politics of envy' strategy

ASIA-PACIFIC AFFAIRS A modest proposal for Australia's regional security

CANBERRA OBSERVED Odds are that Labor won't Albo Bill aside

TECHNOLOGY Wonder carbon material on cusp of commercialisation

ENVIRONMENT Electric vehicles still only for elitist planet savers

ENERGY SECURITY Steam rail backup could get us out of hot water

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT NEG papers over crisis behind energy price hikes

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Beijing goes 'boo', Qantas gets in a flap

EUTHANASIA Death with dignity, or putting Death to death?


MUSIC Aural wallpaper: The background hiss to our lives

CINEMA Ant-Man and the Wasp: Downsized superheroes

BOOK REVIEW Timely essays on religious freedom

BOOK REVIEW Fraudulent father of psychoanalysis



No question about it: the Don is in charge

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A modest proposal for Australia's regional security

by Patrick J. Byrne

News Weekly, July 28, 2018
  • If Australia can finance China’s Asian development bank, why don’t we create an Australian Infrastructure Investment Bank to develop our neighbouring Pacific island states?

Bipartisan agreement on new federal legislation to deter Beijing’s interference in Australian politics and economy is necessary and welcome. However, far greater defence spending and investment in developing our Pacific island neighbours will also be necessary to secure Australia’s sovereignty.

Chinese Premier Xi Jinping has entrenched himself in power and is in the process of transforming China’s social and political development.

Under Xi, the international ambitions of Beijing have fundamentally changed. Deng Xiaoping’s policy of “hide your strength, bide your time, never take the lead” has given way to a policy of constructing a regional economic and security order totally centred on China.

As former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has recently pointed out on Project Syndicate, in this new era of international activism, Beijing:

  • Has built new island military bases in the South China Sea.
  • Is building a new Silk Road, an investment, infrastructure and economic initiative that involves 73 nations across Eurasia and Africa, at the cost of many trillions of dollars.
  • Has established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a regional development bank that Canberra backed with $US738 million, making Australia the sixth largest shareholder.
  • Has launched major diplomatic initiatives beyond its regional strategic sphere of interest.
  • Has developed naval bases in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Djibouti.
  • Participates in naval exercises with Russia in the Mediterranean and Baltic seas.
  • Has established a Chinese international development agency.

China’s rapid economic transformation since about 1990 now gives it the money to expand its military power and aggressively pursue its diplomatic, strategic and economic interests.

It has new frontiers of political and industrial espionage, has the ability to launch major cyber attacks and to carry out extensive surveillance, and to exert political influence.

ASIO director general Duncan Lewis has stated that Australia is now subject to more foreign espionage and foreign influence operations than it faced from the Soviet Union during the Cold war. This is happening at a time when some of our political leaders are making it clear that Australia can no longer rely on the United States’ defence umbrella in the same way that it did in the period after World War II.

In a recent speech to the Heritage Foundation, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that, while the American-led global order has protected the freedoms of many democracies and protected many countries from commercial exploitation, U.S. President Donald Trump is now saying that “America has disproportionately shouldered the burden” of the work and that allies like NATO have to shoulder more.

Mr Abbott’s speech coincided with President Trump making this message clear at the recent NATO summit in Brussels. Mr Trump is conscious of the fact that NATO overly relies on the U.S., with only five of NATO’s 29 members spending 2 per cent or more of their gross domestic product (GDP) on defence. At the current rate of increase of defence expenditure, Australia won’t reach 2 per cent of GDP until 2021.

America will continue to defend its own backyard in north, central and southern America. However, as many U.S. legions return home, Trump’s America may remain a reliable partner to countries like Australia; “just don’t expect too much”, Mr Abbott said.

Mr Abbott went on to say that as China rapidly grows, Australia will need to upgrade its defensive capabilities to counter China’s military strength. “Obtaining the capacity to shoot down incoming missiles could easily become a multibillion-dollar necessity. Almost certainly our Navy will need routinely to be enlarged and strengthened.

“There will almost certainly have to be more of our planes rotating constantly through the Butterworth airbase in Malaysia. Our ships and submarines might need to spend more time operating from Singapore, to more readily be where they could be needed.

“Can our ships be expected to operate without the air cover that an overstretched America may no longer provide? Can we afford to wait at least 15 years before the first of the next generation of submarines becomes operational?”

As well as expanding its military capabilities, Australia needs to expand its assistance to develop regional Pacific states, where China is making concerted economic and diplomatic inroads.

Australia’s development aid to the region is expected to be $261.3 million in 2018–19. This needs to be greatly expanded. In particular, since Australia has generously endorsed China’s Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, Australia should create its own Australian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), in part to develop regional Pacific island states.

An AIIB could target important infrastructure investment in these states, build their economies, expand employment and create a regional economic community that is more self-reliant and is aligned with Australia rather than with China.

If Australia can no longer take American defence cover for granted in the face of Beijing asserting greater power in our region, a development bank committed to developing our regional neighbours will be important to secure Australia’s strategic future.

Patrick J. Byrne is national president of the National Civic Council.

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