The Greens, China and Australia’s Geopolitical Reality

Joe Humphreys

The Greens need to come to terms with Geopolitics.

On July 1, 2020, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that an imposing $270 billion would go towards Australia’s defence in the next decade to meet the strategic challenges of the Asia-Pacific region in the increasingly uncertain post-COVID-19 world.

A large portion of Canberra’s additional commitment of approximately $70 billion on top of the existing $200 billion defence budget is set to go towards improving Australia’s regional strike capabilities – with $800 Million used for purchasing American built Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles (LRASM), $9.3 Billion on R&D for long-range, potentially hypersonic, offensive weapons as well as a potential investment in anti-missile defence capacities.

On top of this, Mr Morrison announced that significant funding would also go towards cyber and information warfare capabilities, and importantly, pledged $7 billion to go towards developing an independent Australian satellite network.

This significant increase in the Australian defence budget, now 2% of national GDP, is a watershed moment in the history of Australian strategic policy. Past governments have laboured under the illusion that U.S interests and hegemony will always ensure stability in the Asia-Pacific, negating the need for Australia’s force projection capacities.

In the third decade of the 21st century, Australia is waking up to the reality of a United States that is asleep at the wheel as it pitches about in a storm of social, political and economic turmoil.

Although the bellicose anti-China rhetoric of U.S president Donald Trump may make it seem that the United States is ready to meet the challenges of a coercive and uncooperative Peoples Republic of China, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The United States is paralysed by a chaotic, inept and objectively absurd president who is now expected to guide the not-so-shiny city on the hill through a new age of great power competition. The United States couldn’t be less prepared.

What this means for an Australian perspective is simple – we are not in Kansas anymore.

China seeks to remake the global rules-based order in its image, asserting its power over its neighbours – namely in the South China Sea – as well as exhibiting increasingly expansionist tendencies. In tandem, China has also increased its efforts to undermine the credibility and regular operation of democracies around the Asia-Pacific, Australia being a prime example.

It’s difficult to ignore the apparent influence China has over Australian universities, as well as the episodic embroilment of Australian politicians with Beijing backed businesspeople.

Nor is it easy to turn a blind eye to the tariffs and school yard bully posturing made by Beijing after Australia called for an inquiry into its COVID-19 response and apparent displeasure at the prospect of Australia providing a safe haven for some 3 million eligible Hong Kong residents fleeing the central government’s slow strangulation of the once great autonomous zone.

Now more than ever before Australia must find the wherewithal to defend both its interests and the rules-based order in the Asia-Pacific.

Social media has already lit up with commentary from the Australian Greens leader Adam Bandt and Senator Larissa Waters criticising such a massive increase in the defence budget during a period in which Australia is enduring growing unemployment and economic downturn, cuts in government spending on tertiary and TAFE education, housing unaffordability, ongoing bushfire recovery, and the ever-pressing need to make a real effort to mitigate carbon emissions and stimmy the progress of climate change.

These are valid points of concern. The amount of money the Morrison government has devoted to the defence of our nation is truly staggering.

Spending billions on weapons while many Australians are struggling to keep their income and attain the quality of life we’ve come to expect is a hard sell.

Despite this, the Greens characterisation of the decision to increase defence spending at the expense of the social wellbeing of the Australian people is simplistic in nature and ignorant of the precarious position in which Australia finds itself.

By refusing to acknowledge the significance of Beijing’s militarisation of its near abroad, its efforts to undermine the integrity of neighbouring democracies and the prosperous, diverse, and vibrant life Australia enjoys, the Greens relegate themselves to a position of impotence in geostrategic debate.

With or without the input of the Australian Greens, Australia will rise to the challenge posed by a coercive Beijing. Green political thought could feasibly play a critical balancing role in Australia’s defence policy, promoting alternate paths to security beyond missiles and submarines, perhaps overlooked by the political right.

An excellent example of how green thinking could have aided Australia’s national security is the massive (and much needed) proposed transition towards a 100% publicly owned renewable energy grid.

Developing an advanced native renewable energy industry could defibrillate Australian manufacturing back to life, driving our economy past its structural dependence on commodity exports, and in doing so, reduce our reliance on China.

Furthermore, had the Greens had success in the 2019 federal election, and had their policy of heavily subsidizing tertiary education succeeded, Australian Universities dependence on international students would be lessened, thus reducing Beijing’s influence over our higher education sector.

In the past the Greens have shown themselves capable of providing constructive, alternative perspectives on defence policy.

In his detailed historical account of the Australian Greens, editor of the Monthly and political biographer Paddy Manning recalled that the Greens under Bob Brown was a party not entirely opposed to interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Brown and the Greens made a valuable contribution by emphasizing the need for any intervention to be led by the United Nations, in accordance with international law, and with the explicit consent of the Australian people.

The Greens have long argued that Australian foreign policy should be more independent from Washington, and it is with some irony that the Australian Greens are now lambasting this latest increase in defence spending, which only increases Australia’s capacity to act outside the strategic umbrella of the U.S.

Independent foreign policy it seems may come with a $270 billion-dollar price tag.

The ‘green voice’ in politics has a valuable place in national security discussion and has the potential to act as both an alternate perspective and moral conscience, providing  policymakers with outside-the-box thinking and serving as a reminder of Australia’s commitment to the rules based order and its duty to protect human dignity above all else.

For it is precisely the Green’s vision of purer democracy unbeholden to corporate power and a tolerant, progressive, and sustainable future that will provide Australia with the moral clarity it needs to negotiate the ideological dimensions which lay at the core of our competition with China.

Without this moral rejuvenation, Liberal democracy will fail to appeal to nations caught in the middle of two otherwise immoral systems.

Make no mistake, a genocidal, authoritarian regime, actively engaged in stamping the life out of the pro-democracy movement in Honk Kong and on campuses around the world is not one which the Greens can allow to remain unchallenged.

The moral and strategic battle that is being fought with China is not something which the Greens can allow to become the preserve of Australia’s political right.

The Peoples Republic of China is, in almost every sense, the antithesis of Green thinking.

With China’s militarisation of Australia’s strategic backyard, growing proclivity for belligerent “grey-zone” coercive methods which blur the lines between war and peace, the need for Australia to fill in the glaring gaps in its regional strategic capabilities can no longer be ignored.

Canberra’s efforts to ensure Australia is able to provide a comprehensive response to regional threats will render Australia a less attractive target for coercion, ensuring that we are able to stand up for both our own interests and those of our allies in the Asia-Pacific.

If the Australian Greens desire to revise the Morrison government’s latest defence plan, they need to also provide an engaging and credible alternative to counter Beijing’s influence.

More to the point, despite the COVID-induced difficulties faced by Australians at home, the Greens cannot allow themselves to fall prey to the same form of insular thinking that produces such meaningless slogans as “Make America Great Again”. The Greens must understand that the domestic interests of the Australian people extend to foreign shores.

The Greens cannot allow themselves to fall by the wayside in our competition with China. The worst outcome, both from a Green perspective and for Australia more broadly, is that the rational, humanist voice of the Greens party will go unheard as debates rage over the future of Australia’s security.

Ultimately the party itself will have to find the wherewithal to strike a balance between its own ideological opposition to military spending and the realpolitik demanded by foreign policy.

The so-called ‘Long Peace’ which developed nations have enjoyed since the conclusion of the Cold War is at an end, as the Morrison government’s defence plan shows. The challenges posed by a violent and revisionist state, committed to controlling and dominating our global neighbourhood must be met by the Australian Greens, if not for the good of Australian society, then at the very least for its own political viability.

 

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