US President Barack Obama has visited Australia this week; as a result, 2500 US soldiers will be stationed here for six months of the year, with the possibility of an increased US troop presence and/or a new US base being established in the future.
Unsurprisingly, China — and some of her neighbours — are not happy.
And unsurprisingly, discussion in the circles of opinion this week has focused on the potential economic damage these developments might inflict on Australia; after all, China — and its appetite for Australian minerals — are not only holding this country out of recession at present, but on one reading would seem to underpin any prospect Australia might have for economic prosperity in the longer run.
Readers of this column know that I place a large premium on the economic welfare of Australia in my opinions on various issues; the one thing I place even more of a premium on is the country’s national security.
So for now, let’s place economic considerations to one side — we’ll come back to those.
And let me say at the commencement of my remarks that they do not apply to ordinary rank-and-file Chinese people, but to the Chinese government, its Communist Party, and the junta which runs it.
China, viewed through a military and national security prism, is not the sort of friend Australia needs or wants. Indeed, even were it to be, it’s not much of a friend to have.
As China has developed over the past forty years — and especially in the last ten to fifteen years — it has become increasingly belligerent in its assertions of its own national interests; those assertions alone should give thinking people reason to pause.
It lays claim to the entire South China Sea, in spite of internationally-recognised sea boundaries; specifically, it seeks control over vast oil reserves and other natural resources contained in the South China Sea basin.
It lays claim over the Spratley Islands, for much the same reason, in the face of legitimate claims held by several other south-east Asian countries.
It is an ally of North Korea. It doesn’t matter that China is North Korea’s only ally; the fact remains that it is allied to a brutal, murderous, regressive, nuclear-armed Stalinist socialist regime.
China has an agreement with Russia — also no democracy — to co-operate on military matters; no small matter, given the historically malevolent nature of Sino-Russian relations.
It is committed to the reclamation of Taiwan and does not rule out military force to achieve this objective, despite the USA being legally obliged to defend Taiwan in the event of any military attack and the near-certainty of the use of nuclear weapons should such a conflict ever eventuate.
China is building military and economic co-operation pacts with various third-world countries, in Africa and South America, to bolster its global influence and to shore up its stocks as an emerging superpower in its own right.
And finally — but by no means least of all — China is run by a regime which crushes dissent, stifles free speech, restricts its people’s access to information from the world at large, and simply disposes of those of its citizens it deems too dangerous to its interests to be allowed to be left alive.
Through its various alliances, co-operation agreements and other pacts, China’s influence already covers more than a third of the world’s population.
And that is before considerations such as Australia’s reliance on orders from the Chinese for coal, gas and so forth are taken into account.
The pending US military presence in Australia has been described as “a strike force” and as “a balance to Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific region.”
As it rightly should be.
Much as we might need the cheques from China for our natural resources today, the question must be posed: what will we receive from China tomorrow?
It is inarguable that at best, China seeks to extend its influence into every corner of the world; at worst, it could be argued that the economic rise of China is a mere precursor to its military manifestation.
Indeed, China’s military is modernising and expanding at a fearsome rate, and its sabre-rattling and conduct to date are not suggestive of a regime seeking peaceful hegemony.
One other observation I would make with direct relevance to China is that it is home to some 1.3 billion people, in an area not that much larger than Australia with its 23 million inhabitants.
There has been negative reaction to the announcement of the US troop deployment in Australia not just from China but also from its neighbours, some of whom are in dispute with China over other matters. Indonesia, with its 300 million people, is a case in point.
At the end of the day, however, Australia’s security is the responsibility of its government, just as the protection of American interests are the responsibility of the US administration; and after all, Australia and the United States have been staunch allies now for many decades.
So this development should come as little surprise to the Chinese government. The fact it has elicited the reactions it has is suggestive of more sinister motives that may very well have been blunted, if not at least frustrated, by the measures announced this week.
It is inarguable that there are economic and trade opportunities with China that should be pursued vigorously.
It is also a fact that all of Australia’s eggs should not be placed in the one basket.
Especially when the owner of that basket — the Communist Party of China — maintains a persistently undervalued currency to give itself a permanent advantage over all of its partners, and which now openly canvasses a controlled slowdown of its economy, which will hurt all of those partners (but further advantage China itself).
There are other opportunities for trade in the raw materials we export to China; just as we ship natural gas to China, we could ship it to dozens of countries in Europe which are held to ransom by Russia for their gas supplies (indeed, the Russians have closed the pipeline that supplies mainland Europe twice in the past five years in order to make its political will known).
But there will come a day when China, one way or another, is a fully developed country; it won’t have the space to house its people, the food resources to feed them, or the mineral resources to run itself.
Here in Australia we have wide open spaces and the food production resources with which to feed tens of millions of people in addition to our own population — and that’s before anything like this is even implemented.
There is nothing racist, bigoted or xenophobic in any of this; just a hard, cold assessment of future events that are all too foreseeable, and all too possible.
Pretend the New Zealanders (sorry, Kiwis!) were a nuclear-armed superpower far, far more powerful than Australia is; and consider a future scenario in which they invade Australia, subjugate the population, and enslave the country to materially support their own, at great detriment to Australians and under the threat of conventional or nuclear devastation.
Two potential saviours ride up on white steeds; one is called China, the other the USA.
Who do you pick?
Clearly, Uncle Sam is more a friend to this country than China is, or ever will be.
No matter what export opportunities lie at the end of the Silk Road.
Let’s not forget that, and let’s keep this debate over China and the USA in perspective.
What do you think?