Saturday 31st of July 2021

the kangaroo versus the dragon...




















 On Wednesday, April 21, Australia terminated several agreements that had been concluded with China as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

The relations between the two countries worsened during the coronavirus epidemic, when Canberra, following Washington's example, demanded an "independent" investigation to find out the origin of the novel virus. In addition, Australia remains one of the most active critics of the policy of the Chinese authorities in relation to the Uyghurs and constantly evinces interest in rights and health of Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who was arrested in China a year ago.


by Lyuba Lulko

In response to interference in its internal affairs, China banned exports of a range of commodities from Australia last year, including coal, copper and sugar, raised customs duties on Australian wines to 212 percent and limited supplies of two of Australia's major mutton suppliers. Australia's direct losses from those moves were evaluated at $20 billion.

On Wednesday, April 21, the Australian federal government withdrew two agreements between the state of Victoria and China, signed in 2018 and 2019. It was the first time, when the government took such a measure in relation to the state "for reasons of national security." To crown it all, Australia became the first country to have abandoned the signed agreement on the Chinese mega-project.

Beijing wants revenge

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Thursday, April 22, that the move would increase tensions between Canberra and Beijing further.

"China urges Australia to immediately correct its mistake, immediately reverse the wrong corresponding decision and not to rub salt in the wound of the already complicated Sino-Australian relationship. Otherwise, China will surely respond firmly and decisively," the official said.

A senior Chinese diplomat, deputy ambassador of China to Canberra, Wang Xining, warned Australia by saying that a superpower is "not a cow that can first be milked and then slaughtered."

"China is not a cow. I don't think it would occur to anyone to ​​milk China in its prime while plotting to kill it in the end," Wang said.

"Australia condoned the United States in a very unethical, illegal and immoral crackdown on Chinese companies. Do not try to pretend you have high moral standards," the diplomat said, reports.

Is it good for Australia to strangle China?

China is Australia's largest trading partner. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia's recent moves have made key Australian exports "vulnerable to further attacks from China."

According to experts interviewed by the newspaper, Australia may lose an estimated $80 billion a year in iron ore export revenues, as well as another $5 billion a year, if China bars Chinese students from studying in Australia.

Michael Shobridge, Defense Program Director of the Australian Institute for Strategic Policy, believes that it was not in Australia's interest to create a China-centered global economic order, in which China would have more economic leverage over other countries, including Australia.

According to Shobridge, the Belt and Road Initiative has been the hallmark of President Xi (Jinping) to build a China-oriented economy, and the lack of assistance in the implementation of this dream of global economic power is a good thing.

Well, Australia is not the Czech Republic, which the West uses as a pawn in the political game of chess against Russia. The land down under will suffer greatly from the loss of supply chains and the closure of entire industries. Western solidarity is always solid only verbally — everything else costs money. The Australian elite should keep their heads on their shoulders and think twice before they send a kangaroo to slay a Chinese dragon.

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china isn't a cow...

In New Zealand, dairy farmers produce far more milk than a nation of 5 million people can consume. In fact, there are about the same number of dairy cows in New Zealand as there are people. 

Key points:
  • New Zealand's dairy exports to China are worth more than $5 billion annually 
  • Farmers say the country is a "major player" and losing that business would have a "massive impact" on their lives 
  • Experts say New Zealand is "significantly exposed" to China on trade and is mindful of any reprisals    

Farmers will say the land is naturally blessed when it comes to producing milk — the climate is cool and the rain can be relied on.

Cattle run in paddocks and can be mostly grass-fed throughout their lives.

The result is a highly sought after dairy product and New Zealand's biggest customer is China.  

Just outside of Auckland, Chris Guy runs a dairy farm that's been in the family for six generations and he's very aware of how his patch of land is connected to the country's biggest trading partner.

The young farmer watches the global milk price, knowing any dip or volatility impacts the decisions his family makes for the property as well as the more personal parts of life.  

Right now, things are good. 

Increasing demand for milk from China throughout the pandemic pushed the global price higher and for a country that exports up to 96 per cent of its dairy product, that meant a boost for farmers.  

"We are riding a bit of a high," Chris said. 

"We're just hoping that it holds and it seems to be." 

Chris does pay mind to what would happen if China ever turned its back on New Zealand dairy. 

"It always sticks in the back of your head that we are at the mercy of another country like China," he said.  

"We just respect they're a major player and we just try and produce the best product for them to keep them interested." 


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scomo belts victoria...


By Hamish McDonald


The federal press gallery continues to give the Morrison government a free ride on its handling of foreign policy.


There was no sign of any hard questioning of foreign minister Marise Payne about why she focussed on Victoria in her first application of the government’s new veto powers over relationships with foreign countries by states, local governments and public universities.

Payne announced the forced cancellation of Victoria’s two memoranda of understanding signed with China’s top state body over 2018-19 for participation in the Belt and Road Initiative, along with two moribund technical education agreements, one signed with Iran in 2004, the other with Syria in 1999.

She said these were “inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy or adverse to our foreign relations”, without elaborating.

As James Laurenceson, head of the UTS Australia China Relations Institute tweeted:

“Let’s be clear what has been cancelled: a non-legally binding MOU that didn’t commit the VIC state government to do anything, let alone the national government. There was an option to just let it lapse and not approve new agreements. A choice was made to send a message to [China].”

The BRI agreements have been a favourite motif of attack on the Victorian premier Daniel Andrews by Coalition MPs and News Corp commentators, irked by his continuing popularity through Covid-19 outbreaks in the state. The decision to axe them got furious agreement by Canberra’s security establishment, with press gallery reports saying Australia’s policy was to oppose the BRI anywhere.

Payne’s announcement came a few hours after China’s deputy ambassador, Wang Xining, appeared at the National Press Club alongside the ANU China in the World Institute’s ’s Jane Golley and self-exiled Australian Financial Review correspondent Michael Smith to launch the institute’s new China Yearbook.

While Wang strongly attacked the decision by the Turnbull government in 2018 to bar Huawei from 5G mobile networks – the start of the crisis in the relationship – it seemed to mark a restart of dialogue, and Wang suggested correspondents could return to China. Only recently, new defence minister Peter Dutton had talked of being able to work “collaboratively” with the Communist Party of China on regional security.

As the also-stranded China correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age Eryk Bagshaw commented: “Australia’s relationship with China was already broken. This decision pushes the repair job out by years, if not decades.”

But he couldn’t bring himself to suggest it might have been unnecessary: “After nearly four months of relative calm in the rollicking Australia-China relationship, the temptation for the Morrison government must have been to let the agreement sit and gather dust. But this also misstates the fundamental judgment of Australia’s foreign policy leaders. The BRI deal should never have been signed. In doing so, Victoria ventured ignorantly into the waters of sovereignty.”

One-eyed look at Five Eyes

As if putting Victoria in its place wasn’t enough, Canberra’s foreign policy-security establishment had another insurrection on its hands this week, broken by the ABC’s Stephen Dziedzic.

“We are uncomfortable with expanding the remit of the Five Eyes relationship,” said New Zealand foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta. “We would much rather prefer to look for multilateral opportunities to express our interests on a number of issues.”

Canberra has been keen on expanding the 1940s signals intelligence-sharing pact into a broader strategic partnership, with Peter Dutton as home affairs minister pushing for its agencies to get into police matters like terrorism, organised crime and paedophilia. Its security hawks also support a push by Japan to get admitted.

Mahuta’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern elaborated on her remarks. “We should be banding together where we see issues globally that don’t align with our shared values,” Ardern said. “But the point our Foreign Minister has rightly raised is: Is this best done under the banner of a grouping of countries around a security intelligence platform? Or is it best done under the banner of a group of countries with shared values, some of which may not belong to the Five Eyes partnership?”

Outrageous stuff for some. From London, Alexander Downer tweeted: “Sorry to read the New Zealand FM has downgraded NZ role in 5 eyes arrangement. And they upgraded FTA with China in February while China was imposing sanctions on Australia. Used to be our best mates. Not now.”

Mahuta said Wellington had already raised its misgivings with other Five Eyes partners, but Anthony Galloway of the SMH found Canberra had been “blindsided” by Kahuta: While Wellington’s conspicuous absence from a few joint statements had caused unease in Canberra over the past year, Australian officials did not know about New Zealand’s official opposition to using the spy network to exert diplomatic pressure on Beijing.”

Galloway and The Australian’s Will Glasgow noted there had been a build-up of friction: Dutton furiously deporting New Zealand citizens raised in Australia after often minor jail terms, Mahuta offering to mediate with China, and New Zealand trade minister Damien O’Connor suggesting Australia could show more “respect” and “diplomacy” towards China.

“Senior officials in the Australian government repeatedly put these interventions down to rookie ministers still learning their brief, and did not necessarily see them as the views of Ardern,” Galloway reported. “However, the latest comments from Mahuta are different.”

Officials are joking about a “Four Eyes” pact, he said, and reported unnamed Australian officials as disputing that New Zealand was charting a more “independent” course: “It is Australia, they argue, who has been the one standing on its two feet: the first to ban Chinese telecom giant Huawei from next-generation networks, first to enact foreign interference laws and ahead of the curve on blocking foreign investment in critical national infrastructure.”

Quite.  But as Glasgow quoted David Capie, head of strategic studies at the Victoria University of Wellington: “Where this government has been different has been that it has tried to find a way to express those differences with China without, frankly, ending up in the freezer.”

Talks in Wellington this week by Payne, ahead of a visit by Scott Morrison in early May, may be “frank” and perhaps not “fruitful”.

Scotty of the Antarctic?

Moving further south to an actual deep freeze, Australia’s Antarctic research lobby showed that if you want to get noticed in Canberra and open up the flow of money, bring in a China threat.

The Australian’s Ben Packham reported that “Australia faces a loss of influence in Antarctica – potentially to China – if it fails to move ahead with plans for a year-round paved runway on the frozen continent.”

This was the message in a new report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, written by the University of Tasmania’s Jeffrey McGee and others. The site for the 2.7-km concrete runway was in the Vestfold Hills, an ice-free area next to Australia’s Davis station.

“If Australia decides to not proceed, there’d be no legal barrier to China – or any other Antarctic country – putting forward a new aerodrome proposal for the Vestfold Hills and doing it on rock.” the report said. “Failing to proceed with the proposal would weaken our influence in Antarctica: it would allow other states to take advantage of the opportunity for logistical and scientific leadership in East Antarctica.”

The cost of the runway would be “substantial”, and take 15-years to build, and has raised environmental concerns but the report says Australia was best placed to construct it with care. Canberra is due to make a decision within a year.

Our on and off interest in the South Pacific.

China has not been making waves for a while in the South Pacific, so perhaps that’s the reason the mounting Covid-19 crisis is getting pushed to the back pages, if mentioned at all, in mainstream newspapers.

More alarms are being raised over the rapid spread in Papua New Guinea, with AAP’s Craig Skehan reporting warnings by Burnet Institute’s Brendan Crabb at a Lowy Institute webinar this week. Crabb said the real number of infections in PNG could be ten or 20 times the reported 10,000 cases, or even more. This week Radio New Zealand reports that Bougainville island as had its first Covid death, and new cases have caused shut-downs and local travel restrictions in Fiji and Vanuatu.

Crabb said the PNG situation had deteriorated rapidly in the past month and it was time to raise the alarm. “I certainly did not expect this to be happening at this pace and on this scale,” he said.

Australia has sent 8,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine  to PNG, and has started sending 10,000 doses a week. The Covax initiative of the WHO and Unicef landed 100,000 does of the same vaccine on April 15, and has promised more. Yet the PNG population is estimated at 9 million, scattered across difficult terrain and islands, and conspiracy theories about the vaccine are spreading by Facebook on mobile phones, the main source of information.

Crabb called on Australia to support PNG in responding to misinformation about vaccinations; including through use of role models such as local leaders, sporting heroes and churches.  “At a higher level, I am concerned that we have not, both in Australia and at a PNG level, elevated this to the crisis level that I think it is at,” Prof Crabb said.

One awkward question that no-one in the Australian media seems to be asking is: what is the ethical position of shipping the AstraZeneca vaccine to PNG and other island countries, with their mostly young populations, when Australia itself has halted its delivery to under-50 people on expert advice? This halt includes the Torres Strait, seen as a “front-line” against spread of Covid-19 from PNG.


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scomo belts NZ...


By Geoff Raby



It is risible to see the Australian Foreign Minister setting off to New Zealand to pull the Kiwis into line over their lack of support for attempts by the so-called Five Eyes of Anglo Saxon countries to pressure China.


This is the very same Australian Foreign Minister who one year ago pushed the Australia-China relationship completely over the edge by her unilateral calls for an inquiry into the origins of Covid-19. Without the exercise of any diplomacy, without rallying a coalition of like-minded countries, without even consulting the WHO, she went on the ABC Insiders program to propose that there should be a flying squad of countries to inspect pandemic outbreaks.

The analogy she drew with the UN’s Weapons Inspectors could not have been more misplaced had she tried. UN Weapons Inspectors are authorised by the Security Council and respect national sovereignty.

Unlike the other members of the Five Eyes, the Australian Government’s management of our relations with China has resulted in a complete diplomatic freeze – with no sign of any thaw. It has exposed Australian industries needlessly to trade sanctions no matter how reprehensible they may be and has denied Australian citizens in China official Australian Government support other than low-level consular services.

Meanwhile, the members of the Five Eyes are busily expanding sales into China of the very things that have been blocked by China’s trade measures against Australia. When the Australian Government says the US “has our back” over China’s economic coercion against us, it would be more credible if the governments of the Five Eyes would announce that they would not export the commodities China is blocking from Australia.

The New Zealand Government is hardly likely to take much notice of Australia’s urging it to toe the line on Five Eyes positions on China. The New Zealand Trade Minister recently caused rage among Canberra’s China hawks by politely pointing out that there were other ways by which to defend liberal values while maintaining official and productive relations with China. New Zealand is fully aware that Australia by its own actions has made itself an outlier in its relations with China.

The New Zealand Prime Minister has already sensibly pointed out that in hedging China through coalitions of countries it should be a case of horses for courses. The Five Eyes was established following WWII for sharing intelligence among the Anglo Saxon allies.

It has served its purpose well, even if the exchange is uneven and restricted when it is deemed to be in the interests of one partner or another (usually the US). It is foolish in the extreme to begin to jeopardise this arrangement and the close collaboration it entails by loading it up with other political agendas. Payne’s visit itself is evidence of how quickly the arrangement may come under strain.

New Zealand should politely give her short shrift on the subject of using the Five Eyes for anything other than its original purpose. It would be greatly in Australia’s interest were Wellington to do so. It is not just China that will look askance at a white Anglo Saxon coalition of countries, but all others will see Australia living up to the region’s, albeit unfair, stereotype of Australia as a deeply racist country. From the perspective of our regional neighbours, while the Five Eyes share values, they also share race.

Many other countries in addition to the Five Eyes, including in the region, embrace liberal values. Perhaps, belatedly, recognising this sensitivity around race, it has been proposed that Japan might join the Five Eyes. Were that to happen it would change fundamentally the nature of cooperation within the group, based as it is on shared history, traditions and culture.

Moreover, unlike three of the group, Australia and New Zealand are located in the Western Pacific. Our security and economic interests are fundamentally different from the other members. Canada for example sends nearly 80 per cent of its exports to the US. And of course, the UK is far more dependent on the EU, even after Brexit, than it is on East Asia.

When the UK called on the Five Eyes to condemn Beijing’s policies in Hong Kong, and Australia enthusiastically piled on, it was doing so to use the group for its own short-term interests. It was a British Conservative Government that on 1 July 1997 handed Hong Kong back to Communist China, without consultation with the people of Hong Kong, and declared it to be Chinese sovereign territory.

Hong Kong is as much Chinese sovereign territory as Tasmania is Australia’s. Drawing the Anglo Sphere into criticising Beijing for the imposition of the National Security Law was a means by which to assuage political demands within Britain for some action and to obscure the uncomfortable truth of Hong Kong’s most undemocratic handover.

Recently, the Australian Treasurer floated the idea of Five Eyes cooperating on economic matters – G5 perhaps like the G7. It was not clear what he was thinking but it was done in the context of pushing back on China. Apart from the fact that the group was never conceived for such things, the economic interests of its members are disparate and competitive in many cases.

The idea seems to have been dead on arrival, but it is of a pattern for this government. During the last election campaign, the Prime Minister, aping Donald Trump, proposed shifting the Australian Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Never mind the fact that the world’s biggest Islamic country, Indonesia, is one of our closest neighbours.

This thought bubble aired publicly was like Payne’s flying squad of pandemic inspectors, and the Treasurer’s five-eyes finance gang. It is hoped that our Foreign Minister may pick up a few useful tips on diplomacy from her New Zealand colleagues and that they may help save us from ourselves.


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the english law in HK...


By Henry Litton CBE, GBM — a retired permanent Judge of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal. Litton founded the Hong Kong Law Journal in 1971. In 2019, Litton published the book ‘Is the Hong Kong Judiciary Sleepwalking to 2047’ in which he criticised numerous aspects of Hong Kong's legal system, focusing particularly on the misuse of judicial reviews in recent years.



On 16 April 2021, a Hong Kong District Court sentenced 8 prominent “activists” to imprisonment. They had been convicted of organizing an unlawful assembly, and taking part in such assembly, under the Public Order Ordinance. This was a statute of the longstanding, dating way back to colonial times in Hong Kong.

The sentencing led immediately to condemnation by western leaders and the media. The last Hong Governor Chris Patten said the sentences showed “Beijing’s comprehensive assault on Hong Kong’s freedoms”. An editorial in The Australian carried the headline “Courageous democrats crushed”. The article went on to refer to the sentences as reflecting “the ruthless oppression Beijing is inflicting on the territory”.

This was a gross insult to Judge Woodcock and her carefully crafted judgment, following a trial where the accused were represented by six Senior Counsel and a whole host of junior barristers and their instructing solicitors.

Plainly, the critics never read the judgment before they voiced their condemnations. Anyone bothering to read that judgment would see that the judge had carried out her duties with meticulous care, giving due weight to all the safeguards the British common law affords to all accused persons.

The offenses occurred on Sunday, 18 August 2019. By that time the insurgency, which started at the end of June, had gathered deadly momentum, following the forcible entry by activists or insurgents into the Legislative Council building and the trashing of the chamber on 1 July.

In the ensuing seven weeks, there had been much violence in the streets: fire-bombing, trashing of public transport facilities, vandalizing of “pro-Beijing” establishments, violent attacks on the police.

The Legislative Council chamber was the symbolic centre of Hong Kong’s democracy. Many of the accused had been serving members of that body – some for very many years. When the outrage on 1 July occurred, the accused persons – all supposed leaders of the democratic movement – had a choice to make: to defend the values for which the Legislative Council chamber stood for, or to side with the insurgents to trash its values. The die was cast. They all chose the latter course.

The organizers of the event gave notice to the police – as the law required – of their intention to do the following:

  • Conduct a large public meeting, of possibly tens of thousands of people, in Victoria Park;
  • mount a public procession and demonstration starting from Victoria Park to Chater Road in the central business district;
  • conduct another public assembly at Chater Road lasting up to just before midnight.

Judge Woodcock’s judgment gives meticulous details as to what followed after such notification was given by the organizers on 12 August, six days before the event. It shows remarkable tolerance on the part of the police, and the care taken by the authorities to explain the reasons for the decisions they made. Those decisions focussed on protecting the public from violence, accommodating the rights of other users of the roads and highways, road safety, and the danger of overcrowding in limited space.

The demonstration to be held in Victoria Park was aimed, largely, at expressing hatred towards the police for alleged brutality practiced on rioters in the previous several weeks, calls for an amnesty for all arrested dissidents, and an independent inquiry into police brutality. There was every chance that passions would be aroused, resulting in violence.

The steps taken, leading to the events on 18 August, were these:

  • Dialogue between the police and the organizers;
  • the police response to the organizers’ notification: no objections to the public assembly in Victoria Park conditional upon the organizers arranging for 200 marshals responsible for crowd control and the organizers obeying police instructions on the day;
  • objection to the procession from Victoria Park to Chater Road;
  • objection to the public assembly in Chater Road;
  • an Appeal Board, a body independent of the police, hearing the organizers’ grievance over the police objections.
  • Press conferences and interviews by the organizers urging people to fill up Victoria Park, and complaints that the police had no plans for crowd dispersal; and
  • dismissal by the Appeal Board of the organizers’ appeal against the police decisions.

There was not the slightest doubt that the defendants knew full well that the procession – along a principal highway and roads leading from Victoria Park to Chater Road in the central business district –  was, in light of police objections, unlawful.

In fact, about 15 minutes before speeches began, the organizers held a press conference and told the reporters about the police ban on the procession. They also said that the purpose of the meeting was to “stop the police and gangsters from plunging Hong Kong into chaos and to implement the five demands”:  one of the demands was for a body to be appointed to investigate police brutality. This was all calculated to force the government to yield to mob rule.

During the procession, some of the defendants vaunted their illegality by shouted slogans: This was meant to encourage others to join in the procession, seeing that the police did nothing to stop it taking place.

There had, prior to 18 August, been occasions when a procession which started peacefully turned violent. On the day in question, the police tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, knowing that their mere presence could arouse discontent: hence the requirement for the organizers to have 200 marshals for crowd control. As Judge Woodcock found ( para 60 ), as the number of people arriving in Victoria Park increased, the police were “subjected to a barrage of verbal abuse, foul language and insults”.

The entire day’s proceedings were followed by continuous news coverage. Video footage showed a huge banner unrolled around 3 pm printed with the words “Stop the police and gangsters from plunging Hong Kong into chaos, implement the 5 demands” and a picture of a woman with a wounded eye: the latter referred to accusations that the police had caused such injury at an earlier demonstration ( in fact, no-one knows how such injury had been caused in the melee during that demonstration ).

Video footage also showed all the defendants ( except D3 who joined the party a few minutes later ) together carrying the banner aloft, exiting Victoria Park.   D2 held a microphone and walked in front of the banner. As he chanted slogans, the other defendants would respond. For instance when he shouted “ five demands” the other defendants would shout “not one less”. The banner party led the procession all the way to Chater Road. It was surrounded by a black cordon or rope which made the banner party that much bigger. This took up the width of a carriageway. The chaos caused to traffic, and the inconvenience of others is unimaginable.

What possible defence was there to the two public order charges the defendants faced?

Several of them were veteran lawyers. The cynicism they displayed in court is staggering.

The defence they put up was this: The police had abnegated their duty to disperse the crowd safely – a crowd that the organizers had caused to assemble in Victoria Park in the first place. They claimed that what they led, under the banner, was not a procession; it was simply a technique to help disperse the crowd. The fact that they were inciting others along the way to join the procession, the fact that they had passed several MTR stations and never once did they ask the crowd following them to disperse, can all be ignored. The judge found, for instance, that during the procession D4 chanted repeatedly: “I have the right of procession. No police permission is required” and “I have the right to protest”. Likewise, the 9th defendant (who pleaded guilty and avoided trial) did the same.

But, in the end, the judge’s finding was crystal clear: The intention behind the procession was to flout the law and thwart the ban. Each defendant had that criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt.

Another defence put up by the accused of perhaps even greater cynicism, is this: sections of the Public Order Ordinance under which they were charged were said to be unconstitutional; those sections should be struck down; the charges against them should accordingly be dismissed. In support of this submission, they called in aid provisions of the Basic Law ( Hong Kong’s constitutional instrument after the Handover ) and of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights.

The provisions in the Public Order Ordinance under attack had been in the statute book during all the time the lawyer-defendants had been members of the Legislative Council. Those provisions strike a balance between the right of free expression for the individual on the one hand and order and safety for the public at large on the other. If such balance was fundamentally wrong so that it should be struck off the statute book, what did they do in that regard whilst they were Councillors?  Is it right that they should act only when their personal interests were at stake?

The judge, again with admirable patience, entertained these submissions and, after examining authority, dismissed such challenge.

What, one might ask rhetorically, had Beijing to do with this case? The notion that Beijing had practiced “ruthless oppression” on Hong Kong through the District Court proceedings is utterly absurd. The fact that the entire process in the District Court was conducted under the common law – law very similar to that practised in the Australian criminal courts – was of no account to the editors of The Australian.  Was this crass ignorance, or something more sinister?


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And should you wish to "mention the law", PLEASE demand FREEDOM FOR JULIAN ASSANGE NOW !!!!

the next glorious defeat...


Where are the grown-ups? The talk about China and war is dangerous


By Bob Carr



“So what’s the plan?” asked an investor after I had spoken at the Lonsec Symposium about Australia-China relations. Days earlier, Defence Minister Peter Dutton talked war over the Taiwan Strait. His former department head said our “warriors” were ready to go fight.

The Foreign Affairs Minister announced she was tearing up two anodyne memorandums of understanding between Victoria and China over the Belt and Road instead of letting them gather mould in Daniel Andrews’ cabinet. The government hinted at a take-over of the Port of Darwin – in reality a wharf, and over which Canberra in any case enjoys total control. Not even in Washington is there talk as loose as this.

“There are no grown-ups,” a priest once told French novelist Andre Malraux.

What’s the plan? Truth is, there is none. Not for resuscitating the bilateral relationship – say, to the level that other United States allies such as Japan or the Europeans manage with China.

Nor for salvaging the lost markets. Since December 2019, barley has been totally lost. Coal is down 98 per cent, wine 97 per cent, crustaceans 89 per cent and beef 47 per cent. But as Professor James Laurenceson has demonstrated, the share of China’s markets enjoyed by other Five Eyes countries has expanded.

And US sales of food and beverage to China have risen. As another Frenchman, General Charles de Gaulle, put it, great powers are “cold monsters”.

What threat to our sovereignty was averted by the showy diplomacy that accompanied Australia’s exclusion of Huawei – a phone call to Donald Trump from then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull boasting the decision, a leak from our security agencies to let the world know we were campaigning to have the ban adopted by the all other Five Eyes nations? An alternative line was to say we’ve made a decision to protect resilience and security in our network and left it at that.

The international inquiry into the handling of COVID-19 might have been secured without our Foreign Affairs Minister’s flamboyant talk of “weapons inspectors”. Martin Parkinson, former head of the Prime Minister’s Department, asked: “What whiz kid dreamt up those talking points?” Did a Young Liberal plop that zinger into the minister’s notes and sit back to watch the explosion? Parkinson also said the contest between China and the US presented us not with a question of choice but of balance.

Diplomacy was invented so we could pull off challenges like this one: managing an alliance with the US in which we host bases, buy its F-35s and send troops to its “forever wars” while negotiating a booming trade with China, which soon will be the world’s biggest economy, pulling 850 million of its citizens into the middle-class, able to buy our beef and wine from their supermarkets and come here as our biggest-spending tourists.

Working at the balance, and not being fixated on the choice, wouldn’t have required us to moderate our language on China’s repression of Uighurs or the extinction of legal autonomy in Hong Kong. But Canberra gives the impression it wants to turn day-to-day management of a bilateral relationship into an existential crusade, urged on by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank partially funded by the US, from which commentary on China has become more and more blood-curdling.

When hardliners like those in ASPI say we are on the eve of a war over Taiwan, they won’t concede participation is still a choice for Australia. As they see it, in the words of the 1915 recruiting song, Australia Will Be There. Japan’s not making that mistake, nor Canada nor New Zealand nor the ASEAN states.

The Cold Warriors don’t acknowledge former Liberal prime minister Robert Menzies deliberately steered us away from commitment and Alexander Downer said in 2004 that, on Taiwan, the ANZUS Treaty did not apply. And the Cold Warriors never define how they see the war being won. Nor do the hawks in Washington who want to see the first explicit security guarantee made to the island.

Professor Hugh White asks if America is prepared to lose Los Angeles in a nuclear exchange – even as US missiles reduce Shenzhen and Shanghai to hot, radioactive rubble.

Henry Kissinger warned in November of “a catastrophe comparable to World War I”.

Nationalists in China and the US need to understand that a horrendous war fought over which political order prevails in Taiwan is not worth this price. The issue will solve itself in 50 or 100 years without a blood sacrifice of millions and near-ruin of half the planet.

Australian diplomacy ought to be identifying the off-ramps that will avoid this nightmare. Former prime ministeer Kevin Rudd, writing in Foreign Affairs last month, advanced ideas for enlarging co-operation between China and America, for example, on North Korea, global financial stability, pandemic management and climate. He also urged the kind of crisis communication that the US and the USSR set up after the near-death experience over Cuba in 1962.

Promoting this through quiet diplomacy would cast Australia as creative middle power edging forward our own interest and the world’s.

Lawrence H. Summers, former US treasury secretary, said of China relations: you can be strong and resolute without being imprudent and provocative. Getting China wrong, he said, “is the greatest threat to America’s national enterprise over the next quarter century”.

There may be no adults. There will be no winners.


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