Federation University: Cultural Enquiry and Research Group. Presentation, 7 November, 2019.

A Year of Living Next to the Dragon: Taiwan – China and an Asia-Pacific War

Presenter: Dr Strobe Driver


The following is the written version of a presentation I gave at Federation University, for the Cultural Enquiry and Research Group that is part of the university’s academic enquiry platform.  The presentation is based on the previous year in which I lived for much of the year in Taiwan and it is accompanied by a Youtube live stream.  The analysis is written as per the slides of the MS Powerpoint and is meant to correspond to what was said in the presentation, albeit with some more relevant conversational aspects presented on the stage.  Nonetheless, the core of the issue is premised on an Asia-Pacific war and the possibilities therein, including Australia’s involvement and other components of what a war will comprise ‘of,’ and what ‘type’ of war that will come to the fore; and a forecast date and the reasons why, are also included in the (academic) analysis.  

Slide 1.

Dr Strobe Driver

Adjunct Researcher: Federation University

CERG Presentation:  7 November, 2019

Freelance & Independent War & Conflict Researcher 

MOFA, Taiwan, ROC., Fellowship Recipient, 2018

Thesis:  Asia – Pacific and Cross-Strait Machinations: Challenges for Taiwan in the Nascent Phase of Pax-Sino

Opening statement:

With thanks to CERG for asking me and Dr Mathew Abbot (and soon to be Dr) Ben Nunquam, and I extend my respect to the Wathaurong people on whose land this University is placed.

This analysis is an extension of my Fellowship from the MOFA, Taiwan, ROC in which I wrote an independent 35,000 word analysis—entitled, Asia-Pacific and Cross-Strait Machinations: Challenges for Taiwan in the Nascent Phase of Pax-Sino—about the current situation, and crucially what approach China would take towards Taiwan in the future.  Both will be summed up and clarified as the talk progresses.  I will also only use broad-based concepts and understandings in order to gain an overall perspective of the complexities of International Relations before I deal with the way in which China will execute its policies—time constraints don’t permit any deeper analysis.  I also haven’t included a citations slide although the written component will be cited; and a link will be offered on the CERG website.

SLIDE 2.  Where is Taiwan – to the East of China and has about the same population as Australia.

Slide 3. Self-explanatory, so I’ll just go over it quickly.  The crucial point is the last one, as this did not happen and hence, the people that had retreated there were essentially, posited there to stay.

Slide 4.  Let me explain ‘sovereignty’ and give it a legal framework for the purposes of the nations-state.

‘[T]he world consists of, and is divided into, sovereign territorial states that recognize no superior authority; the processes of law-making, settlement of disputes and law enforcement are largely in the hands of individual states; [and] international law is oriented to the establishment of minimal rules of coexistence.’[1]

Slide 5.  For the purposes of this presentation the focus will be shifted to the post-Mao era to the Deng era, which I argue created positive (yet catastrophic) change in China’s domestic realm in the first instance, and began the incremental shift that is expressed and which would come to fruition (I argue) from circa-1995 onwards, in the second.  The ‘Four Modernizations: industry, agriculture, defense, and science and technology”[2] would become the mainstays of China establishing its propensity for development and preponderance—which would be continued upon the death of Deng.  So this for me, offers proof that these protocols were firmly established upon his death; and continue to this day.

Slide 6.  These four terms deserve a mention although it is the first one that we will revisit in the next slide, as it is the most pertinent to the argument that is being made; and the premise upon which the remainder of the presentation will be made. 

An ‘Industrial Revolution’ is a time of high-mechanization and industrialisation which is normally associated with a rise in science and technologies and a corresponding mercantilism.  And it has as an offshoot the abilities to access other aspects of science and technologies, think of Britain’s Industrial Revolution circa-1750 to the end of World War One, or perhaps, World War Two (WWII)—there is some historical contention when it ended), and its increase in mercantilism, and the power of the pound sterling as a form of trade currency and of, Britain’s expansion into the Middle East.  Think of Spain’s plundering the South Americas as this too, was due to science and technology and therefore an industrial revolution-of-sorts took place, ships are only able to be built with industry and science in place.

Nationalism, ‘is essentially being part of a ‘national grouping that is defined in civic terms, share a participation in a circumscribed political community, common political values, a sense of belonging to the state in which they reside, and, usually, a common language.’[3]

Soft power is usually associated with aid, education (scholarships for instance), infrastructure projects, debt-relief and other formal though passive forms of help although it is underpinned by the ‘attractiveness of a country’s values, political ideals, and policies.’[4]

Hard power centres on ‘military- and economic-power.’[5] 

Sharp power (Walker and Ludwig argue), is a form of information warfare which ‘pierces, penetrates, or perforates the political and information environments in the targeted countries.’[6]  Which contrasts ‘values’ and the status of countries.  I think this definition is too narrow and needs to be revised, which I will attempt to do in the near-future, but I don’t have time to go into now suffice to state that I think it deals with direct assistance and therefore, a strategic packaging comes into play.

Slide 7.  Irredentism is the focus of this presentation tonight and it comprises, ‘any country advocating the acquisition of some region included in another country by reason of cultural, historical, ethnic, racial, or other ties.’[7]  This is the factor that dictates the direction and of what China is attempting toward Taiwan.  Think Britain’s ownership of India, Australia, Scotland and Wales and Gibraltar.  The United States of America (US) stealing Hawaii, claiming Diego Garcia and of American Samoa, think the French in Oceania and Southeast Asia.  All are examples of irredentist policies which are essentially viewed through and then enacted upon through the prism of power, which is followed by policies that enforce and then reinforce the ‘reality.’  Russia and the Ukraine, Israel and the West Bank, Japan and Okinawa, is to observe that it is not only the West that indulges in irredentism as a construct; and happening.  The point being, all of the factors mentioned in the slide are used as tools in order to continue making the claim.  Historical ‘facts’ are manipulated and ultimately usurped by irredentism and the attitudes it correspondingly produces. 

Slide 8.   Now an understanding of preponderance can be also observed through more tangible components of when a country (or bloc) rises to power. 

Geo-strategic aggrandisement is the display of power through bases, ports and the associated tenets of power, a strong and an overt presence of a navy and an air-force and often a boots-on-the-ground presence—think the US and China currently having bases in Somalia, the US with its massive air base in Saudi Arabia and naval base in United Arab Emirates.  All assets are able to be utilized beyond the borders of the actor’s domestic environment.  Think Britain and its presence as far away as the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas, and of numerous countries in Antarctica. All represent irredentist policies and the practice of usurping the territory or territories of others.

A security dilemma is when an actor engages ‘via multiple means in regions of the world not strategically important to their


security.’[8] Which essentially means, meddling in the affairs of others as deemed necessary by an actor as it might affect said actor in the future; or to offset the intrusions of other actors.  Think Australia in the Vietnam War as the ‘communist hordes’ may eventually end up in the north of Australia, and so the ‘security dilemma’ Australia faced was to stop this perceived threat by intervening in Vietnam on behalf of the US and other allies—this  is often referred to as forward-defence. 

‘Brinkmanship’ is defined as when ‘decision makers perceive a dramatic impending shift in the balance of power in favour of an adversary and/or a substantial internal challenge to their own political position at home.’[9]   Think Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands War, Ronald Reagan and the war in Lebanon, and the rescue of medical students in Grenada, Saudi Arabia in Yemen, the US in Iraq, Russia in Syria … the list goes on.  Nonetheless, all of these aspects can be overtly and escalated into what is referred to in war studies as a ‘kinetic exchange,’ or what is colloquially known as a ‘shooting war,’ and it is here, we can broaden an understanding of what this will entail should issues escalate and it can slowly but surely be applied to the (and will be) applied to the ‘Taiwan situation.’

Slide 9.   This slide emphasises the power of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the Permanent Five and the power-of-veto.  So, if China launches a war against Taiwan it will not be a ‘war’ as China will definitely exercise its right-of-veto as a permanent member of the UNSC for two reasons: so that the exchange does not gain status; and in order for no UNSC resolutions to be passed.  This is a significant problem for Taiwan.

Slide 10.  So returning to the main focus point we can examine China’s ‘strategic attitude.’  This slide is self-explanatory and a précis of what is happening and continues to happen.  So, broadly, what will happen? 

Slide 11.   There has never be an industrial revolution without significant conflict from the perspective of preponderance, and there is often commentary in the popular press about a ‘mistake’ happening.  Although it is important to remember that the US staged the Gulf of Tonkin incident in order to put military assets on the ground in South Vietnam and to essentially escalate the Vietnam conflict and therefore it is possible that China could stage a happening in order to give it leverage over Taiwan.

Nonetheless, the point of this presentation is and remains it’s not ‘if’ there is going to be a war, it’s ‘when.’ Another point can be brought in here and it is domestic harmony and China has its share of problems, Hong Kong and the Ughur population in the northwest remain from China’s perspective major problems.  Hence, we should keep in mind these components do impose limitations on what is called extramural preponderance.    

Also, there is also for China the issue that Taiwan’s capabilities may be far greater than China recognizes if a battle were to take place and it is pertinent to note that when a country is at war, whether in an offensive or defensive position, to enter into a war means ‘defeat is unintended.’[10]

Slide 12.  This slide is self-explanatory.

Slide 13.  Self-explanatory.  Comment on.

Slide 14.  Self-explanatory.  Comment on.

Slide 15. CONCLUSION:  Once again and premised on the evidence-base per se that a war will take place, so with this in mind we can narrow it down to a ‘type.’  Total war is unlikely although certainly possible, if other actors such as the European Union, NATO, and ASEAN countries become involved and the situation suddenly escalates. Therefore, ‘Total war involve[s] a high mobilization of society … Because total wars take on the characteristics of a fight for survival, they tend to mobilize resources and means to wage battle with few restraints …The goals in total wars are much more open-ended and often expand as the war progresses.  Total wars often demand the complete overthrow of the leadership of the other side whether through demand of unconditional surrender as in World War II, or complete annihilation, as in the Third Punic War.[11] 

Limited war as stipulated, is a subjective term in that and (as I specified in my PhD), there is a conceptual tension associated with how much of a commitment is ‘limited,’ and by what ‘means’ should [it] they be measured?’[12]  And further to this: ‘war may be limited from the perspective of one belligerent, yet virtually unlimited in the eyes of another.’[13]  In somewhat easily measurable and tangible terms, think of the Vietnam War (1963 – 1975) which was a limited war, fought by the US and its allies as just that, a ‘limited war.’  However, it was fought on the part of the North Vietnamese as a total war—therein lies an inherent tension of defining ‘limited war.’  The advent of a war taking place is that there is little doubt that China will want it to remain contained, a true limited war.

Nonetheless, the danger is and remains that if a war breaks out it could develop into a total war on the part of the offensive China launches or the defensive actions of Taiwan. 

Slide 16.  The most likely ‘type of war and the limited war exhaustion strategy alluded to and it can be summed up as,

‘The British practice of warfare from the sixteenth century to World War 1 was to employ…[a] way of war [which] de-emphasized direct confrontation, concentration, mass, and battle and emphasized surprise, mobility, manoeuvre, peripheral attacks on the enemy weaknesses, dispersion, conversion of resources, and negotiated settlements … The British used sea power primarily to achieve their limited strategic objectives.  They traditionally fought low-expenditure, high-gain wars that took advantage of Britain’s geographic circumstances that exploited those of its enemy.  The British way of war was to destroy when possible the enemy’s fleet; attack enemy trade; block the enemy’s coast and conduct raids on the enemy’s ports, coastal towns and colonies; seize, when possible, the enemy’s colonies; subsidize allies on the Continent; wait for the attacks on the enemy’s economy and peripheral areas to erode its capacity to resist; exploit opportunities through the use of surprise made possible by the superior mobility of the fleet; deploy limited expeditionary forces on the Continent to fight alongside the larger forces of the allies; and finally, to manoeuvre the enemy into an untenable position in which it had no other option but to conclude a peace agreement on terms set by the British and their allies.’[14]   

This is the most likely scenario in my opinion, as China continues its preponderance objectives and the isolating of Taiwan become kinetic—this is how Japan (another island nation-state was defeated in WWII), and China will seek to cut-off Taiwan through threat-of-(military)force. 

Finally, will Australia be involved?  The answer is ‘YES’!!!!  Why?

Australia is in the grip of having been ‘caught out’ by the rapidity of change and this will continue as China’s rises and bear in mind it is in a nascent phase and as international relations is a dynamic Australian governments seem to underestimate the rapidity alluded to; and the consequences therein.  This happened in the post-WWII era of the Bretton-Woods agreement and the immense impact that had on other nation-states, and how it committed the world to the US and its preponderance. China wants the same.  Australia in the Asia-Pacific has severely underestimated the consequences of the change.  Australia’s ever-shrinking aid budget and its difficulties with neighbours per se—Indonesia from the #CoinforAbbott[15] scandal through to the suggestion that Australia might move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and the Climate Change disagreements with our other island neighbours.  All have caused a displacement of Australia and its middle-power status from the perspective of allies although Australia remains a middle-power in terms of military might and development in general.  Nonetheless, the incompetence of consecutive Australian governments has allowed for China to establish itself in Micronesia and Oceania in a much more decisive way due to a perceived lack of interest by Australia in regional interactions, at least according to regional actors.  China has been allowed to evolve its soft-, hard-, and now sharp-power in the region and whether it will be at the same rate as before is moot and need not be ventured into here, as the evidence already spells out China’s is a vibrant and robust regional actor and this remains in place.

Now turning to war as an act.  What is important to note, is however, that the complexity of war does not reside in the overt presence of military assets as there is much that goes on external to the public sphere.  There are always behind-the-scenes engagements which are inevitably, and due to ‘public security’ issues they are not released to the public until decades later.  Two examples of such interactivity are in the early-1970s: Australia’s Prime Minister Whitlam and US’ President Ford being notified by Indonesia about its pending invasion of Timor Lesté and assuring Indonesia there would be no reaction to it; and Secretary of State Kissinger’s secret meeting with the North Vietnamese in Paris in order to hasten the end of the Vietnam War.  What then one could assume is if I was a strategist in China advise the government of the US if China was to engage in a tactical strike, for instance on the Port of Darwin?  It is not too presumptuous to assume China would assure the US there will be no strike on Pine Gap.  Such an assurance would prove to be an incredible advantage point for China as the risk of American involvement and therefore a war escalating, would be considerably reduced; and it would give China control (or as much control as possible), over its limited war of exhaustion strategy.. 

Notwithstanding all of the abovementioned, Australia has always faced demands from the US, the ‘War on Terror’ being the most recent example of US’ demands on Australia and as China becomes more preponderance-driven in the region the US will demand Australia ‘does more’—this will remain the case regardless of whether the US chooses to remain heavily involved or not.  Australia will be expected by the US to ‘do something’ especially if China moves on Taiwan with a blockade or a military strike.  The Australian government, if history is a guide, will claim it has a ‘duty’ to extend Australia’s reach and influence under the guise of liberal-democracy being threatened and in the first instance this will involve the Royal Australian Navy (RAN).  China, if Australia’s momentum in the region exponentially expands will strike an Australian military asset—most likely a surface ship.  The sinking of an RAN vessel (or the shooting down of a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) aircraft) would allow for the following to happen: it will send a signal to observers that China is steadfast in its ambition to establish regional status; to send a signal that China is intent on dislodging Australia’s middle-level power status; it will be an overt signal to others that might choose to interfere that China has forward defense capabilities; it will draw out who is allied to Australia, who is prepared to act and who is neutral; will allow for China to observe Australia’s response to its actions in terms of ongoing military engagements; and will offer China an opportunity to observe how robust the ANZUS treaty actually is.   The assumption that an RAN ship will be struck as opposed to another nationalities from a strategic perspective is that Australia is geographically far and any response by Australia would not take China by surprise.  There is also a level of ‘safety’ in the tactical event as the US would be unlikely to respond militarily whereas striking a Japan Defense Force ship would be more likely encourage an immediate response from Japan, and would enhance the possibility of drawing the US into a conflict via a retaliatory strike, especially if US forces remained in Okinawa as the US could use a strike against China through the prism of the aforementioned security dilemma.

Whether under the threat of the US for Australia to ‘do more’ or whether Australia will make a decision independently about degrading China’s status in the region is moot and need not be discussed further.  What does have a degree of certainty is that Australia will be surprised at the level of tenacity China will have in its aims for geo-strategic aggrandisement, and indeed, China may adopt the US principle in the ‘War on Terror’ in which the polarities of ‘with us, or against us’ come to the fore.  If this happens it should be noted the US’ is not legally obliged to come to Australia’s aid as ANZUS is an agreement and that is all it is.  When China moves towards its limited war of exhaustion strategy in a more robust way—first towards Taiwan and then further out into the Asia-Pacific region—Australia’s military assets will be the first to be targeted, and this will be followed by its mainland physical assets; and moreover, Australia does not have any significant foothold capabilities beyond its shoreline therefore, its response to the sinking of an RAN ship or submarine would be devastating as it could not be easily replaced and nor could the consistent downing of RAAF aircraft.  This is the stark reality for Australia in an Asia-Pacific conflict and it would be made much worse if Australia got heavily involved in the conflict and the US refused to come to its aid or entered the conflict and then pulled out.  Australians should be aware of this scenario and act accordingly as the day when China no longer tolerates incursions into the Asia-Pacific—as the US did in Indochina and the French before them—is coming; and it will be here in a decade or so.  It is also noteworthy that China is currently in its nascent phase of preponderance and it has plans to become a force to be reckoned with beyond the 300+ years’ timeframe that Britain ruled the world.   I have stated before that when China finally moves in a much more focussed way, it will threaten Australia in a much more cathartic way that the Japanese Imperial Army did when it took Papua New Guinea and on that note I end this presentation.    

[1] Roger King and Gavin Kendall.  The State, Democracy and Globalization. Houndsmills: Palgrave, 2004, 34.

[2] Katherine Keyser.  ‘Three Chinese Leaders.  Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and Deng Xiaoping.’  Asia for Educators. 2009. 

[3] Charles Kuphcan ‘Nationalism Resurgent.’  Nationalism and Nationalities in the New Europe.  Edited by  Charles Kupchan.  London: Cornell University Press, 1995, 4. 

[4] Joseph Nye. ‘Soft Power and European-American Economic Affairs.’  Hard Power, Soft Power and the Future of Transatlantic Relations.  Edited by Thomas Ilgen.  Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2006, 26.

[5] Hard Power, Soft Power and the Future of Transatlantic Relations, 26.

[6] Joseph Nye. ‘How Sharp Power Threatens Soft Power.  The Right and Wrong Ways to Respond to Authoritarian Influence. Foreign Affairs.   https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2018-01-24/how-sharp-power-threatens-soft-power

[7] See:  ‘Irredentism.’  Dictionary.com.  https://www.dictionary.com/browse/irredentism?s=t

[8] Adrian Lewis The American Culture of War.  The History of U.S. Military Force from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom.  New York: Routledge, 2007, 207.

[9] Charles Gochman. ‘The Evolution of Disputes.’ The Process Of War.  Advancing the Scientific Study of War. Edited by Stuart Bremer and Thomas Cusack. Australia: Gordon and Breach, 1995, 97.

[10] Geoffrey Blainey.  The Causes Of War.  Melbourne: The MacMillan Company, 1998, 249. 

[11] John Varquez. The War Puzzle.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009,67.

[12] Strobe Driver.  Why winning a war is no longer necessary: Modern Warfare and the United States of America through the prism of the wars of Vietnam and Iraq.  Doctoral Thesis: University of Ballarat/Federation University, 2010, 103.

[13] Robert Osgood.  Limited War: The Challenge to American Strategy.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957, 2.

[14] Adrian Lewis.  The American Culture of War.  Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001, 34-35.

[15] Tom Allard. Coin for Abbott: Indonesians’ angry backlash at PM’s Bali nine diplomacy.’ Sydney Morning Herald.  22 Feb, 2015.   https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/coin-for-abbott-indonesians-angry-backlash-at-pms-bali-nine-diplomacy-20150221-13l5n2.html

The Youtube link of the presentation can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOQR4ixqd_c&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR1XdM9yLUSA1cZyEtg8PMKmHI6sb2j2wBfjK1IsKdc5ndnnfNQMSGybsYU

The Powerpoint of the presentation can be viewed here:

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Chinese Ships in Sydney Harbour: The PLAN and its plan

「PLAN military ships」的圖片搜尋結果

Photo source and reference: WikipediaType 054A frigate (Jiangkai II class)


There has been much comment in recent days about the arrival of three Chinese warships entering and berthing at Sydney Harbour’s Garden Island.  This has included Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s stating the visit had been ‘planned for some time,’[1] through to Medcalf’s (@Rory_Medcalf ) asking on Twitter ‘… What’s the story here?’[2]   Whilst the arrival of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ‘capital ships,’ which form a part of its ‘blue water’/ocean going task force is, indeed a major event it is nonetheless designed to send signals to Australia.  Whilst the prime minister may dismiss the happening as something that is ‘routine’ and representative of the ‘… relationship we have,’[3]  the subjectiveness of this statement begs the situation-at-hand to be analysed further—if only because China’s relationship with Australia is fraught at best and toxic at worst.  This has been the case since especially (then) foreign minister (the Honourable Julie Bishop) had been labelled a ‘complete fool’ by the Chinese leadership.[4]   Thus, the ‘relationship we have’ with China demands a coming to terms with the messages the PLAN is sending, the core and peripheral reasons for the visit and crucially, the message it is intended to send. 

A show of force by China: The People’s Liberation Army Navy

First and foremost, the visit is a display of strength by the PLAN and one which is designed to send a clear signal that it (now) has a regional geo-strategic stretch that is the equivalent to the United States of America (US); Russia; France; Britain; and many other developed nation-states.  To wit, its engagement with the Asia-Pacific (A-P)—which of late, has been conveniently relabelled by Australia and India as the ‘Indo-Pacific,’ in order to re-engage with India and diminish the ‘Asian influence’ as much as possible—is and remains a strong part of the PLAN’s agenda.  There are also subtler though no less important reasons for a part of what is essentially, a battle fleet entering the harbour.  A US marine rotation was also happening in the Northern Territory as part of the Australia-US ongoing alliance and it is important, if you are a competing power, to emphasise that one’s presence will not be dictated to by other engagements a country such as Australia may have and moreover, de-escalation of regional tensions is not part of, and never has been part of, an ‘upcoming power’s’ focus. 

To place the ‘upcoming power’ concept into perspective, it has been true of many power-stakes pre-circa-1995 ‘rise of China’ to overtly signal with a naval presence that at the forefront of diplomacy, is military preponderance.  What the entrance into the harbour reflects of the PLAN is, it has gained a level of professionalism; discipline; ‘hard power’;[5] and the scientific knowledge to venture far beyond its littoral waters.  To be sure, such a feat would have been difficult pre-1995 and it is important for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to emphasize the feat to its domestic population as this encourages ‘nationalism’[6] and thus, national pride. History has shown that powerful stake-holders use a definitive and observable naval military presence as a symbol of international standing; as a signal to their domestic population that an elevated level of power has been achieved; as a psycho-symbolic representation of power; and to signal to any adversary that it has the ability to apply immediate destructive power if needed.  From an historical perspective, this aspect is writ large in the British and their ‘Dreadnought class’ ships, which were used to intimidate others.  The British used them in order to get their ‘point’ across; and if necessary apply a barrage to hurry along negotiations.  Such a tactic-of-suasion was applied in keeping Britain’s Anglo-Persian oil interests alive in the Middle East (1913); and of directly threatening Turkey (1918).  The point being, that building surface (and from the mid-twentieth century sub-surface) fleets offer a tangible and real threat beyond simple assertive diplomacy and presents an intent: should dialogue fail threat-of-force will be followed by direct force.   History is  littered  with what a naval power can accomplish and of its  tool-of-suasion over a weaker actor.  One need look no further than Japan post-World War Two (WWII).  The US strategically imposed its will long after its occupation exit and essentially, forced the Japanese in the process to cede Okinawa for its future preponderance needs. The US’ success remains to this day.  To wit, Okinawa backs-up an ongoing US naval presence in the A-P region.  Furthermore and to reinforce the notion of power through a naval presence, is to note that the US is currently posturing against Iran in the Persian Gulf with the threat of sending in a carrier-strike group into the region,[7] due to Iran’s commitment to its nuclear programme.   Notwithstanding the tensions, it reflects the certainty with which the US views sea-power as a regional interlocutor; and its codicil of being able to apply immediate and direct force if needed as per the historical model—especially if a fleet-air-arm is also initiated.  China understands all of the aforementioned and this can now be elaborated upon.

What the PLAN understands: Core and peripheral issues

As per the US model-of-intervention, the PLAN understands the application of an overt physical presence is part of the psycho-symbolic components of re-configuring the way in which Australia must view the Asia-Pacific; that the presence of its ships is part of an overall regional coercion strategy; and that their presence sends a message about the future of what Australia should consider when making foreign policy decisions.  These are only some of the core issues-at-hand that the PLAN has alerted Australia to, and whilst they may be the most straightforward there are subtler issues-at-hand.   

The peripheral issues that form part of the overall strategy the PLAN is using is one in which historically, naval-power has often been utilized.  A dedicated and  powerful navy is used to support nation-state ‘business interests’—the British in India and Malaya, the US in the Central Americas, the French in Algeria and Indochina, and Japan in Korea is to name only several countries that have used their  military to invoke their foreign policies.  For the Chinese Communist Party the PLAN’s presence consists of but is not limited to displaying that its military might is largely unhindered by the China-US trade war; is immune to US posturing; regardless of diplomatic tensions, it takes A-P preponderance seriously; and that the show of warships is an overt sign of a growing ability to protect its assets—such as the Port of Darwin.   

To be certain, a nation-state will use its navy as a deliberate and focussed weapon-of-suasion and will do so by manipulating any given situation. This was true of the US has using its military assets to protect its oil imports in the Strait of Hormuz in 1982 (by reflagging Kuwaiti tankers); of the British and Icelandic navies sending ships to offset each other’s preponderance in the so-called ‘Cod War’ of 1975 -1976; and of Australia using naval assets to transport and supply troops in the expulsion of Indonesian troops out of East time/Timor Lesté.  All represent sea-power and its geo-strategic stretch and moreover, each action was designed to disrupt ‘push back’ against what is deemed hostile policies on the part of a perceived or actual threat. 

To be sure, whilst the abovementioned examples do not immediately correlate to China using direct force (at least at the present time) to reinforce its politico-stance. Nonetheless, it would be foolish to not recognize that it is sending a strong message to the Australian government and of course, to the Australian people.   Notwithstanding the protection of physical assets in the current politico-mercantile environment, there is also the simmering discontent China has with regard to the Huawei issue and its (so-called) ‘threat to Australian security.’  It can be assumed the mishandling of this issue by the Morrison government, if only because the shutting out of an Asian country getting ‘too good’ at what it does is the reason.  What of course the shutting out of Huawei emphasizes—in a globalised and free trade world, which essentially, is and remains what the West imposed on every other nation-state—is to show that when a non-Western company becomes a serious contender (read:, direct competition) in the telco industry, it needs to be stopped.  Considering free trade; mercantilism and transnationalism are a part of ordinary twenty-first century business practice, the message Australia has become part of, is the ‘stop factor.’   To be certain, the shutting out of Huawei is however, simply another sad reflection of what has gone before, and moreover the veiled racism it displays is not lost on non-Western nation-states.  History has shown that the West does not take kindly to non-Western nations becoming too competitive, as per the British, Dutch and US forcing the shutting of trade with Japan after the Meiji Restoration (1895).  These three Western nation-states were the ones that  insisted Japan break its isolationism and trade with the West or risk being bombarded by a US navy ship.  However, once Japan got ‘too good’ at mercantilism/trading, the West moved against it.  This appalling treatment of Japan by the West would sow the seeds for the Pacific phase of WWII, and result in the deaths of millions of people. The growing threat that China poses as the Vasco da Gama era—the West’s untrammelled control of the world and its resources—comes to an end, a much more cosmopolitan approach to international relations will have to become manifest as the dominance of the West is moderated.   To some extent, the West will have to change its inculcated norms regarding the East and for Europe, considering its not  part of the A-P, it has time in its side and can approach the newfound loss of the West’s influence in a more surefooted way.  This is not so for Australia, as it will be placed at the forefront of happenings; and will have to confront Chinese ambition head-on.  At the present time Australia is a reactive, unfocussed and policy-deficient nation-state in a region that is being overtaken by another actor and Australia is scrambling to play ‘catch-up’ rather than dispensing with the past; and reconfiguring the future.  This state-of-affairs has not been lost on the CCP, nor has Australia’s history of ignoring its neighbours and it knows to force Australia into a decision will undermine clear thinking.


Beginning with diffusing the Huawei situation is to note Britain’s response to upholding transnational trade whilst moderating influence is to observe it only restricting access to specific components of the 5G network; and thereby, manage and mitigate any risks.[8]  Australia is reactive and not as nuanced and this too, is not lost on the CCP.  The message that is being sent to China is a dyad: Australia does not have the expertise to mitigate the risk; and Australia remains obsequious and sycophantic to US demands regarding the ‘security network,’ of which Britain is part of.  This is yet another example of and for Australia, and due to its appalling record in the region, that the ship of good representation has sailed.  When Australia should have been building hospital ships and creating meaningful diplomatic tenets and good governance hubs within Micronesia and Oceania consecutive governments were busy cutting aid budgets; and lecturing A-P countries about what Australia was doing for the region.  Climate change is a good example of what Australia was ‘doing for the region,’ and who could forget the Honourable Minister Abbott and Dutton’s deriding comments about ‘rising sea levels in the Pacific,’[9] which would go on to reflect the level of concern Australia really has about its nearest neighbours; and how much it truly cares.  One need only ask, is this a good way to make friends and influence people?  More to the point and from a political cum diplomatic perspective, to think that the CCP does not understand the way in which Australia is viewed as suspicious in its intent within the A-P would be naive in the extreme—one need only observe the corrupt gas deal with Timor Lesté[10] to understand Australia’s level of ‘care’ in the region.  

After the  recent election which saw the Liberal/National Party Coalition being  successful, the prime minister scrambling to the Solomon Islands in his first overseas visit as the newly-elected prime minister, shows the newfound level of concern Australia has about its status in the region–and ‘panic mode’ would be an accurate summation of its disposition.   However, it’s too late.  It was Keating who told Australians’ that Australia was ‘part of Asia’ and its policies should reflect this.  Instead Australia has held on to its middle-power status and within this construct believed that it could never be disrupted.  The unpalatable news for Australians is the PLAN has a plan for Australia and it comprises of, but is not limited to it being a major force on the part of the Chinese government’s disruption of Australia’s power in the A-P region; to shatter Australia’s middle-power status; to signal it will protect its assets with force if need be; and eventually, will demand that Australia declare whether it is ‘with China, or against it.’   For many more geo-strategic and geo-political reasons than those stated, these components will take another decade-plus to come to fruition for Australia, but they will come.  Overall, what has happened however, is Australia—a developed, wealthy nation-state—has fundamentally ‘dropped the ball’ in the region due to consistent cutbacks in aid budgets; ill-thought through and reactive policies which severely impact on regional neighbours (such as talk about moving the Australian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem which created a political storm in Indonesia[11]); and a general lackadaisical approach to maintaining the true well-being of A-P nations.  And now China has ‘picked up’ where Australia should never have ‘left off.’  The Morrison government’s offer of an immediate 250 million dollar infrastructure investment[12] to the Solomon Islands is not because it genuinely cares about the A-P but is a reaction to its fear-base toward China; as is the upgrade to the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Manus Island Lombrum Naval Base which is also underpinned by a concomitant ‘rising anxiety about China’s power in the region,’[13] and not by a genuine concern for PNG.  Who would have thought after years of neglect by Australia that another nation-state would take our place? 

Nation-states are and remain opportunistic as per the abovementioned examples of the US, Britain and France and moreover, to think that the governments of PNG and the Solomon Islands are not aware of the core panic-based reaction of Australia also represents a non-acknowledgement of their politico-sophistication.  Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands should however, ponder one thing: if Australia slips into recession will the money actually arrive?  This remains to be seen.   What Australia needs to do is set about building constructive, meaningful and equal relationships, otherwise China will continue to step into the region.  The PLAN ships have since departed, however the intent with which they came, remains.

[1] Andrew Green.  ‘Chinese warships dock at Sydney’s Garden Island.’  ABCNews.  3 June, 2019.  https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-06-03/chinese-warships-enter-sydney-harbour/11172578

[2] ‘Chinese warships dock at Sydney’s Garden Island.’  ABCNews.

[3] ‘Chinese warships dock at Sydney’s Garden Island.’  ABCNews.

[4] ‘Chinese newspaper labels Bishop a ‘complete fool.’ SBSNews, 15 Jul, 2014.   https://www.sbs.com.au/news/chinese-newspaper-labels-bishop-a-complete-fool

[5] ‘‘Hard power’ centres on military and economic power … .’ See:  Joseph Nye. ‘Soft Power and European-American Economic Affairs.’  Hard Power, Soft Power and the Future of Transatlantic Relations.  Edited by Thomas Ilgen.  Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2006, 26.

[6] Whilst nationalism is a multifaceted and complex issue some aspects of its makeup include: ‘… sovereignty, legitimacy, participation in collective affairs, direct membership, culture, temporal depth, common characteristics and special histories.’   See: Craig Calhoun.  Nationalism. Buckingham: Open University Press, 1997, 4 –

[7] ‘Strange things are afoot in the Strait of Hormuz.’  The Economist.  14 May, 2019.  https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2019/05/14/strange-things-are-afoot-in-the-strait-of-hormuz

[8] Jack Stubbs and Kanishka Singh.  ‘Britain does not support a total ban on Huawei: sources.’ Reuters. 18 Feb, 2019. 

[9] Shalailah Medhora.  ‘Peter Dutton jokes with Tony Abbott about rising sea levels in Pacific nations.’  The Guardian.  11 Sep, 2015.  https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/sep/11/peter-dutton-jokes-with-tony-abbott-about-rising-sea-levels-in-pacific-nations

[10] Chip Henriss.  ‘I thought Australia wanted to help East Timor, not take its oil.’ ABC News/The Drum.  23 Sep, 2015.  https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-09-21/henriss-address-the-oil-injustice/6790978

[11] Michael McGowan.  Q&A panel clash over moving Australia’s Israel embassy to Jerusalem.’ The Guardian.  20 Nov, 2018.  https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/nov/20/qa-panel-clash-over-moving-australias-israel-embassy-to-jerusalem

[12] Stephen Dziedzic. ‘Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledges $250 million dollars for Solomon Islands infrastructure.’  ABC News.  3 Jun, 2019.  https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-06-03/scott-morrison-pledges-$250-million-for-solomon-islands/11172062

[13] Stephen Dziedzic.  ‘US to partner with Australia, Papua New Guinea on Manus Island naval base.’  ABC News.  17 Nov, 2018.  https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-11-17/us-to-partner-with-australia-and-png-on-manus-island-naval-base/10507658

Posted in Asia-Pacific Politics, Asian Century Politics, Australian politics, Europe, Indonesia, international relations, Papua New Guinea, Rise of China, taiwan, Taiwan politics, war, warfare | Leave a comment

Australia as a beggar nation: How the Country Liberal Party made the Port of Darwin a geo-strategic requisite for China

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photo credit: prospectmagazine.co.u


The analysis of Australia’s leasing of the Port of Darwin (PofD) to a Chinese company (Landbridge Industry Australia) in 2017—ABC News ‘Why did the Northern Territory lease the Darwin Port to China, and at what risk?’[1]—and the serious future repercussions this will have to Australia’s security, is finally coming to the fore.  Whilst being mindful of Andrew Robb’s recent statement that there is an ‘anti-China’ sentiment that exists within Australia,[2] the underlying problem beyond the leasing is that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to rise.   The process of what constitutes a ‘rise’ has at its core the acquisition of international assets that contribute the fiscal-base of the owner’s home country cum domestic environment.  The PRC will want the asset to keep generating income; and will do all it can to keep this strong fiscal base.  There is no surprise in the  PRC pursuing this strategy as from an historical aspect, the act of gaining and keeping assets can be observed in the British dominance of India (circa-1612 – 1947) which contributed enormously to the tax-base of Britain; the United States of America (US) and its control over the Central Americas in the 1960s for the direct benefit of American companies; and Japan in its acquisition of American business assets in the 1980s—most notably in 1989, the Rockefeller Centre (Sony) and Columbia Studios (Mitsubishi).  The list of acquisitions and the ways in which they were gained is long and involves far too many countries for inclusion here, suffice to state China in the twenty-first century, like Britain and the US before it, will have the capacity in the near future to use threat-of-force or direct force to maintain a hold over its assets.  This factor can now be extrapolated upon.  

Expansionism: How mercantilism and threat-of-force rule

With the time span of the abovementioned cases crossing from the early-seventeenth through to the early twenty-first centuries emphasises the practice of gaining assets becoming firmly ensconced in the capitalist-driven business world.  Certainly, there is no immediate and substantial problem with this practice taking place from the perspective of international trade, especially in the case of China in the twenty-first century ‘globalised’ world, where it is commonplace to do ‘borderless’ business.   Whether the companies that indulge in the mercantilism alluded to are concerned enough about the welfare of the host country and therefore, contribute the correct amount of taxes and other ‘moral contracts’ within the host society are moot points and need not be debated here.  To be sure, there are many other accompanying components that allow a country to expand.  This has been true of Spain, France, Britain, the US and many others.  The assisting of expansionism for a country comprises of, but is not limited to, a strong and disciplined military, stable currency, domestic harmony and well-being, gross domestic product growth, a good (relatively constant) standard of living, a dutiful government sector, rising education standards, and a law-abiding and ordered society.

The problem for the world in general has been, when all of the abovementioned attributes coalesce within a country there is a tendency to create expansionist policies.  This can be due to ‘irredentism,’[3] the seeking of ‘righting past wrongs,’ outright revenge, the protection of an asset-beyond one’s own borders, the setting up of geo-strategic platforms and a myriad of other reasons.  Spain, in the fifteenth century expanded as far as the South Americas to claim territory and its expansionist tendencies would further usher in what would become known as, the ‘Vasco da Gama era.’    This era reflected on the achievements of the Portuguese explorer da Gama and his feats of navigation and science (circa-1500).   For all intent and purpose this would signify the power of the West for the following 500 (plus) years and as such the West—essentially Western Europe, Britain, and parts of the Mediterranean—would expand a geographic power-base and conquer the world.  The US would follow circa-mid-1800s with its demand that Japan ‘open up’ to trade with the West or be fired upon by Commodore Perry and his ‘black ships’ (1853 – 1854),[4] and moreover, the US would have numerous incursions into the lands of others.  The US’ international zenith of power would take place in the post-World War Two years (WWII).   For the West, expansionism would take place through colonialism, mercantilism, subjugation through direct military force and political manipulation or a combination of all.  A subjugated territory was considered to be ‘owned’ by the invader and hence, an inherent right of protection existed and the conquered land would viewed through a prism of being a protectorate, a suzerain state, or come under the more subjective mantle of being part of a ‘motherland.’  All would allow the territory to become part of the geo-strategic remit of the claimant.   The claimant’s inherent right to defend ‘their’ asset within the host-country would evolve to an inculcated norm within the claimant’s society—as happened recently with the Russian Federation and Crimea[5]—and the claim is often, and from an historical perspective, reinforced with military action.  The relevance here is, countries view their ‘rights’ and ownership as intermingled.  At this point the PRC’s ownership of the PofD and the repercussions this will have for Australia as the A-P becomes more fractious, can now be examined.

The trouble to come and the Country Liberal Party

What the Country Liberal Party (CLP) of the Northern Territory—long having viewed itself as the “natural ruling party of the Territory”[6]—has accomplished by leasing a significant and most strategic asset, is to place the PofD firmly on the list of having to be ‘protected’ by the lease-owner’s government.  This would be a nominal part of China’s overall foreign policy within the Asia-Pacific (A-P); and would be part of its normal foreign commitments; and exigencies.  Many countries have used the annexing of an asset that it controls, or utilizes it as part of a set of control factors, under the guise of subjective policies—regional stability; and national importance are two such factors.  There have been varying degrees of violence and politico-manipulation in many instances of claiming: Britain adopted this approach in the counter-strike against the Argentina’s attempt to take back the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas (1982), the US and the invasion of Granada (1983), China’s reclaiming of Hong Kong (1997), and the ongoing Israeli occupation of the West Bank/East Jerusalem (1967), is to name only several nation-states that have implemented their ‘claim’ strategies for ongoing gain.     

Notwithstanding the abovementioned, all conflicts have a level of national protection as a core component of policy, although it is often accompanied by other imperatives.   Therefore, and based on history China will view the PofD as an asset that must be protected and moreover, the potential for it to be elevated to a pillar of the PRC’s regional preponderance is feasible proposition.  Based on history there is no reason why this will not happen and when it does the PofD will by definition, become part of the PRC’s A-P geo-strategic fiat.  The emphasis being made here is, as China continues on its current pathway of building a strong ‘blue water navy,’[7] the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and a sophisticated air force—the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF)—it will have gained the capacity to strike at the PofD.   Of equal importance and much more likely however, is a threat-of-force, one that is able to be backed up by direct force, will be made and it will entail intimidating any ship entering, or exiting the port.   The ‘hard power’[8] that will be available to China and its allies (as it should be assumed China will have other dependable and allied A-P actors), will be centred on disrupting ease-of-access to the port without engaging in a ‘kinetic exchange’ or a ‘shooting war.’  The strategy—which has been utilized and applied by the West against Iraq and Iran in the Strait of Hurmuz standoffs (1988 and 2011 respectively)—is extremely effective as it immediately places the most powerful actor in a position of dominance and subsequently forces the less-powerful actor into a position of enforced negotiation.   The strategy and its efficacy has been observed by China and moreover, has been part of the PLAN’s ‘real world’ experience with the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s maritime force in actions off the Somalia coast (2008), which consisted of shipping-lane protection; and the curtailing of pirate activities.  This was the first time the PLAN conducted such activities and therefore, is well aware of the advantages a blockade can bring to an effective overall strategy.  To be certain, when the PLAN exercises a similar initiative toward Australia it will be resolute and it will be of polygonal intent: establishing China’s regional pro-activeness; changing the ‘strategic equation’[9] within the     A-P; place fiscal-pressure on the Australian economy; test the reaction time of the Australian military; and downwardly-moderate the Australia-US alliance.  When (rather than if),  the PofD becomes a strategic necessity for the PLAN to safeguard China’s asset and as per the Western ‘model’ of security and when this will happen and the crisis it will introduce into Australia can now be addressed.

Challenges for Australia

Importantly, China will exercise all of the mechanisms of suasion at its disposal and whether this will result in a kinetic, force-on-force exchange is moot and need not be debated here, as it is the problematics that Australians will face when China decides to pressure Australia’s geographic- and nautical-territory that is of interest here.  First of all however, a timeline of what could happen needs some understanding.  China since circa-1995 has embarked on a grand plan of irredentism and expansionism—often referred to as pax-Sino.  Two major undertakings have signalled its future intent: the ‘Nine Dash’ line[10] (NDL); and the ‘Belt and Road initiative’ (BRI).[11]  To be sure, both have been secured regardless of US and intra-Asian debate and protest; and negative commentary within the United Nations (UN).  Notwithstanding this, China has continued with its programme of expansionism and has not allowed peripheral debate to influence its agenda.  This has allowed Australia some diplomatic and military ‘breathing space’ in terms of not being directly threatened per se.  War forecasting however, is an inexact science and is dependent on many factors and moreover, relies on a set of identifiable parameters to take place which usually consist of demands, inducement, intimidation and finally, ‘coercion.’[12]  This has already happened in greater or lesser degrees in the PRC’s interactions with Vietnam and the Philippines so far however, kinetic exchanges has only consisted of minor skirmishes.  The intent of China will not change and over time it will force Australia into the forefront of its regional endeavours. 

The PRC will use the PofD to expand upon its notions of control and this will intensify as it continues to rise and it will use the feint of direct power—the presence of ‘capital ships’[13]—in order to cluster the majority of Australian military forces in the north of Australia.   Strategists’ understand the advantages and limitations of an armed force and of when and where, to feint and moreover, China understands the Australian military can only holdout for a week, before becoming ‘impotent.’[14]  The reason China will use threat-of-force is because it an eminently manageable tactic for a powerful actor, however it undermines the capabilities of the less-powerful actor by overstretching its capabilities.  More importantly, the tactic produces additional and complex domestic problems for the threatened actor, and this will be the case for Australia.

Some of the issues Australia would face as a feint and a threat-of-force takes place comprise but are not limited to, Australia has near-zero civilian- and military-reserve fuel and this problem would instantly come to the fore.   Severe fuel rationing and food distribution would become immediately and immensely problematic—as it did for Japan (an island nation-state) during World War Two.   Another two major problems would be a mass exodus of the population south from Darwin and this would create an overwhelming set of logistical, societal and order problems, which in turn would be compounded by a more general and frantic exodus of people from Australia.   People who are able to financially- and status-able (dual citizenship) to leave will do so, as there is evidence when a country comes under threat a significant portion of their population exits—Taiwan (1996)[15] is one example of such an occurrence.   Notwithstanding the aforementioned, the Australian import- and export-driven economy would essentially collapse under the strain of these problems; and Australia would be forced into re-negotiating the PofD by the PRC which would inevitably be used to their strategic and tactical advantage.  An obvious strategic demand by the PRC would be the non-entry of US Navy ships to the PofD and the tactic would be to test Australia’s resolve; place a significant  (if not catastrophic) stressor on the Australia-US alliance; and ultimately, force defence agreements to be moderated.  The question of ‘why and when’ will this take place can now be addressed.


Whilst the inexact science of war-forecasting has been alluded to, there are some components that indicate that China is to date, not able to pursue its agenda of being a major actor in the A-P to the fullest extent.  The reasons for this are many however, a nation-state’s progress is a dynamic and as setbacks are overcome—the US loss of the Vietnam War (1973), and the (then) Soviet Union’s loss of Afghanistan (1989) are two cases in point—powerful actors soon recover and begin another phase of engagements.  Notwithstanding the aforementioned, the fact remains ‘rising nation-states’ are keen to ‘stamp their authority’ on nautical-, air- and ground-territories.  At the present time there are moderations to China’s rise and they comprise but are not limited to, the retrocession of Taiwan not having taken place; the PLAN and PLAAF are not at full operational capacity; the NDL and BRI are and remain works-in-progress; China’s northwest province remains unstable; China-Russia relations (especially, with regard to energy security for China) are at times capricious; and China has not established whether the US will remain involved in the A-P to the extent it was in the twentieth century.   All issues whilst being significant are a dynamic, and will need to be worked through over time although once China has established its status in the region, whether it be a unipolar, or be a ‘pole’ in a multi-polar bloc, the situation for Australia will from a politico-perspective, intensify due to the vulnerability the lease has created in Australia.  

Australia’s problems will be compounded by its hold on the past and of considering the A-P to be its ‘patch,’[16] and whilst this is grounded in a history of dominance in the region, it remains an untenable ‘reach’ for Australia in a new and different A-P.   Australia is simply unable to defend its ‘patch’ against a major actor such as the PRC.   Due to its newfound and increasing status, China will exercise greater control over the A-P and thus, the protection of its assets will be by necessity, leveraged.   In order to uphold the tenet or protection threat-of-force and if necessary, direct force will be used.   Pre-military actions by China will comprise politico-strategies such as elevating its involvement in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations; and exercising its rights more robustly in the UN, and particularly as part of the UN Permanent Five, will become more evident over time however there will be a deeper cause and intent associated with these actions as they will signal the PRC’s intent to exercise military suasion if need be.  The threat of direct force will only be used when China’s role in the A-P becomes more defined; and the desire to become a more forthright actor in the region is actively pursued.   As stipulated, the protection of assets and the influences therein, will come to the fore and actions associated with the PofD will signal the PRC’s policies toward its rights; and ambitions.    

The CLP leasing the PofD will allow the PRC to enact a claim on its asset, a claim that would not have existed had the lease not been entered into, and this in turn will allow the PRC to place restrictions on the port and the surrounding strategic ‘space,’ which must place Australia’s negotiation platform in a weakened position.  To think that Australia will not have to negotiate with such a powerful actor is an absurd and fanciful notion, as the pressures placed on the Australian economy— and military—will be too great.  Further exacerbating the problem of defending the PofD will be the ‘Attack Class’ submarines having not being assimilated; the Joint Strike Fighter not being capable of repelling the PLAN and PLAAF; and of Australians historic, albeit misguided, belief the US will come to its aid.   Which brings the question, when will all of the aforementioned happen? 

From the mid-2030s a dire time for Australia will have been created as China will have become a more military robust; and politico-sophisticated nation-state.  Notwithstanding this evolvement, the PofD will be a core underpinning for China’s regional military manoeuvrings, and Australians will have the CLP to ‘thank’ for creating a calamitous and ominous situation.  Unless Australia’s foreign policy attitudes toward the PRC change and decisions are made to mitigate the threat the PRC poses Australia will be drawn into a conflict.  Australia must embrace the fact that the PRC will increasingly become a major politico-, and military-actor in the A-P, albeit one that has been offered a disproportionate advantage by the CLP.  China, like powerful actors before it, will be prepared to use direct force in order to attain; and sustain its status.  The CLP has produced a problem that will malign Australia far into the future, on many levels, and will indubitably produce a crisis Australia has not experienced since the WWII (1942) bombing of Darwin by the Japanese Imperial Air Force; and the occupation of New Guinea by the Japanese Imperial Army in the same year.  Both caught Australia unprepared and created panic.  The CLP has consigned Australia to this future again by a massive and collective act of stupidity. 

[1] Christopher Walsh.  ‘Why did the Northern Territory lease the Darwin Port to China, and at what risk?’  ABCNews. 12 Mar, 2019.  https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-03-12/why-did-northern-territory-sell-darwin-port-to-china-what-risk/10755720

[2] ABC Radio AM.  ‘Robb slams Turnbull, Joyce and security agencies over anti-China sentiment.’ Interviewer: Eliza Borrello.  https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/am/robb-slams-turnbull-joyce-security-agencies-anti-china-sentiment/10891480

[3] ‘Irredentism,’ or ‘irredentist policies’ comprise, ‘a party in any country advocating the acquisition of some region included in  another country by reason of cultural, historical, ethnic, racial, or other ties.’   See: ‘irredentism,’ Dictionary.com. Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition,.  HarperCollins Publishers, 2018.  http://www.dictionary.com/browse/irredentism 

[4] See: ‘Commodore Perry and Japan (1853 – 1854).’  Asia for Educators.  http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/special/japan_1750_perry.htm

[5] John Simpson.  ‘Russia’s Crimea plan detailed, secret and successful.’  BBCNews, 19 Mar, 2014.  https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26644082

[6] ‘Why did the Northern Territory lease the Darwin Port to China, and at what risk?’  ABCNews.

[7] A ‘blue water navy’ consists of having a navy which is able to venture into open ocean or the high seas, as opposed to littoral waters.  A navy of this kind is according to Kirtz able to defend against ‘open ocean naval threats … and [is consistent with] gaining command of the sea.’  See: James Kirtz. ‘Introduction.’ Naval Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Operations.  Stability from the sea. Edited by James Wirtz and Jeffrey Larsen.  Oxon: Routledge, 2009, 1.

[8] ‘Hard power’ centres on military and economic power … .’ See: Joseph Nye. ‘Soft Power and European-American Economic Affairs.’  Hard Power, Soft Power and the Future of Transatlantic Relations.  Edited by Thomas Ilgen.  Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2006, 26.

[9] There is some relevance in noting how the US changed the ‘strategic equation’ of the Middle East by initiating Gulf War II (2003) and it is, ‘For the Bush administration, Iraq was an inviting target for pre-emption not because it was an immediate threat but because it was thought to be a prospective menace that was incapable of successfully defending itself against a U.S. invasion.  For an administration that was determined to change the strategic equation of the Middle East and make Saddam an object lesson to [Weapons of Mass Destruction] proliferators, Iraq was not a danger to avoid but a strategic opportunity.’  See: Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor.  Cobra II. The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq.  New York: Patheon Books, 2006, 64.

[10] ‘The U.S. and China’s Nine Dash Line: Ending the Ambiguity.’  Brookings Institute. 6 Feb, 2014.  https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/the-u-s-and-chinas-nine-dash-line-ending-the-ambiguity-2/

[11] ‘The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an ambitious effort to improve regional cooperation and connectivity on a trans-continental scale. The initiative aims to strengthen infrastructure, trade, and investment links between China and some 65 other countries that account collectively for over 30 percent of global GDP, 62 percent of population, and 75 percent of known energy reserves. The BRI consists primarily of the Silk Road Economic Belt, linking China to Central and South Asia and onward to Europe, and the New Maritime Silk Road, linking China to the nations of South East Asia, the Gulf Countries, North Africa, and on to Europe. Six other economic corridors have been identified to link other countries to the Belt and the Road. The scope of the initiative is still taking shape—more recently the initiative has been interpreted to be open to all countries as well as international and regional organizations.’  See: ‘Belt and Road Initiative.’  The World Bank   28 Mar, 2018.  https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/regional-integration/brief/belt-and-road-initiative

[12] ‘Coercion is the use or threatened use of military force to defeat any elements of the population that resist or threaten to resist an occupation … Coercion in occupations can take the form of either explicit actual violence, or latent violence that deters violent opposition to occupation.  Military occupiers may employ violence in order to destroy any opposition.  Occupiers may also use the threat of violence to quell any resistance before it erupts … coercion becomes a  necessary prerequisite to these more cooperative strategies when significant opposition is present’  See: David Edelstein.  Occupational Hazards.  Success and Failure in Military Occupations.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008, 49-53.

[13] Capital ships are the most potent surface arm of a navy and have been since circa—seventeenth century and Thayer stipulates this point as navies were continually involved in, ‘war after war [as capital ships] swept the seas …


exhausting strifes.’  See:  Alfred Thayer.  The Influence of Sea Power upon History 1660-1805. London: Hamlyn, 1980, 77.

[14] See:  Jamie walker.  ‘US forces too weak to defend Australia, says Jim Molan.’ The Australian.  4 Jan, 2018.  https://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/defence/us-forces-too-weak-to-defend-australia-says-jim-molan/news-story/a9cae939218b980b88d510c4780a1cdd

[15] The Third Taiwan Strait Crisis is able to be used as a guide to what a war would bring and although this crisis did not evolve further than a show of strength on the part of China through a live fire exercise, it nevertheless ‘disrupted naval shipping and air commercial air traffic, causing harm to Taiwan’s economy … [and] Taiwanese scrambled to reserve seats on flights to North America.’  See: Michael Cole.  ‘The Third Taiwan Strait Crisis.  The Forgotten Showdown between China and America.’  The National Interest.  10 Mar, 2017.  https://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-third-taiwan-strait-crisis-the-forgotten-showdown-19742

[16] ‘China shuns rivalry in the Pacific as Australia says “this is our patch.”  ChannelNewsAsia.  8 Nov, 2018.  https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/china-shuns-rivalry-in-pacific-as-australia-says–this-is-our-patch–10907760

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Hell hath no fury:  The makings of a Turnbull return

Normally I restrict my opinions to international relations issues with a particular emphasis on war and conflict however, the arrival of Malcolm Turnbull on the ABC’s Q&A programme made me want to offer a possibility of Malcolm being the ‘comeback kid,’ a term that was originally applied to Bill Clinton.  So I suppose there is some relevance to international relations.  Nevertheless, the opportunity was too much, as was the chance to suggest how he will ‘come back.’

The well-balanced, nuanced, articulate and commendable accuracy—albeit with only accomplishments writ large—in the ex-prime minister’s (pm) appearance on the ABC’s Q&A special edition as part of New South Wales Festival of Dangerous Ideas programme on 8 November, 2018, was exceptional only in that the ex-pm was able to contain his incandescent rage at those that unseated him (read: kicked him out of office).  It should also be noted that Mr Turnbull also kept insisting that though he is ‘retired,’ that does not exclude him from making a comment about his ‘brilliant leadership,’ and the aforesaid ‘accomplishments’ therein.  Nor should an ex-pm be excluded from the debate as a free and opinionated citizen in the liberal-democracy of Australia—all should have their say outside of the shackles of slander and smear in a robust democracy.  Was it just me, or did others get the notional understanding that Malcolm Turnbull is in the nascent phase of being a ‘comeback kid’?  The once ‘Honourable’ Malcolm Turnbull wants the title back!  This was his first go at establishing what will be a fast and furious transition to Minister of Parliament, although a few things will have to happen first.

The most important ‘thing’ to happen is that the Honourable Bill Shorten wins the next election and within this happening there is a ‘blowback’ within the Liberal Party and its ‘rusted on’ voters.  The demise of Ministers Abbott, Birmingham, Cormann, Dutton, Hunt, Seselja—or at the very least, a significant plunge in their popularity—and several others such as Craig Kelly and Nigel Scullion and other ‘faceless men’ (that term sounds familiar), will have to take place as this will segue into Turnbull being ‘invited’ back to the ‘sensible centre’ of the Liberal Party; and the Liberal Party per se.  Where will this mysterious invite emanate from and will there be enough constituents in the area concerned to vote for Turnbull because he is well … the one and only Malcolm Turnbull.   What has to happen is the revenge-vote has to come to the fore and the constituents concerned will want to send a message, to the Honourable Member Shorten and paradoxically, the Liberal Party as well.  Who will it be and what seat will it be?  Subtleness is the key here, and more to the point it will have to be like a hand-pass in Aussie Rules—seamless, a small move and able to help someone else kick a goal, something for the  greater good.  From then on it is Malcolm who will be kicking goals all the way back to the prime ministership.   Turnbull has this as his ultimate goal after last week’s Q&A, and he knows time is short but he does have the sympathy vote in hand; a large portion of the Australian public thinking he is ‘PM material;’ and he is still young enough to pursue this avenue.   And theoretically, if Shorten makes a hash of it then he only has four or so years to wait—and as it stands there is a dearth of talent in the Liberal Party—especially ‘leadership talent.’  This is perhaps Turnbull’s greatest weapon within the Liberal Party.  Where will he go and what will he do to achieve this?


Casting an eye over the Liberal Party and their seats as well as their ‘rusted on’ supporters one can be forgiven for thinking that the Honourable Karen Phelps might be the first to have her seat removed as Liberal Party people remove a person who was a blip on their political radar.  This is however, unlikely as to vote someone else in instead of Malcolm is tantamount to being traitorous to the cause, whereas voting in Phelps was not traitorous, it was a reaction—it was voting out the Liberal Party not voting Phelps in.  This happened in the resurgence of the Labor Party in Victoria after the mind-boggling horrors of the Kennett years in Victoria, it wasn’t that Bracks’ was particularly great, it was he was so vastly more in touch with the people of Victoria that he would ‘do.’ Out with Kennet, not in with Bracks and the other ‘99ers’ as they were called.

So, who will give up their seat in order to place Malcolm in a robust conservative position with a strong middle-of-the-road sentiment?  We have to go to the old stomping ground of Bennelong where they were willing to give a radical new-age thinking a go and an articulate woman a chance (Maxine McKew).  After they realised what they ‘had done,’ they returned to lackadaisical ‘everything will be fine,’ ‘no need to panic,’ run-of-the-mill political mainstream—the Honourable John Alexander.   This is where Turnbull’s greatest opportunity is, a solid Liberal seat that doesn’t want to venture into the unknown again, (because it was obviously quite scary to have an articulate woman in the job), yet it offers unlimited opportunity for another go at the prime ministership—and who in this seat would not be begging for a change from the humdrum of the current incumbent?

Turnbull and his advisor’s must be looking at Bennelong and their mouths must be watering, a seamless transition, a ‘rusted on’ group of voters and the chance for these ‘aspirationals’ to have a prime minister in their midst.  And whatsmore, it wouldn’t cost Turnbull a cent (unlike his last grab at the job), he would just majestically reappear—the first step in his new Aussie ‘bloke having a go’ at what is rightfully his; and should never have been taken away.   Don’t underestimate Turnbull’s ambition; or his rage.

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Something is wrong here:  Six months (or thereabouts) in Taiwan and the whole damn thing


There’s not much more oppressive ‘out there’ than a tropical summer and I have to tell you that Taiwan in ‘right up there,’ when it comes to summer: baking -tropical, sticky and oppressive heat.   When I walk down the streets of New Taipei city and as I watch people cooking in this heat (July 2018), I have to say that I feel nothing but admiration.  The upshot of the diligence of the street vendors’ and the shopkeepers’ who choose to let the summer heat into their stores, is, the food is delicious.  What could be hotter than Taiwan in summer?  One may indeed ask that question.  That would be the political situation.  In the process of the everyday there is a multitude of political machinations going on—and off.  It is hard to believe that this island with approximately the same population as Australia could be such a maelstrom of regional and international activity—the ‘international’ consists of only one nation, but we’ll get to that.

But before we get to Taiwan, there’s a broader political perspective that one needs to have come to grips with, and that’s what happens when you’re an island nation and others need your ‘strategic locale’ to bolster their own needs—this will happen to Australia and the Port of Darwin but we’ll get to that too.  Back to the ‘problem’ with being an island nation, well just look at Crete and Malta in World War Two, and Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal and Okinawa in the same war and it didn’t stop there, as it happened to the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvina in the early-1980s.  It also happened to Hawaii—stolen form an Hawaiian princess by the United States of America (US).   And oh yes, it happened to the Australian Indigenous peoples too, their island got stolen from them as a collective, but after the apology to their stolen generations, they will get something to show for their ongoing suffering—the Turnbull government in its recent budget has allocated 48 million dollars to building a statue of Captain James Cook, for no doubt, the purposes of adding a little salt to the wound; and to show that there is and remains no limits to what a neo-conservative government will do to show that it has a will and a way.   If you are a neoconservative you just have to secret yourself away, wait long enough, like a submarine, and just when no one is expecting you—there you are!    I wonder if the Canadian prime minister is going to build a conquering statue for the Mohican’s to ponder?  The Honourable Prime Minister Trudeau does seem too sophisticated and cosmopolitan for that, and not being a neo-conservative and pre-determinist will also help him to not go down that path, I would suggest.  But, I digress, back to Taiwan or at least, the Asia-Pacific and island nations, which is the problem for Taiwan.


It seems if an island nation is what ‘you are,’ then someone, somewhere, is going to come after you,   and such a pivotal issue of rancour in the Asia-Pacific (now conveniently called the Indo-Pacific in order to include India and exclude China in the grand scheme of things) is.  The hope is that as the Indo-Pacific keeps getting referred to as the Indo-Pacific then China will decide it’s all too much and go home, back to where they ‘belong’—which is on their mainland only.   This hope will not happen.  As much as the West and its prudence in demanding that ‘navigation rights,’ and ‘sea lanes’ are part of the ‘international order’—you know the ones designed, expanded upon and valued-laden for the West in its robust management of the known world (then), and the global world (now)—and that went down particularly well with another Asian nation (Japan), when it was commanded by Commodore Perry to stop being recalcitrant, and damn well open its borders to trade.  Just a small mention here that according to Noam Chomsky when Japan got better than the West at trading, the West then went and shut it off—the Dutch, British and Americans were the main players in the process—which after much angst by the Japanese would eventually lead to the ‘surprise attack’ (the Japanese called it a ‘revenge attack,’ funny how it’s all about perspectives) on Pearl Harbor.  It wasn’t really a surprise attack and more of a cathartic happening which President Roosevelt allowed and needed, because most of the US’ population supported Nazi Germany and he was too frightened to intervene before this event because of the domestic voter-backlash.

That abovementioned aside, the  problem here is that China,  just like Japan before it, never agreed to the Western ‘order’—commonly referred to as the Westphalian order—as it had the order essentially thrust upon it after 1648, and it has resented it ever since.  A bit like in more recent times in the Australian domestic sphere  being told that as a member of the tax-paying public you are not allowed to protest on Crown Land (read: government owned) anymore, even though in a liberal-democracy you as a citizen technically own it.  That would never happen, surely!   Oh, the New South Wales (NSW) government has just passed that law, so if you don’t agree with what the NSW government wants to do, you’re free to protest, just not on ‘their land,’ which is technically yours, but try telling that to the arresting officer.

Back to the broader point that is trying to be made.  Anyone doubting the difficulty with which China had to come to terms with such a situation should simply read Martin Jacques’ When China Rules the World.  The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New World Order, and this will allow you, as it did me, to come to grips with the horrors of having something so insulting thrust upon you. Understanding of this type of situation is to read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown which is the course of pain that the Native American Indians had thrust upon them (for decades).   If you can read it through the tears you’re a stronger person than me.  China is rising and as unpalatable as that may seem to those of us who have watched the West become the ultimate power, to acknowledge that things have changed would (possibly) diminish the need for conflict.  Try it Australia, it might work.   You know all that talk about diplomacy trumping (pun intended) war!

More to the point.  When I was first in Taiwan some fifteen-plus years ago I thought the situation was tense.   The situation back then, now, seems like a walk in the park, a leisurely stroll followed by a picnic.  It’s also a bit unnerving to observe how when I have been back to Australia on albeit short visits, that there is barely anything mentioned about what is going on in the Asia-Pacific with regard to the crisis that is unfolding before Australia’s eyes—plenty of comment on Brexit and the US trade war, barely any on the Asia-Pacific, ooops sorry, the INDO-PACIFIC.  Get it right!

Every day here in Taiwan there is comment on the ‘China threat,’ the Taiwan response, the scrambling for political certainty, what will happen, the rise of China, the number of allies Taiwan has, the change in military strategies by both actors … the list goes on.   The commentary involves a situation that will (one day) come to a head, as it must, and therefore, the commentary is worthwhile and necessary.  The problem is after six months or so of being here in Taiwan, the dialogue is Taiwan-China-US.  Serious and critical commentary from any other international entities seems severely lacking.  I thought we lived in a global world.

Something is wrong here.

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Taiwan 2018: A few weeks in …

Taiwan: to mid-February 2018

The Taiwan-China issue remains vibrant and ongoing.  There is near-daily comment in the newspapers about the ongoing situation:  China asserting pressures and Taiwan attempting to retain its independence (whilst not actually declaring independence).  The situation is fraught with tension and the debate is definitely ‘hotting up’ as China is placed in a more prominent position by others.  Nevertheless, the elements of commentary are broad and perhaps the most damaging for Taiwan consists of Britain wanting to enter a new ‘golden age’ with China.  Front page:  May meets with Xi as she seeks China trade post-EU.

Comment: The sign to Taiwan is clear: Britain sees China as an economically viable partner.  This will without doubt, impact upon Taiwan’s status in terms of each time China makes a gain such as this, it creates additional problems for its international standing.  (Toward a new UK-PRC ‘golden age’)

The ‘values’ argument continues, with Taiwan values being different than that of China’s and is premised on democracy, and freedom of speech and shared community being unique to Taiwan and not so for the PRC  (Taiwanese values mean ‘not PRC’s’).

China has also increased it economic presence by proposing a new ‘Silk Road’ through the Arctic and PLAN ships passed through Japanese territorial waters off the Tokara Islands which China argues was the Osumi Strait (China sees new Silk Road in the Arctic).

Australia gets a mention:  China criticizes Australia for being ‘anti-China’ (Chinese infiltration not unnoticed).

China exercises ‘sharp power,’ which is the ability to manipulate or intimidate another nation’ (Ad displays China’s ‘sharp power,’ and just below on pate 8, ‘China’s new approach on Taiwan,’ which discusses China’s desire for unification to take place by at the very latest, 2049—the 100 year anniversary of the PRC (China’ new approach on Taiwan).

‘China should be wary of Trump,’ which essentially argues that because Trump is impressed by the size and cost of things, Trump is likely to go up against China only in order to get a better deal for the US, and if that entails abandoning Taiwan he will do so.

‘Taiwan confronts its darkest hour.’ This article deals with the way in which China is seeking to increase military pressure on Taiwan whilst also encouraging Taiwanese business to invest in China.  The article argues these people will become pawns in the economic stranglehold that will play out in favour of China; and to the detriment of Taiwan.

‘Taiwanese find opportunity, risk in China,’  is an article about the incentives China is offering Taiwanese in the form of start-ups and other financial incentives, as Taiwan’s economy stagnates and the offer of incentives is not as great.  The possible effects on Taiwanese in terms of whether it influences them in favour of China is also discussed.

In  a more globalised sense ‘Crack between the US and Europe over China widens,’ as Europe grapples with the way in which it should approach China and peace in the Asia-Pacific region, and not surprisingly how Trump has impacted on the relationship.  The article is especially focused on the retreat (contrary to what the White House says) of the US in the region.

The list of way in which Taiwan can defend itself is lauded in ‘So you think China can win,’ and more importantly deals  with what will happen to the PRC government  if the US does come to the  aid of Taiwan.  It also deals with the problems on mainland China which deal with border disputes and the way in which constant disputes sap personnel and this will work against any invasion or restriction plans.

Eleven major articles in about 15 days sums up the  concern.

Source:  Taipei Times

Commentary:  The above show how intense the Taiwan-China situation actually is, and remains; and offers an understanding that it is spreading beyond the Asia-Pacific and into Europe which has essentially, not been a military player to date, in the region to any great extent.  This will probably change though as China continues to flex its strategic-muscle in the ‘One road, One belt,’ initiative; and its economic prowess continues to influence.   France and India have begun to show some additional interest in Taiwan, India in particular has conducted strategic manoeuvrings with its navy recently; and is acutely aware that the  more power China gains the more ‘catching up’ that India has to do.   With the UK making sure to be amicable with China is no doubt a huge worry for Taiwan as its approach will inevitably give China more credence in its dealings with the UK and whilst it is premised on Britain attempting to turn a ‘hard Brexit’ into a ‘softer one—and of PM May attempting to shore-up her shambolic government—the very fact that she has made the journey must somewhere in the future weaken Taiwan’s influence in Britain. Of particular worry, in the press it seems, is that Taiwanese that move to China, will be merged into being ‘Chinese’ rather than being ‘Taiwanese,’ and this seems to be an overarching worry to the government of Taiwan.


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An insane Industrial-Capitalist notion: Australia to be one of the ‘top 10’ arms exporters …

The Australian government’s latest idea to be a reasonable global citizen is to increase Australia’s share of being an arms-exporter. Spruiking the idea, in Nov 2017, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP was in Saudi Arabia according to reports (1). The idea of selling arms to a country that has never (to my knowledge) published a ‘rules of engagement’ protocol regarding the Syrian Conflict is a dangerous administration to be dealing with.
But, it’s all about jobs!
Pyne will no doubt also stress that arms deals are highly-monitored. That’s really worked for Australia in the past. Take the use of Australian gifted patrol boats, helicopters and aircraft (2) that were used in the blockade of Bougainville–which was ostensibly, on the part of the New Guinea government to support a private company and its assets.
This arms-dealership/manufacturing policy is yet again, another sad refection on the industrial-capitalist, neo-liberal agenda the Turnbull government pursues.
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