Murray Hunter: Australian government should reconsider country’s security
17 September 2020. PenzaNews. The Australian government should reconsider its traditional defense and security doctrine as it does not fully protect the country against current threats, says Murray Hunter, Associate Professor at the University Malaysia Perlis (UniMAP), in his article Rethinking Australia’s Defense and Security, published in foreign media.
Photo: Jo Shaw, Flickr.com
“Australia has been hit by crises over the past 18 months that raise public policy concerns and questions […] and have caused substantial economic damage,” the expert says.
One of the concerns, in his opinion, includes growing Chinese infiltration into Australia’s political, business and social institutions, Chinese assertiveness on the South China Sea and a decline of US influence within the Indo-Pacific hemisphere.
“In particular, the extent of Chinese influence on both sides of the Australian political fence as well as in universities, domestic media, the Chinese diaspora, local government and aggressive ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy on the part of China, are of major concern. The Australian polity has for far too long been entangled with Chinese instruments of influence, which rendered executive government largely unable to respond,” Murray Hunter believes.
From his point of view, the situation has been taken as a real threat to Australia’s national interest only after numerous media exposes of Chinese influence within Australian society, with the latest being the ‘Thousand Talents Plan’ to source technology and lure expertise for the benefit of China.
“After months of media criticism, the Morrison-led Liberal government has finally announced that it is seeking legislative measures to block Labor Victorian premier Daniel Andrews’ Belt and Road Initiative agreement with China, signed almost two years ago,” the analyst notes.
He also reminds that the situation in relations with Beijing has escalated a few months before, with Canberra calling on an independent inquiry into the source of the COVID-19 pandemic in China: then China has introduced a number of trade sanctions, including 80 percent tariffs on barley shipments, and suspended beef imports from the four largest meat processing plants; while both sides were arguing that these steps were not connected with the disagreement over the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The gradual decline of US regional influence, which looks set to continue, and prolonged geo-political and geo-economic friction between China and the US, leaves stark questions about what type of region Australia will live within? There is a vacuum of policy thought about what Australia can do and how effective anything Australia does would be. There are no strategic options with high probabilities of potential success. All options look difficult,” the expert says.
“The current doctrine of the US as a strategic partner and China as a trading partner is becoming difficult to coexist. Keeping a close US alliance will not aid Australia’s prosperity. Australia in a post-COVID world will be much poorer, with high unemployment, a liquidity squeeze, record bankruptcies and a government in extraordinarily high debt. In this position the government will find it extremely difficult to kickstart the economy and put resources into defense and security priorities. Australia may be totally unprepared for any new crisis. The government will have to drastically increase immigration to create economic growth through demand,” Murray Hunter suggests.
Moreover, he says that after 11 September 2001, Australian security policy has primarily focused on terrorism at the cost of protecting national interests against other threats.
“The drought, bushfires, and the pandemic have all shown that the greatest immediate threats to the wellbeing of the nation are both non-state and non-military. Protecting Australia very much requires non-conventional strategies and resources. Future threats are more likely to require specialized non-military domestic logistical resources for deployments in times of emergency, and security resources to focus on espionage activities rather than terrorist attacks. This requires a reconfiguration of both Australia’s military and security services,” Murray Hunter believes.
In his opinion, potential threats have always been perceived by the government as of traditional external military nature.
“Australia’s Foreign policy doctrine has focused upon bolstering existing traditional relationships, leaving most regional relationships very shallow and transactional to say the least. The mandarins of Canberra still hold onto a strong Austro-Eurocentric view of the world, within the Anglosphere of the Five Eyes, the US, the UK, Canada and New Zealand. This has been seen to have failed to protect Australia’s interests from non-conventional threats,” the analyst adds.
As for the economy, he said, the minerals boom created in Australia a false sense of security.
“Although the boom drastically increased Australian exports and attracted A$250 billion in investment, reaching 58 percent of total exports by 2018, this gave the illusion that the country was strong and secure economically. Although, the mineral boom saved Australia from recession, it hid the decline in agriculture, construction and manufacturing, creating a much narrower based economy dependent on imports to replace what used to be produced locally. This made the country very economically dependent upon China, representing 29 percent of Australia’s total international trade,” the author explains.
From his point of view, the government has little choice to finally recognize the nation is actually domiciled within the Asian region — it must make a serious pivot to Asia, where it now has much more in common with its regional neighbors than ever before.
“Canberra has to learn how to engage countries within the region far beyond the transactional relationships of the past. To assist with this, Australia has a golden asset to rebuild neglected relationships, the Asian diaspora resident in Australia,” Murray Hunter says.
According to him, the current circumstances in Australia may be the impetus for change. For example, China’s trade sanctions is a message to diversify, and its increasingly threatening position in the South China Sea opens up all sorts of possibilities for future military cooperation within the region closest to Australia’s shores.
“Domestically, there is a need to cleanse the political landscape, educational institutions and local media of undue foreign influence. This is particularly important in those who hold public office, so there is a pressing need to screen those running for public office for any indications of loyalty towards other nations. Strategic assets such as utilities, ports, transport, and water resources need much greater scrutiny when sold to foreign parties,” the analyst believes.
In his opinion, Australian leaders should rethink their approach to political governance.
“Canberra is too isolated for faceless mandarins behind closed doors to be responsible for such important issues. Much more diversity in policy making is required. The US alliance doesn’t have to be completely broken, just a more independent view coming out of Canberra will be important for regional engagement,” the expert stresses.
“As the Chinese proverb says, in every crisis, there is opportunity. Certainly, for Australia there is, if there is a dream about what the region could be, and this becomes a shared vision of the region. There is so much common ground between Australia and the region, physically, socially, economically and militarily. This is what Australia needs to explore,” Murray Hunter concludes.