10 June 2018
It seems likely that the Australian House and Senate will pass the governments legislative proposals, ostensibly aimed at alleged foreign interference in Australia’s electoral process. Despite denials to the contrary, the legislation is manifestly aimed at alleged Chinese interference, although the scope of the proposed legislative provisions amounts to a sustained attack upon the ability of critics in the media and elsewhere to do their job of holding governments to account.
The cynic might argue that such legislation is hardly necessary, as serious and sustained criticism of the policies of successive Australian governments, and certainly in the “defence” and “national security” areas has been conspicuously absent for many years both from the mainstream media and the Labor opposition.
There has been a noticeable increase in the barrage of one-dimensional propaganda in recent decades, and a corresponding reduction in the presentation of fact based analysis. As equally insidious as the propaganda nature of much of what is termed “news” is the systematic ignoring of actual events. A stark illustration of this is in the initial coverage of the alleged assassination attempt upon Sergei and Yulia Skripal and the almost complete disappearance of this story from the news cycle as the original absurd claims of the British government have been systematically destroyed.
The fact that the British government issued a “D” notice after the Daily Telegraph
referred to the existence of Skripal’s MI6 “handler” (whom they did not name) living in Salisbury is significant, but the Australian media have completely ignored that fact. That Skripal and his MI6 handler were also associated with the author of the so-called Trump dossier through the same company (Fusion) is important to an understanding of the Skripal incident and the likely motive for the attack upon Skripal and his daughter.
Instead of investigating these issues, the media have simply repeated parrot fashion the British claims. The Australian government has been no better. It simply expelled two Russian diplomats when the investigation into the Skripal incident had barely begun, and certainly before there was any evidence to support the British government’s allegations. Foreign Minister Bishop’s statement at the time was merely a repeating of the British claims made in a memorandum circulated to 80 foreign embassies in Moscow.
A further variation of the media’s inability to present an objective analysis is the use of language that denigrates the object of ridicule by pejorative adjectives. The Assad government of Syria is invariably described as a “regime”; Russia’s President Putin is “brutal” or “authoritarian”; and China’s policies are “increasingly aggressive” or “assertive.”
Such terminology is never applied to the actions of allies such as the United States, Israel or Saudi Arabia, although by any objective measure the actions of those three governments over the past seven decades far exceeds in brutality and ruthlessness anything that could be attributed to either Russia or China. William Blum among others, including John Menadue in these pages has provided chapter and verse on the wholesale carnage wrought by the United States.
The violent exercise of “regime change” by bombings, invasions, colour revolutions, sanctions and bribery is now in excess of 70 countries, with a death toll of more than 30 million and counting.
In many of these exercises in regime change Australia has been a willing participant. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria are only some of the better-known examples. What is especially galling is that these illegal wars are invariably accompanied by the relentless mantra of Australia’s support for the “rules based international order.”
The subtext of this mantra is that it is our definition of “rules” and “order” that is applied and any alternative view is denied any legitimacy. Even on its own definition however, the actions of Australia and its allies fail the legal test. The invasion of Afghanistan and it’s continuing occupation after that more than 16 years is an ongoing violation of international law. The recent revelations of alleged war crimes by Australian troops in Afghanistan are merely the latest in a long line of reported atrocities by the occupying forces.
The same is true of the 2003 invasion and the occupation of Iraq, also ongoing after more than 15 years. That invasion was based upon a particularly blatant set of lies. The illegality is compounded in Australia’s case by a continuing refusal to hold the perpetrators accountable, or even to hold a Chilcot type inquiry.
The current involvement in the Syrian war is an another example of illegality, compounded by a lack of proper parliamentary accountability, and a veil of secrecy over military operations that at the very least involved Australia as a party to war crimes being carried out by United States forces.
The free pass given by the mainstream media to such terrorist aligned groups as the “White Helmets”, and the constant reiteration of the “Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons” when such allegations have been comprehensively debunked, illustrate the abysmal state of journalism in this country.
Another favoured mantra is the exercise of so called “freedom of navigation exercises” by United States warships, vocally supported by Australia. The “peaceful” transit of shipping is guaranteed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which China is a party and the United States is not.
There is not a single demonstrated instance of China impeding the transit of shipping in the South China Sea. If free passage was hindered, the biggest loser would be the PRC itself, for whom the South China Sea is a vital facility for both exports and imports. It is not difficult to imagine what the American reaction would be if China were to conduct similar exercises off the American coast or in the Gulf of Mexico. One has only to recall the 1962 Cuban missile crisis for an intimation of the likely reaction.
Critics of China point to the building of artificial islands in disputed waters and their fortification in some cases. That identical cases of creating artificial islands and their fortification have been done by Vietnam and Taiwan among others is never mentioned in the mainstream media.
The media is similarly silent on the annual joint US- Australian military exercise code named Operation Talisman Sabre, one of whose objectives is the blockading of the narrow (2.5km) Malacca Strait through which more than 80% of China’s oil imports pass.
That China might have legitimate security concerns as a result of Operation Talisman Sabre, the carrying out of regular military exercises in or near Chinese territorial waters or land borders, and the existence of 400 US military bases whose primary purpose is to “contain” China or act as a springboard in the event of an outbreak of war, is never conceded by the mainstream media. China is also acutely aware that in recent decades major wars (Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) have been fought on or near China’s borders.
Australian politicians and media have been similarly silent on the blockade of Gaza and Yemen, both of which are illegal under international law and have been nothing short of genocidal in their consequences. Australia’s continued support of Israel in the United Nations is completely inconsistent with any sincere belief in international law, yet such support is one of the dominant features of Australian foreign policy.
Ironically, it was the Americans and the Israelis who have expressed concern about the government’s anti-interference laws, as it would inhibit their own activities. There is a steady procession of Australian legislators to Tel Aviv, yet no one in the media is willing to discuss the relationship between that fact and the support given to Israel by Australia in the UN and elsewhere.
Australia’s voting record in the United Nations and its constant involvement in other people’s illegal wars that should be the basis of a discussion of “foreign interference. Interference is a two way street, and Australia’s record in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, East Timor and Nauru provide ample evidence.
That Australia is essentially a United States colony reflected in Malcolm Turnbull’s “joined at the hip” supine characterization of the Australia-US relationship is far more a legitimate concern than alleged Chinese “interference”.
One suspects that what is at the root of this manufactured panic about China and Russia is a dawning realization that the era of US hegemony and the unipolar world is rapidly disintegrating. The past 300 or so years of western domination is an historical aberration and a reassertion of the traditional dominance of the East is underway.
Australia has actually been a beneficiary of this transition, as the trade, education, tourism and investment figures attest. What has been lacking in politics and the media, has been a comparable transition in Australia’s strategic thinking. The time for an informed and subtle reappraisal of that transition and its longer-term implications is well overdue.
The current myopia and ill-informed hysteria manifestly does not serve Australia’s national interest.
* Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org