AUSTRALIA is entering a dangerous period — and we don’t even know it yet.
As US Vice President Mike Pence incenses China on one end, and New Zealand leader Jacinda Ardern pushes “collective international action” on the other, former Defence Force member Catherine McGregor has warned us against complacency, comparing the current global climate to the lead-up to World War II.
Tensions between China and the US — our first and third largest trading partners respectively — are sitting at a high.
Earlier this week, a Chinese vessel almost collided with a US navy ship in the South China Sea.
At the same time, the trade war between the two powerful countries is heating up, with JPMorgan now predicting that the Trump administration will proceed with tariffs on all Chinese goods by the end of 2019.
So where is Australia in all this?
AUSTRALIA ‘SLEEPWALKING TOWARDS DANGER’
Australia is facing renewed warnings about China’s rise.
Last week Jacinda Ardern, who some in the media have nicknamed “anti-Trump”, made a plea for international co-operation on social issues.
“In the face of isolationism, protectionism, racism — the simple concept of looking outwardly and beyond ourselves, of kindness and collectivism, might just be as good a starting point as any,” Ms Ardern said in her UN General Assembly address earlier this week.
“We must demonstrate that collective international action not only works, but that it is in all of our best interests.”
While noting she “admires” the Kiwi leader, Ms McGregor warned that Australia is “sleepwalking into an era of unprecedented danger”.
“Our strategic circumstances are deteriorating rapidly, yet we are seemingly oblivious to the rapidly changing world,” Ms McGregor wrote in a column for Fairfax Media today. “We are not so much the Lucky Country as the Land of Laughter and Forgetting.”
She cited our sensitive key relationship with Indonesia as a key concern, but said the recent naval conflict between the US and China was “even more alarming”.
“Recent Chinese behaviour suggests they are committed to dominating the sea lanes through which most of our trade passes in the near future. They appear indifferent to the risk of war, though the ground reality in the South China Sea is such that there is nothing left to fight over,” she said.
Ms McGregor warned that elements preceding World War II are again in the air, noting that it broke out the last time two totalitarian rising powers challenged the global order.
“Those preconditions exist again today. We are sleepwalking into an era of unprecedented danger with a legacy force configured to contribute small force packages to the United States in hybrid wars.
“Neither our major ally nor our own forces are ready for the most dangerous threat to our security since the bombing of Darwin.”
PENCE URGES ACTION AGAINST BEIJING
The warning to Australia comes amid ongoing rising tensions between the US and China.
Earlier today, Vice President Mike Pence incensed China with a speech accusing the rising superpower of meddling in America’s midterm elections and turning “ploughshares into swords on a massive scale”.
Noting the growing trade war, he urged American corporations to stand up to Beijing.
“China wants a different American president,” Mr Pence said in a speech at the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington, adding the US will continue to expose Beijing’s “malign influence and interference”.
“As we speak, Beijing is employing a whole-of-government approach, using political, economic and military tools, as well as propaganda, to advance its influence and benefit its interests in the United States.”
He said the threat of Russia “pales in comparison to what China is doing across this country”, marking a sharpened approach toward the rising superpower.
Mr Pence also said China had deployed anti-ship and anti-air missiles on islands it is building in the disputed South China Sea, despite promises not to militarise them.
Earlier this week, shocking photos exposed a near-collision between a US navy ship and a Chinese vessel in the South China Sea.
The US Navy released a series of photos showing the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Decatur almost crashing into the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy’s Type 052C Luyang II-class destroyer Lanzhou.
In an official statement, the US Navy said Lanzhou came within 40m of the American vessel during the September 30 incident.
It said one of its ships almost collided with a Chinese warship in the South China Sea, in an “unsafe and unprofessional manoeuvre”.
Beijing confirmed that the Luoyang, a Chinese missile destroyer, was immediately deployed to identify the US warship and drive it away.
The Chinese foreign ministry said it strongly urged the US to stop its “provocative” actions.
Mr Pence accused China of “reckless harassment”.
“We will not be intimidated,” Mr Pence said of the operation, the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Mr Pence had made “unwarranted accusations … and slandered China by claiming that China meddles in US internal affairs and elections”.