xi jinping mike pezzullo
Mike Pezzullo and Xi Jinping (Images: AAP)

Well, if you’re going to announce futile military adventures I guess the morning of April 25 is the time to do it. On the day that we remember the thousands of lives thrown away in an effort to make Turkey British, Department of Home Affairs head Mike Pezzullo announced we might soon be going again. This time to get between China and Taiwan apparently. Or, to put it more exactly, China and another bit of China.

Pezzullo took the opportunity for portentous quotation, intoning that, “in a world of perpetual tension and dread, the drums of war beat — sometimes faintly and distantly, and at other times more loudly and ever closer”.

And he warned that, “we must search always for the chance for peace amidst the curse of war, until we are faced with the only prudent, if sorrowful, course — to send off, yet again, our warriors to fight the nation’s wars”.

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Well, another chance for Australians to lose their lives in an Asian war to suck up to the US. It’s good to include something for the Vietnam vets. The drums of war are beating because people are beating them. It is idiotic to have to say so, but apparently necessary.

For what purpose? The first would appear to be, as always, domestic politics. With a big-spending budget coming, the Morrison government is pivoting away from the right-wing brand of “responsible” budgeting and austerity to one of economic nationalism. To do that requires an enemy outside, and what better way to help us forget about debt and deficit than a threat from the Asian north?

Then there is the abruptness of the announcement by Pezzullo, a defence public service lifer, over at Home Affairs. Doubtless he has nothing but Australia’s best interests on his mind, but if you needed a strong leader as permanent head in times of war, well you’d want someone who called it…

This playing of unexpected tunes on the war drums goes deeper into the jungle than… I might jump off this metaphor now. We are having to once again play to the illusion that we would be some sort of force multiplier alongside US forces in the region, when our role would simply be to legitimise US aggression in someone’s domestic waters, as a global act against a rogue state.

Pezzullo’s sabre-rattling has coincided with Morrison’s announcement of the US Darwin base and its vital role in defending freedom, etc etc. This is hilarious. This must be the fifth or sixth time this base, miniscule in the scheme of things, has been “announced”, by four different governments. It’s like we’re marching the same soldiers through the city gates round and round to give an impression of power. Talk about force multiplier — we’re the potoroo that roared.

In all of this palaver almost none of the commentators here or in the rest of the foreign policy establishment have bothered to note the very basic fact that Taiwan is part of China. It’s as if it’s an inconvenient detail in moving the ships around the map. It may be loaded with US weapons and drawn tightly into an alliance with an imperial power, but so what? It’s as if the Chinese had de facto occupied Tasmania after premier Jim Bacon had declared independence and were now treating Bass Strait as international waters.

Taiwan may have once been a colony (Han Chinese began arriving in the 1600s as workforce for the Dutch) but it’s been part of China since 1662. If its small remaining indigenous population rebel, we’ll side with them. In the meantime it is clearly Chinese, and a political takeover by Chiang Kai-Shek in 1949 does not independence make.

That this has barely been mentioned in the mainstream coverage — which simply, uncritically, takes the “realist” point of view of the think tanks and front groups like the ASPI — shows the degree to which questions of China are still considered within an imperialist mindset.

To what degree is that steering our response? It’s always an easy get to think of these establishment figures as dim-witted and unreflective given other motives — such as Taiwan’s near-total control of complex microchip production, on which militaries and global companies rely. Trouble is, the establishment is dim-witted and unreflective, as the farcical stupidity around the Iraq war demonstrated.

China has always been going to retake Taiwan, and no doubt it will not be a happy event when it does. Drawing us into it as a loyal deputy is not about a real contribution, it’s about building a coalition for the war beyond that, which sorts out the world order going into the future and would surely be a nuclear affair (in which we would have a strong chance of being major collateral damage).

If nothing else it serves as a reminder of what Anzac Day is for — not to commemorate our ancestors in past death, but to enrol our children in the death to come.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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