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Neighbourhood watch

Defence of the South Pacific must build on Christian values

30 April 2022

9:00 AM

30 April 2022

9:00 AM

Defence minister Peter Dutton marked Anzac Day by comparing China and Russia to Germany before the second world war. Normally, Godwin’s Law holds that anyone who mentions the Nazis loses the argument, but not this time.

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin are unabashed admirers of Nazi jurist and political theorist Carl Schmitt. Putin’s disdain for liberal democracy and the rule of law led one analyst to call him ‘Carl Schmitt in the Kremlin’. The enthusiasm of Xi, ardent Maoist and Marxist-Leninist, for Schmitt, lifelong fascist and enemy of communism, stems from Schmitt’s justification of dictatorship which Chinese Schmittians use to justify Xi’s hard-line crackdown on anyone who challenges him. Schmitt’s theory that the enemy of the state is an existential threat to its survival was fundamental to Nazi antisemitism and has found wide application in China under Xi.

The alliance between Russia and China has taken on ominous significance since China ended ‘one country, two systems’ in Hong Kong and Russia invaded Ukraine. For Xi to say in his video address to the annual Boao Forum last week, that ‘it is important that we … stay committed to respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries’ would be funny if it were not tragic. The only dictum either leader adheres to is that ‘might is right’.

In this grim setting, the revelation that the Solomon Islands has signed a security pact with China has sent shock waves across the Pacific reaching Washington. It’s a stark reminder that while the US has been drawn by Europe’s weakness into countering Russia’s blundering and bloody war in Ukraine, China is expanding the strategic threat it poses by stealth.

The deal between the Solomon’s Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare was leaked by his domestic critics because of the threat it poses to their democracy. Using Chinese money as a slush fund, Sogavare apparently plans to buy enough votes to postpone the next election scheduled for 2023, supposedly for a year, but perhaps forever. That would suit China since the opposition has said it would tear up the agreement. Sogavare no doubt wants Chinese armed forces to quell dissent as he imposes unpopular policies, particularly in the island of Malaita, whose provincial government remains loyal to Taiwan.

The pact with China is also alarming South Pacific nations. The president of the Federated States of Micronesia said Sogavare had an obligation to recognise that the agreement had profound consequences for the security of the people of the South Pacific and the world.

China has exploited Sogavare’s political vulnerability to secure the right to build a military base less than 1800 kms from Townsville. That’s the distance from Townsville to Sydney and a direct threat to Australia.

For Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Senator Penny Wong to blame the Morrison government is a paternalistic trope that denies Sogavare agency. To claim it wouldn’t have happened on Labor’s watch is absurd. Wong did nothing to dissuade Victorian premier Dan Andrews from signing up to China’s Belt and Road Initiative in October 2018. It was the federal government that cancelled the agreement a year ago while Labor’s deputy leader, Richard Marles, welcomed China’s increasing presence in the South Pacific in a book he published last August and said Australia could not and should not try to outspend China, even though Australia spends far more than China in the Solomon Islands and the South Pacific.

What Australia doesn’t do is provide slush funds to South Pacific politicians. It’s a practice of which the NSW Labor party has first-hand knowledge. It accepted $100,000 in cash in an Aldi bag from a Chinese billionaire property developer who presumably made the donation on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department.

Former Labor senator Sam Dastyari, friend and factional ally of Marles, had to resign from parliament after accepting Chinese money. Both Marles and Dastyari said Australia should be neutral about sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea even though 60 per cent of Australia’s trade travels through it and any limit to our freedom of navigation would have a significant impact on the Australian economy.

It is true that the Country Liberal government in the Northern Territory was unacceptably naive when it signed, in 2015, a 99-year lease to manage the port of Darwin with a company with links to the CCP and the People’s Liberation Army. At the time, Australia’s department of Defence and even its Navy approved the lease even though control of the port would give the Chinese the opportunity to surveil or attack the US and Australian navies that regularly access the port.

It is also true that former Liberal foreign minister Alexander Downer, who was for a time on the board of Huawei, was wrong when he argued that the company should be allowed to participate in the construction of Australia’s national broadband network. All that can be said, is that it has taken both sides of politics a long time to recognise the threat that China poses.

Former foreign minister Julie Bishop is a case in point. She is now so conscious of that threat that she joined Labor in criticising the government for sending its foreign minister rather than its Pacific minister to attempt to dissuade Sogavare. Yet in 2018, Ms Bishop wanted to sign an extradition treaty with China, something almost all Western nations have eschewed because of China’s travesty of a legal system in which the only guarantee is that the accused will be found guilty. Worse, it is legal in China to harvest the organs of executed prisoners and a report released this month by a researcher at ANU found that in it least 71 cases, a prisoner’s heart was removed for transplant while they were still alive, causing their death.

Herein lies the real answer to the threat posed by China’s pact with the Solomons. Pacific Islanders are profoundly Christian, in the mould of Israel Folau. They need to understand that China’s godless communists are guilty of crimes of which no Christian could approve. Australia must work with all the nations of the South Pacific to bring Sogavare, a devout Seventh Day Adventist, back into the fold and develop a common policy to prevent China’s incursions in the region until it ceases its barbarous abuse of its own people and the threat it poses to the civilised world.

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