AUKUS, the new military alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, represents a deliberate and dangerous escalation of the US-led confrontation with China.
Socialist Alliance is committed to building the broadest possible campaign to break this new imperialist war alliance, along with ANZUS and other military agreements with the US, and removing all US military bases from Australian soil.
AUKUS further implicates Australia in the US push to “contain” China.
The US policy is not just based on encircling China militarily; it is driven by a determination to block or slow China’s economic development.
Western and other multinational corporations have been happy enough to subcontract much of their lower-value manufacturing to China, particularly the dirty and polluting activity.
Indeed, this was critical to capitalism overcoming its stagflation crisis in the late 1970s through the relentless “cost-cutting” drive of the capitalist neoliberal offensive. This rapidly accelerated China’s capitalist development.
But now, the imperialist powers do not want China to be a competitor in the extremely high-value high tech areas of the global economy.
While still not having an economy anywhere near as developed or technology intensive as rich countries, China now ranks alongside more industrialised developing countries such as Turkey, Mexico and Brazil — but with greater scale.
It is this scale that will lead to China’s gross domestic product (GDP) soon becoming the biggest in the world. However, China’s per capita GDP is only a fifth of Australia’s.
Furthermore, the Chinese leadership is consciously seeking to develop areas where the country might be able to match, or even overtake, the imperialist powers.
US President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump made it clear they intend to block China’s development. Through AUKUS, Australia is signalling its full support for this aggressive posture.
AUKUS is a further development of the “pivot to Asia” that began under former US President Barack Obama. This allowed for the stationing of US marines in Darwin, opening of Australia’s naval and air force facilities to the US and provocative joint naval actions in the South China Sea.
Australia signed an agreement with the US in November last year to develop and test long-range hypersonic cruise missiles. Federal defence minister Peter Dutton announced in March that this could include Australia acquiring intermediate-range missiles that could hit China.
It is no surprise that China wants to break out of this encirclement.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to cancel the submarine deal with France also affirms Australia’s alignment within the hardening divisions between the main imperialist power blocs.
Australia already had a privileged relationship with the other Anglo-imperialist powers, expressed by its Five Eyes intelligence-sharing partnership and enthusiastic participation alongside them in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
It is a mistake to reduce this tight military relationship to its historic, cultural or linguistic features. That argument is a direct play to entrenched racism, a direct consequence of Australia’s history as a European colonial settler state in the Asia-Pacific.
Australia began as a British colonial settler outpost, and much of the initial capital investment came from Britain. But that has long shifted as Humphrey McQueen detailed in his book New Britannia, first published in 1970.
One of the strong arguments McQueen made, echoed in David Brophy’s China Panic, is that from the 19th century, the Australian ruling class has not been forced to go along with imperial militarism, rather it has been among its most enthusiastic supporters.
There is a material basis for this in the high interpenetration of foreign direct investment between Australia, the US, Britain and, to a lesser degree, other imperial powers.
This capitalist material interest cloaks itself in a political sales pitch that builds on racialised fear and panic about the yellow and brown “hordes” that live in our region.
Consequently, while the immediate economic and long-term strategic interests of the ruling class in these three countries are not identical today, they strongly overlap.
Desperate for a Brexit dividend, the British Conservative government has also doubled down on this relationship.
In this context, AUKUS also confirms the second-tier status of European powers from the point of view of the US, for whom they are both allies and competitors.
With the Australian government keen to waste more than $100 billion of taxpayers’ money on nuclear-powered submarines in a confrontation with China, it is no surprise that the US worked hard to ensure that money would get pumped into its own industrial-military complex rather than the French one.
A consequence of this new war drive is that Australia may not secure a free trade agreement with the European Union. It may well lose more markets in China too.
The way Morrison has rushed down the path of aggravating both China and Europe, and throwing all its eggs in the US basket, has even provoked criticism from former prime ministers Paul Keating and Malcolm Turnbull, who favour a more cautious approach. They reflect some understandable nervousness in sections of the Australian capitalist class.
But our criticism of AUKUS is much more fundamental.
Australia’s foreign and military policy is not a force for good in the world. It never was.
Australia is one of a small clutch of imperialist powers that extracts vast wealth from the 85% of the global population who live in the less developed countries. The same imperialist countries also have the greatest historical responsibility for the climate emergency.
This unequal world order is maintained through violence. Any less developed country that tries to break free and chart its own course is met with crushing sanctions, interference and, eventually, war, regardless of its government’s political character,.
It is an unequal world order that underpins racism.
Morrison says that AUKUS is motivated by “shared values”. He is right.
They are the shared values that underpinned the racist and violent dispossession of the First Nations peoples. They are the shared values that sent many young Australians to kill and die for imperialism all around the world — Gallipoli, Korea, Malaya and Vietnam.
They are the shared values that underpinned Australia’s participation in the illegal and immoral invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, which were wars of terror that laid waste to both countries and created the basis for the emergence of terrorism.
Climate change is the major threat to human civilisation. We simply cannot afford to waste billions of dollars on war machines to prop up a violent world order and fuel a cold war with China. It is neither morally nor materially sustainable.
[Peter Boyle is a member of the Socialist Alliance national executive. This article is based on a presentation to Ecosocialism 2021.]