We need a policy of neutrality to help stop war on China

January 30, 2024
Rallying in Gadi/Sydney against AUKUS. Photo: Sydney Anti-AUKUS Coalition/Facebook

The AUKUS security treaty with the United States and Britain and the US-Australia Force Posture Agreement (FPA) mean that Australia’s “defence” policy is closely integrated with the biggest military power in the world.

It means that Australia will automatically be involved in US-instigated wars, such as with China, our major trading partner — unless the policy is changed.

An independent foreign policy would involve a policy of neutrality; it would mean Australia could pursue peaceful and mutually beneficial relations with all countries.

While recent polls show that neutrality has considerable support, the peace movement has not seized on this to build a more active and mass-based anti-war movement.

The peace movement has long campaigned against successive Australian governments’ slavish adherence to US foreign policy and the integration of the Australian Defence Forces with the US. The FPA and AUKUS mean that Australian foreign policy, arguably, is made in Washington, not Canberra. It also means that involvement in US-led wars is all but inevitable.

The conservative Lowy Institute conducted polls over 2022–23 to determine attitudes to a possible war against China. It asked: “In the event of a war between the United States and China should Australia support China, support the United States or remain neutral?”

Last year, the answer was 57% overall in favour of neutrality, with 67% of young people and 73% of women in favour of neutrality. These figures showed a rise on those of the previous year.

Essential Research asked a similar question last November and found 67% in favour of neutrality.

These figures show the potential for a deepening understanding of how Australia’s involvement in a US war on China would be disastrous for this country, our region and the world.

In any such war, trade with China would cease, shipping and trade more generally would be disrupted and many people would suffer from shortages of everyday items, job losses and a general economic crisis.

A full-scale war against China would deploy US installations, such as Pine Gap, the North-West Cape submarine communication base and the B52 bomber base at RAAF Tindal. This means they would be subject to retaliatory missile strikes, even if Australian forces were not directly involved. The ultimate horror of nuclear war would be an ever-present possibility.

A policy of neutrality is not dishonourable or cowardly; it is a courageous position and one that is recognised by the United Nations. It is understood that a neutral country will defend its neutrality and independence if attacked, but will not support belligerents engaged in wars elsewhere.

A neutral country does not allow foreign military bases or foreign military activities to be undertaken on its soil. Switzerland is perhaps the best-known of example of a neutral country. It spends far less of its gross domestic product on defence, than Australia does. Neutrality does not have to be a universal policy and can be applied to particular situations.

As the US beats the war drums against China over Taiwan, Australia urgently needs to embrace neutrality, whether or not that position becomes, or should become, a universal position in relation to all wars.

The peace movement needs to focus on mobilising large numbers to challenge the leadership of both major parties to rethink their current preparation for war.

[Bevan Ramsden is a former member of the coordinating committee of the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) and current editor of its monthly e-publication, Voice.]

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