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Alan Kohler: China fits the domestic political need for an enemy

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Irony of the week: The Australian government is helping to quell protests in the Solomon Islands over that country’s decision to switch diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing, while warning that China is getting ready to invade Taiwan and can bomb Australia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison even managed to discuss both matters in the same breath without linking them.

At the same time as Australian troops and federal police left for Honiara, Taiwan was brought to centre stage on Friday by Defence Minister Peter Dutton in a speech to the National Press Club.

Referring to China’s ambitions about Taiwan, he said: “Please don’t rely on your imagination.


“The Chinese government could not be any clearer; not always with their words, but certainly with their actions.”

And: “Both the Prime Minister and I have spoken about how the times in which we live have echoes of the 1930s. The world would be foolish to repeat the mistakes of the 1930s.”

The rhetoric of Defence Minister Peter Dutton is stirring Cold War sentiments.

He even pointed out that: “Every major city in Australia, including Hobart, is within range of China’s missiles,” an extraordinary Cold War-ish thing to say.

The fact that they’re tacitly supporting the Solomon Islands’ dumping of Taiwan for Beijing at the same time as saying that Beijing is preparing to invade Taiwan and might actually bomb Australia would mainly be just the usual refuge of a conservative party in electoral trouble.

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The tried-and-trusted method when backs are to the wall is to find an enemy and declare that only Mr Morrison can save us.

But it’s also an example of the difficult contradictions that China presents.

The disappearance of tennis champion Peng Shuai after she accused a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, Zhang Gaoli, of sexual assault, is another.

China remains an authoritarian patriarchy and disappearance is a tool of governance.

There is one woman on the 25-member Politburo – Sun Chunlan – and there are no women at all on a seven-member Standing Committee, the body that runs the country.

But Paul Keating is right when he said the stakes are too high to allow those things to solely or predominately determine the West’s relationship with China.

And while the communist party government is as unsavoury in many ways as that of East Germany before it collapsed in 1989, on the other hand Xi Jinping is bringing an interesting and progressive transformation to the country.

China Xi Jinping
President Xi Jinping.

Last week Xi secured a third term as president, something even Mao Zedong didn’t manage (Mao ceded the “State Presidency” to Liu Shaoqi in 1959) so Xi will be the first person since the People’s Republic was founded in 1949 to be president for more than 10 years.

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At the 6th Plenum of the 19th Communist Party of China (CPC) Congress earlier this month at which Xi was reappointed for another five years, the Party passed a resolution on “Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the CPC” which stated: “(we) cannot simply use GDP growth rate to assess performance”.

The economy should be “primarily innovation-driven, endogenously co-ordinated, green, open and sharing”.

The old mandate was to double GDP per capita every 10 years.

Government officials and party apparatchiks around the country competed to achieve this by spending borrowed money on infrastructure.

The wording for 2021-2025 is: “GDP growth of reasonable range in accordance with the situation of every year”.

Moving away from relying on GDP as the only measure of success is the dream of progressives everywhere.

More specifically, China’s days of focusing government policy on building things appear to be over.

But will China invade Taiwan and change everything?

Mr Dutton clearly thinks so, as does former prime minister Tony Abbott.

Paul Keating
Paul Keating says we must find our security in Asia, not from Asia.

Needless to say, war with our biggest customer would not be ideal; Paul Keating’s words at his own recent Press Club appearance, that we must find our security IN Asia, not FROM Asia, would haunt us.

Earlier this month the Pentagon published a report entitled Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China: A Report to Congress, which convincingly downplayed the prospect of China invading Taiwan.

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It said, among other things:

“Large-scale amphibious invasion is one of the most complicated and difficult military operations, requiring air and materiel superiority, the rapid buildup and sustainment of supplies onshore, and uninterrupted support.

“An attempt to invade Taiwan would likely strain [China’s] armed forces and invite international intervention. These stresses, combined with … the complexity of urban warfare and counterinsurgency … make an amphibious invasion of Taiwan a significant political military risk.”

At the moment, China isn’t even trying to build the things necessary for an invasion.

In other words, it’s not happening, at least according to the Pentagon.

But that doesn’t suit the domestic political need for an enemy.

Alan Kohler writes twice a week for The New Daily. He is also editor in chief of Eureka Report and finance presenter on ABC news

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