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Australian military analysts warn against a US-led war with China

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) published a two-part series on February 20-21 entitled “What would war with China look like for Australia?” It highlighted the growing fears in some ruling circles over the disastrous consequences of a US-led war with China amid the increasingly belligerent stance of Washington.

ABC News’ two-part series: “What would war with China look like for Australia?” [Photo: ABC News screen shot]

The article is based on interviews with, as the ABC described them, “four of Australia’s most experienced military strategists.” All hold “the highest security clearances that it’s possible to have” and “have been involved in sensitive military operations.”

The four are: Professor Hugh White, former deputy secretary for strategy and intelligence in the Department of Defence; Admiral Chris Barrie, defence force chief from 1998 to 2002; Allan Behm, former head of the International Policy and Strategy Divisions of the Defence Department; and Professor Clinton Fernandes, a former military intelligence officer.

None of them is in any sense anti-war or anti-imperialist. They represent a dissident faction of the ruling class deeply concerned about the economic and political implications for Australian imperialism of any involvement in a US-led war against its largest trading partner, China, with some advocating a more independent Australian foreign policy.

The fact that the state-owned national broadcaster has brought them together is striking confirmation that the time-line for US conflict with China is growing ever shorter. Under Trump and now Biden, the US has deliberately inflamed the most dangerous flashpoint in Asia—Taiwan—calling into question in ever-more open fashion the One China policy that has underpinned US-China relations since 1979. 

As the ABC explained, the analysts interviewed are all “watching with great interest as the drums of war beat in some quarters regarding a possible war with China.” US war planning is far more advanced than that statement would suggest—as the four would know. In a leaked internal memo earlier this month, US four-star Air Force General Michael Minahan said he had a gut feeling the US would be at war with China over Taiwan in 2025. His memo, the first of many, ordered his commanders to make detailed preparations.

The ABC pointed out: “Australians could wake up one morning to the news that we are at war with China. Confronting as that would be, perhaps more confronting is something many people do not realise: such a decision would not require any consultation in parliament. The decision to go to war would not require a public discussion. It would not require the assent of the Governor General and is entirely in the hands of the prime minister of the day.”

Admiral Barrie made the starkest of warnings about a conflict with China. “The consequences for us would be very serious in terms of the Australian economy, the impact on the Australian people and the ravages to our way of life throughout the land,” he told the ABC.

Unlike the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Barrie continued, that affected only the members deployed into the conflict and their families, a war with China would have an impact on all Australians. “Economically, financially and personally it is likely to impoverish us all; it may even kill most of us if it goes nuclear,” he said.

Hugh White pointed that a conflict with China would be devastating for Australia whether it joined or not. “Our economy would be paralysed as all trade with China and other major East Asian partners would stop dead and may not resume for a long time. If we joined the fight, or allowed US forces involved to operate from bases here, then there would be a clear chance that Australia would face direct attack from Chinese long-range forces.”