Joe Hildebrand: Real genius of Australia’s submarine pact is nothing to do with boats

The message that other major Anglosphere countries will give brotherly support to Australia is the main point.  Considered as a whole, the Anglosphere is a substantial counterweight to China

Beijing is spitting chips about Australia’s US sub deal despite the first boat not being due for more than a decade. Their real anger is because of something else.

The biggest advantage of a nuclear submarine is that it never has to surface, which is also the biggest advantage of Australia’s nuclear submarine deal.

There has been much debate over the technical merits of the new nuclear subs we will get from the US and UK versus the diesel-powered subs we just ditched from the French. At least all our armchair epidemiologists have found a new area of expertise.

But the most critical characteristic of both the diesel and the nuclear subs is the one they have in common: Neither actually exists. Australia has no French submarines or American submarines — and it won’t be getting any of either for a very long time.

In fact, the seismic announcement that sent the French Ambassador storming out and the President sniffily screening his calls has almost nothing to do with submarines at all. Indeed, it is inconceivable that such explosive tantrums could be caused by an argument over aquatic metal.

Instead it is about something far more primal and real — and much more real than phantom U-boats.

Paul Keating knows it, which is why the former PM’s reaction was if anything even more visceral than that of the French. He may have landed on the wrong side of the argument but at least he knew what the argument was about.

The most precious commodities in the submarine swap aren’t underwater tin cans but the flags that stood behind Scott Morrison, Boris Johnson and Joe Biden as the three leaders announced the new deal.

For Australia it was a clear message to China that we might not be the biggest kid in the playground but we’ve got both Blighty and Biff at our back. For the UK and USA it was a clear message that they now have not just an eye on the region but a dog in the fight.

Many on the lunar green left have sought to paint it as a provocative action but this is merely a form of geopolitical victim blaming. After the shameless trade war that China has waged upon Australia, its ubiquitous cyber attacks on our institutions, its open belligerence towards Hong Kong and Taiwan and its literal raising of the seabed in the South China Sea to create military bases — not to mention innumerable mass-scale human rights abuses within its own mainland — one wonders what they would consider an appropriate strategic response.

There was a time in global affairs just a decade or two ago when China was rightly considered a rational and reasonable actor. Sadly its more recent actions prove that while it may well still be rational — its hyper-nationalist and expansionist agenda is nothing if not calculated — it is no longer reasonable. Reasonable countries don’t put 200 per cent tariffs on wine.

So what do we do? The truth is there is not much we can do. Obviously Australia will never be any match for China in a straight fight, be it a trade war, a cold war or — God forbid — a hot one.

Our only option is to remind the Chinese that, as Princess Leia said to Jabba the Hutt, we have powerful friends. Some might sneer that the USA is a declining superpower but it’s the only one we’ve got. And, as Crosby, Stills and Nash once sang, you’ve got to love the one you’re with.

It should also be noted that if the United States can withstand its last two presidents then perhaps reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated. If a nation can survive both Trump and Biden then surely that is a mark of infinite resilience.

It is thus both wholly and sadly unnecessary that this new — or rather renewed — alliance is causing such an identity crisis within the Australian Labor Party. Labor has always been a friend of America, to the point that it even uses the American spelling of its very name.

The great John Curtin made perhaps the most important decision in Australian history when he turned to the US to defend Australia from Japan after the fall of Singapore in World War II. It is then strange that the party has been infected by anti-American sentiment in all the decades since.

Of course in the 1990s Labor heralded the advent of the Asian century and it might have been right then. That doesn’t mean it is still right now.

Placating Indonesia while it oppressed East Timor was bad enough. Placating China while it oppresses Hong Kong and Taiwan is a whole new art of acquiescence. It certainly has no place in a party that calls itself progressive.

Anthony Albanese is right to support our reinforced position as a member of a Western liberal democratic alliance. As Opposition Leader he is obliged to ask questions and find fault but he needs to stand strong even as he is bombarded by the bonkers left.

Former PMs might carry on and cry but it’s only future PMs that count.

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