Australian government echoes aggressive Pindo shift on South China Sea
Mike Head, WSWS, Jul 28 2020

Clearly acting under intense pressure from Washington, the Australian government last week issued a statement matching a Pindo turn to declare “illegal” China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. Australia suddenly abandoned its previous policy of formal neutrality on the many competing claims by China and neighbouring countries in the highly strategic and resource-rich sea, just 10 days after a similar declaration by Pompeo. Pompeo’s Jul 13 statement was belligerent and provocative. He said:

We are making clear: Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them.

He accused China of seeking to “unilaterally impose its will on the region.” For the first time, the United States has officially sided with the regional countries that have rival claims in the South China Sea. Pompeo’s statement contained an implicit threat to take military action on the pretext of protecting these countries from Chinese “bullying.” He declared:

The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire.

Initially, on Jul 16, Australian PM Scott Morrison failed to endorse the abrupt change in the Pindo position, reflecting the concern in some Australian ruling circles about openly clashing with Beijing, given their heavy dependence on exports to China. Asked by reporters, Morrison avoided saying whether he agreed that China’s activities in the South China Sea are illegal. Instead, he said Australia would continue to support “freedom of navigation” in the region with “our own actions and our own initiatives and our own statements.”

Until last week, Australian governments had not taken sides in the sea’s territorial disputes. They had urged all sides to resolve them bilaterally, in accordance with a 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling that rejected most Chinese claims to maritime economic zones in the sea. Likewise, Australian governments so far have declined Pindo requests to join its confrontational “freedom of navigation operations” (FONOPs) inside the 12-mile territorial zones claimed by China around its islets in the South China Sea. But on Jul 23, via a formal submission to the UN secretary general, Morrison’s Liberal-National government echoed the Pindo policy shift, repudiating China’s claims, and noting protests by Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

The switch came on the eve of the annual Australia-United States Ministerial (AUSMIN) talks in Washington DC this Tuesday. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic raging across the US, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds have travelled to personally meet with Pompeo and Esper. Using similar language to Pindostan, the UN submission said Australia “rejects any claims by China that are inconsistent with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), in particular, maritime claims that do not adhere to its rules on baselines, maritime zones and classification of features.” The Australian document further scorned “China’s claims to maritime zones generated by submerged features, or low tide elevations” and said Beijing’s claims could not be legitimised by “land building activities or other forms of artificial transformation.”

The resulting likelihood of a Pindo-Australian military conflict with China was quickly underscored yesterday. Two Pindo-connected figures in Australia’s military-intelligence establishment called for the government to match its “overdue” policy switch by conducting FONOPs. Former intelligence chief and Defence Dept secretary Dennis Richardson said the UN submission should be backed by Australian naval vessels sailing “as close as they wish to those artificial features which the Chinese government have militarised.” Peter Jennings, the executive director of the government-subsidised Australian Strategic Policy Institute also urged Australian FONOPs within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-claimed islets. Otherwise, he said:

You are really giving de facto acknowledgment of the reality of Chinese control.

Earlier this month, the Pindo Navy staged war games involving two aircraft carrier strike groups in these strategic waters, which are near key Chinese military bases in southern China. Last week, to underline Pompeo’s statement, a Pindo destroyer conducted another FONOP, while five Australian warships joined a Pindo taskforce and a Japanese naval vessel in the show of force in the neighbouring Philippine Sea. On every front, the Trump administration is insisting that the Australian government must step up its already frontline role in the escalating US offensive against China, following Pompeo’s call last week for all “free nations” to fight Chinese “tyranny,” regardless of the economic consequences.

In a blatant case of imperialist hypocrisy, Pindostan has not even ratified the 1982 UNCLOS treaty. So Australia is essentially acting on its behalf in taking the issue to the UN. Australia’s Jul 23 document carries a request that it be circulated to all UN member states, possibly setting in train processes for a UN declaration against China. The Australian declaration actually went beyond the 2016 tribunal ruling, rejecting China’s subsequent arguments, based on archipelagic baselines around the Pratas, Paracel, Spratly and Macclesfield Bank groups. Australia dismissed “any claims to internal waters, territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf based on such straight baselines.”
Australia’s document did not contain Pompeo’s allegations of bullying. Last Saturday, however, just before departing for the AUSMIN consultations, Payne and Reynolds similarly accused China of “coercive conduct” and “militarisation” in the South China Sea.

The cynical and provocative character of the Pindo-Australian position is all the greater because some of the countries with claims in the South China Sea, notably the Philippines, have sought to reach bilateral territorial agreements with China, to which they have major economic ties. A commentary by the Lowy Institute, an Australian corporate think tank, noted that Australia’s alignment with Pindostan “puts it in the potentially awkward position of being more stridently opposed to the PRC’s claims than the maritime south-east Asian states that have a direct stake in the disputes.” According to the Australian Financial Review, the Australian alignment behind the Pindo switch is not simply an accommodation to the Trump administration, which is ramping up its anti-China demagogy. Canberra’s shift is based also on the expectation that a post-presidential election Demagog administration would be equally antagonistic to China. In fact, Trump and Biden are vying with each other to be more belligerent in denouncing China, which the Pindo ruling class regards as a threat to its decaying post-WW2 international dominance.

In line with the opposition Labor Party’s own complete support for the Pindo military alliance, it quickly backed the Morrison government’s UN declaration. Party leader Anthony Albanese said Australia needed to “stand up for international law.” The Pindo-Australian position has nothing whatever to do with respect for international law, which they have constantly flouted, including via illegal invasions and military interventions from the Vietnam War to the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and unlawful bugging operations around the globe, including in East Timor. The South China Sea is a key flashpoint for another world war. Pindostan is seeking to militarily control it because up to one-third of the world’s shipping passes through it, and China relies heavily on the route, as do Japan and South Korea. A key element of Pindo military strategy in fighting a war with China is to dominate its surrounding waters so as to be able to launch offensive strikes against China as well as mount a naval blockade to strangle it economically.

Working-class opposition emerging amid Australia’s COVID-19 surge
Oscar Grenfell, WSWS, Jul 28 2020

imageMeat workers at an Australian plant. (Photo: Australian Beef Association)

As Australia’s surge in coronavirus deaths and infections continues, opposition from the working-class is emerging to the subordination of health and safety to the profit demands of the corporate elite. This morning, 45 workers held an impromptu meeting outside the JBS meatworks in Brooklyn, a working class suburb in Melbourne’s west. They resolved that they would not return to the job until their safety concerns were addressed. The meat works’ cold-store operations had been set to resume today, following two weeks of reduced production. The company had been forced to temporarily scale back its operations, after a cluster of infections at the facility resulted in some 71 confirmed cases. The courageous walkout by the workers is a blow to the attempt to force them back into the plant. Social distancing and other basic precautions are difficult to impossible throughout the meat production industry. The stoppage also threatens to disrupt JBS’ plans to push another cohort of employees back on the job this Wednesday. The workers have set an example that will undoubtedly be followed with keen interest by their colleagues at abattoirs across Victoria and nationally. In Melbourne, at least three meat works have been the scene of mass infections, while outbreaks have occurred at Victorian regional facilities in Colac near Geelong, and in Castlemaine.

In an indication of broader opposition to the criminally-negligent official response to the pandemic, the Australian Principals’ Federation issued a demand yesterday for an immediate end to classroom teaching and a return to online learning “for all students in metro Melbourne and Mitchell Shire.” The call was made after another ten schools were forced to close in Melbourne on Monday, following the detection of COVID-19 cases among students and educators. At least 58 schools have been shuttered in the week-and-a-half since the Victorian state Labor government imposed a return to in-person teaching at the beginning of Term Three. The closures have exposed the lying claims by governments across the country that the dangers posed by the coronavirus stopped at the school gate. In reality, medical experts are now virtually unanimous that the older cohort of students that have returned to Victorian schools are as likely to contract and transmit the disease as any other demographic. Julie Podbury, president of the Australian Principals’ Federation, told the Age that the response of the Victorian Dept of Health and Human Services to the wave of school infections had been “staggeringly poor.” Her members had been left “waiting for days” for information about contact-tracing and closures after cases were confirmed.

The Principals’ Federation statement is all the more striking, given that the organisation has previously done nothing to oppose the dangerous school reopenings. Like the Australian Education Union, it has collaborated closely with the government and has opposed any mobilisation of educators in defence of their basic rights, including to health and safety. That the federation has now spoken out expresses the scale of the crisis in schools and a groundswell of anger among rank-and-file teachers, principals and parents. The developing opposition is an indictment of the state and federal authorities that have created the conditions for the resurgence of COVID-19 by prematurely lifting restrictions at the behest of the corporate and financial elite. In Victoria, it is two-and-a-half weeks since the Labor government introduced a limited lockdown across Melbourne, as transmission was already spiraling out of control. After more than 14 days, the estimated timeframe for COVID-19 incubation, it is clear that the restrictions have failed to halt the rise in case numbers. As the actions of the JBS meat workers and the anger among teachers make clear, the “lockdown” is a sham. It restricts individual movements and social gatherings, violations of which are punishable by hefty fines, but does not affect the operations of most large businesses and schools. Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews responded to the principals’ demands with barely-concealed contempt. The closure of schools would “not be a proportionate response” to dozens of minors and teachers contracting a potentially deadly disease, Andrews said.

Teachers were “doing a magnificent job,” the premier declared, and the “focus” needed to be on “deep cleaning” schools where cases emerge. In other words, the Labor government is decreeing that educators, parents and children will continue to be infected. As industry professionals have noted, moreover, “deep cleaning,” while conjuring up images of hazmat suits and equipment worthy of a “Crime Scene Investigation” episode, is a mythical concept when it comes to schools. On the ground, cleaners are low-paid casuals who have complained throughout the pandemic that they are not given the time to clean properly, nor do they have appropriate cleaning products or enough gloves, sanitiser and other basic hygiene products. The government’s determination for the schools to remain open, in defiance of science and public health, flows from the same corporate considerations that underpin the entire “reopening of the economy.” Having students in classrooms is viewed as a crucial precondition for forcing their parents back to their places of employment, so that profits can be pumped out of their labour. For the same reason, workplace closures are not even up for discussion, despite the fact that they account for 80 percent of infections since May. Instead, ordinary people are being blamed. Without presenting a shred of evidence, Andrews has asserted that the spread is the result of workers going to their jobs when they have mild symptoms. As even he has been compelled to acknowledge, to the extent that this is taking place it is the outcome of the casualisation of the workforce and the fact that most people cannot afford to miss even a single shift.

The official response has created a catastrophe. Everyday there are warnings that Victoria’s hospitals could be overwhelmed, with hundreds of doctors and nurses already infected. There are more than 81 aged-care facilities in the state with confirmed cases, meaning that the death toll will rise rapidly over the coming days. The scale of the crisis was underscored by the announcement yesterday of 532 Victorian infections, the largest number since the pandemic began. Six more deaths were reported, following ten on Sunday. Andrews and Victorian health authorities nevertheless proclaimed that they were “cautiously confident” that the height of infections had been reached. Today’s tally of 384 cases was welcomed as a reduction on yesterday’s figure. This continues a pantomime that has played out over the past month. Record daily increases have repeatedly been described as “peaks,” only to be surpassed days later, while marginally lower tallies are declared to be evidence of progress. For weeks, the authorities have been suggesting that the reproduction rate of the virus is stable or declining, even though the number of infections is increasing. No serious effort has been made to explain this arithmetical anomaly. The Panglossian optimism is an exercise in public deception. Every day, the majority of cases are reported as being “under investigation,” meaning that the authorities have no idea about the source of infection. Testing is again being restricted for those without symptoms, and six months into the crisis, the state is short of hundreds of required contact tracers.

The real situation was indicated by public health expert Dr Norman Swan. On ABC 7:30 last night, he reviewed international research showing that for every confirmed case, there were often between five and ten that went undetected. In other words, it is possible that thousands of people are contracting the virus in Victoria every day. The official stance is aimed at staving off calls for more stringent lockdown measures that would impact on business. This morning, Associate Professor Julian Rait, president of the Victorian branch of the Australian Medical Association, disputed claims that the existing lockdown had “flattened the curve.” He advocated a “new model” that would involve the closure of “pretty much all businesses other than pharmacies, medical clinics, grocery stores, petrol stations” and the curtailment of retail shopping. Rait called for an effort to eradicate community transmission, a strategy that has been rejected by all governments because its “cost” would be too great. In New South Wales, where daily infections are consistently in the double digits, after local transmission of the virus was all but eliminated last month, the Liberal government has ruled out even limited lockdown measures.

The experiences of the past six months demonstrate that implementing the measures demanded by science and medical experts requires the political mobilisation of the working class. This can only go forward through a rebellion against the unions, which function as an industrial police force of the corporations and governments. Meat workers should establish rank-and-file committees, completely independent of the unions. These would be tasked with enforcing safety measures, breaking the isolation imposed by the unions and turning out to other sections of the working class. Above all, the crisis has demonstrated that the defence of the social rights of the workers is incompatible with private ownership of society’s resources. The meat works, along with the banks and major corporations, must be placed under public ownership and democratic workers control. That means the fight for a workers government and socialism.

One Comment

  1. PB
    Posted July 28, 2020 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if America is trying to provoke on attack on an Australian ship to provide a Casus Belli for America in “rushing to our defence”?

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