While the government is busy telling workers to tighten their belts, they have announced plans to increase defence spending by more than 20 per cent. The reasons outlined for this enormous increase have been explained in the government’s Defence White Paper which was released in May.
The paper claims that China poses a significant strategic risk to Australia and that a military build up is required in order to head off a possible conflict. At the same time we have seen scandals surrounding the Defence Department and the replacement of Joel Fitzgibbon who was the Labor Minister for Defence.
Fitzgibbon was forced to resign after it was revealed he had failed to declare two paid trips to China as a guest of a Chinese-Australian businesswoman. The reality is that his removal was less about travel rorts and more about divisions within the Defence Department about how to deal with China. These divisions are a reflection of the debates taking place within the Australian ruling class.
Australian capitalism faces a serious strategic dilemma against the backdrop of the rise of China and the economic decline of the US. On the one hand China is becoming a threat to Australia’s economic influence in the region as they are building relations with countries like Fiji, East Timor and Papua New Guinea. Australian capitalism sees these countries as key markets.
On the other hand China is Australia’s fast growing trading partner. On the back of mining exports, China has been responsible for a significant amount of Australia’s recent economic growth. While one section of the ruling class is making mega profits from China, another section sees China as cutting across their ability to plunder the region.
For some time the Australian ruling class has aligned itself with US imperialism as the best way of exercising control in the Asia Pacific. In exchange for supporting US military adventures around the globe, Australia has been charged with the responsibility of being the ‘deputy sheriff’ of the region. With the rise of China this position is now somewhat under threat.
The Rudd Government sees the military build up as an important part of protecting the profits of the Australian ruling class. The problem is that many in the ruling class are concerned that they soon may be forced to decide between aligning with either China or the US. Aligning with one or the other would be a disaster for profits and with Australia being militarily dependent on the US and the economically dependent on China, a neutral stance is not an option.
As the economic crisis intensifies China and the US will be jostling for control of more markets and resources. Rivalries will increase and it is possible that skirmishes will take place in the region. The whole situation highlights the reactionary role of capitalism and the inability of the system to take society forward.
Workers and young people in Australia should oppose this military build up as it is only aimed at serving the needs of the big business elite. In a saner world the billions of dollars spent on military spending would be spent on improving people’s lives. Ordinary Australians need to look towards socialist solutions which promote co-operation and solidarity rather than conflict and super-exploitation in the region.