Thursday, June 13, 2019

Tiananmen in Context

As published in John Menadue's blog on 12 June 2019. Photos and videos added here.
There has been feverish interest in the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen incident, in Australia with some focus on repression in China, fuelling antagonism towards China. In this essay I want to provide context that is lacking: in the evolution of economic reform and liberalism in China, in the evolution of Sino-Soviet relations and regional strategy and China’s united front with the US (and Australia) against Vietnam and the Soviet Union.
On the morning of Sunday 4 June 1989 I was woken early in Canberra by a request from the Sydney Morning Herald to write their editorial page background article on why this event was happening right then in Beijing, focused in Tiananmen Square. So I did, for the 5 June issue, setting out background of the enormous transformation under way in China, indebted for perspective to a comment made to me some days earlier by a middle level Chinese official, a friend from Beijing, trailing behind a senior visitor, buttonholing me to press upon me not to be complacent as in his view (which in the SMH I adopted as my own view) the leadership in Beijing did not have the capacity to comprehend or manage the situation.
On 5 June, in my Parliament House office as head of the research service, I received a call from Stephen FitzGerald, first Australian ambassador to the Peoples Republic of China, to discuss holding a memorial service. I said it must be in Parliament House and presided over by the Prime Minister and that it would be best if the approach came from him, not from me working in the building. And so we found ourselves seated behind Prime Minister Hawke at that extraordinary memorial event.
I offer that personal story to affirm my deep awareness of it all, on the day. But nothing happens just in a day, ever.
Hu Yaobang, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party
and Bob Hawke, Australian Prime Minister
in Western Australia, 1985, at the Channar site,
where China's first overseas resources joint venture would be.
Source, The Age.
The upwelling of protest and demand for freedom in Beijing in the months leading to 4 June followed the death of Hu Yaobang, purged by Deng Xiaoping in 1987 from his post as General Secretary of the Communist Party because of his projects to advance political and creative liberalism. Hu Yaobang visited Australia in 1985, accompanied by the head of the party secretariat Hu Qili. It was my great privilege to spend quite a lot of time with the two Hus before during and after that visit.
Years before, the two Hus became known to some senior party members in Beijing as the erhu literally meaning ‘two hus’ but also the name of that two-stringed traditional Chinese instrument that can dominate any concert performance.
Before the crackdown, there was a meeting of heavyweight leaders on 25 May.
Hu Qili attended that meeting and was alone or only one of two to vote against martial law, He was pushed into obscure work. Zhao Ziyang, who like Hu had made his first western country visit as Premier to Australia in 1983, had succeeded Hu as general secretary. Zhao had met with the protestors and pleaded for patience; he did not attend the 25 May meeting. He spent the rest of his days under house arrest. His memoirs Prisoner of the State are important reading for understanding the times. See also the Wikipedia entries for these three leaders to get a sense of the scale of history and struggle.

This from YouTube is Zhao Ziyang at 4.51am on 19 May, 
in Tiananmen Square, surrounded by and addressing students.

A Chinese vice minister said to me one night in 1984 as we endured a cultural performance together in Beijing that despite the battering days of the Cultural Revolution the very worst time was not then but after the death of Premier Zhou Enlai in January 1976, when leadership was uncertain and at risk of falling into the hands of the so called Gang of Four, drivers of the Cultural Revolution. We had come out of hell, he said, just for a few years…and here in front of us was very real prospect of falling back into it again. When Mao died in September 1976, the Gang of four were arrested and later tried.
Zhou had held the country together during and despite the Cultural Revolution. The death of this beloved leader, China’s ‘first son’, had been followed by an upsurge of popular feeling, quickly suppressed. A precursor to events in 1989.
Deng Xiaoping
Source Britannica
It was Deng Xiaoping who, secured from prison after the death of Mao, led the often-ruthless push for reform that followed and continues. I had in an annex to a 1980 cabinet submission that shaped the modern relationship with China expressed the view that Deng was the second most divisive figure in modern Chinese history, after Mao.
My time as ambassador in Beijing was cut short by illness not to be diagnosed properly for decades. Lots of visitors got sick in China in those days. On my last day in Beijing, August 1985, I had lunch with Hu Qili. Sitting beside him among a few others I said it seemed that he was making progress with organising his special party conference that I knew was to deal with difficult issues. In his impeccable English and with his wry humour he asked: “why would you think that?” Lamely, I said I thought I had read something in the paper, whereupon he said with a grin, for all the table to hear: “Oh well, I suppose you could say I’m making as much progress as would be possible under the leadership of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.”
Source, China Today
Emboldened, I ventured to compare him with Gorbachev, with this observation: “A year ago with the USSR stuck and China proceeding with reform, the question for any ambassador here was what would Sino-Soviet relations be like in ten years. But now China has its young leader and the Soviet Union also has its young leader and new questions arise as both pursue reform policies.” I had expected a gentle push-off at my comparison but no, he said this. “Your question is important. It is very important for the world that Gorbachev succeed. But I am concerned that whereas I have support from senior leaders, I am not sure whether Gorbachev has such support”.
Not quite as events would unfold.
That gives you a sense of the times. We were one evening Hu Yaobang’s guests at dinner in Mao’s sumptuous former rooms, a thank you for hospitality in Australia. The Hus were endeavouring to process and work out what to do, in the wake of an unprecedented outburst of English-style soccer hooliganism at the Beijing stadium the night before. Their only thoughts were in the direction of trying to understand and manage, none of the style of the Australian state premier riding with President Johnson in motorcade in Sydney, confronted by demonstrators, allegedly shouted “run over the bastards!” in 1966. Every day and evening in Beijing, dealing with senior people discussing very complex issues positively; to wake in the morning to the Radio Australia news which I described as mostly bottom-pimple comparing, feuding and unconstructive.
Gorbachev and Deng, Beijing May 1989
Source, Foreign Policy
Gorbachev had launched two programs, glasnost meaning political and cultural liberalism and perestroika, economic reform. Deng was in charge of economic reform in China, as supreme leader above party and state structures, with Zhao as premier, he who pioneered the ‘responsibility system’ in agriculture in Sichuan in 1978, a shift from every brick, chook and egg belonging to the state and the peasant world of 900 million eating from the iron rice bowl, to a system where the farmer met a quota for the state and everything else he produced was private property. Hu Yaobang as party general secretary sought to command a program of liberalisation, or as the Hus were to style it in 1986, sankuan, the party’s three [san] principles for ideological-cultural affairs, development of “generosity, tolerance and relaxation.” [see an explanation of how this evolved in a document I have pasted here:
As Hu had experienced in 1984 at a conference of writers and artists, and as Zhao Ziyang was to experience at Tiananmen, the lively response from the proponents of liberty to this sankuan was a chorus of don’t be absurd, you are not speaking of liberty, you are speaking of lengthening our chains. You have no right to define and limit liberty. As encountered in other societies, idealists grasping defeat from the jaws of victory by fervent adherence to rigid principle. On the other side of the situation, in 1986 as in 1989, dinosaurs in the party did not want to be disadvantaged by any favours to the liberal crowd and brought their venerable and disgruntled case against Hu to Deng, who removed Hu from office in 1987.
In the land of the hardnosed, especially in Washington, Hu was just Deng’s puppet anyway and Deng was the one to open the economy and deliver business opportunity. This perspective, while commonplace in uglier dynamics of international relations ignored the real volatilities in China, the rising urban ambitions as the economy rose but rose more slowly than in the countryside. Historical family aspiration for the “two things that go round and the one that stands up” (sewing machine, bicycle, transistor radio) were no longer enough. From around 1984, children had been swung higher, walking with parents. The sea of uniform blue and green Mao jackets were modified by coloured socks. Couples cuddled on the Bund, by the river in Shanghai, in the evening. Young people asked to practice English they had learned on the radio. The China Daily, first English language paper, whose editors had trained and whose first dummy issue had been printed at The Age in Melbourne, with scepticism printed material to support Radio Australia language programs; sold instantly. Radio Australia conducted calligraphy contests, one for China, one for Japan. 200 entries arrived in Melbourne from Japan. Ten thousand from China, posted airmail. An artist in residence at the ACTU knew that modern art would unfold much more vigorously in China than Japan. He dreamed of murals on the Beijing subway, but we never got to that. A society coming alive. I said to a senior person, a friend that I would believe China safe, the people unbruised, when the apples in the Friendship Store were not bruised, which they always seemed to be. Care, respect, safety, society, culture, warmth, confidence.

Deng had form as ruthless with force against party ructions in the mid-1970s. In 1978-79 he first encouraging the Democracy Wall movement to achieve leverage among his party opponents: to get to Washington, get relations with the US normalised (the US embassy from Taipei to Beijing), get a united front with the US (and Australia) against Vietnam and the USSR… then to smash the Democracy Wall movement and launch a small invasion of Vietnam.

In early 1989, Deng and others in the leadership were confronted by unmanageable pressures created by the frustration of social demand, gagged with the purge of Hu Yaobang—old leaders, with their fibres and fears shaped by other great upheavals, times of war and destruction, including the struggle with the Gang of Four mentioned above.
Deng had been working to normalise relations with Moscow but that was now running in difficult directions. They were aghast at what Gorbachev had done. Gorbachev was coming to Beijing in mid-May 1989. Gorbachev, whose country was obviously about to fall apart. Gorbachev: whose empire in Eastern Europe was about to evaporate. Gorbachev: who was about to lose his job. Gorbachev who thus represented everything that China historically and now fears most, disintegration of a giant and diverse nation… and everything dinosaur party leaders fear: disemployment, disentitlement and retribution.
But above all else, the states of affairs in other big places (the US, USSR, India, Japan, etc.) provided no leads, no pointers; no models for running a giant country through dramatic change. China was on its own and at grave risk.
Gorbachev could not be given the normal welcoming ceremony in Tiananmen Square, occupied by demonstrators. But he did go out to meet the demonstrators. Then he went home, to lose job and country in half a year. Then three US warships made a friendly visit to Shanghai and departed. Then the bunch of most powerful in the party met on 25 May, declared martial law and set in train what was to happen on 4 June.
Our Cabinet-approved policy framework for relations with China from 1980, when China’s reforms had begun, was to assist China to build institutions to establish civil society and responsible government. Lots of practical things were done. But…it is in the nature of Australian political leaders that they do not like difficult issues on the table in discussions with the mighty. The elephant in the room was that warm public opinion in Australia would, as relations became more complex, depend upon people-to-people relations and evaluations and especially how Australians saw the rights of people in China. My suggestions that this be gently flagged were not entertained.
At that time Australians were per capita the most numerous visitors to China. There was warmth of substance.
Our desire was to build a relationship valued by whatever prospective government in China. But then, just as Chinese leaders could not cope with the 1989 rebellion, so we could not, government-to-government, cope with the aftermath. Except that when Howard became prime minister all the broad scope of relations launched by Fraser in 1980 disappeared from view in preoccupation with the money, the waterfall of income from resources sales to China, thrown largely into tax breaks whereas it could have modernised infrastructure. From which time the absurd mantra: we have a great ally over there, a great trading partner over here. How inadequate and disrespectful.
In the absence of Australian leaders building wider understanding of China and the importance of our relationship with China, and in the absence of leaders articulating an independent Australian view of the world, we arrive now at a point where public opinion seems driven by ancient hostilities and shallow current affairs reports.
Before appointment as Australia’s ambassador to China in 1984, Dennis Argall was from 1970 variously, among other jobs, China desk officer, head of the China and Korea Section, head of the North Asia Branch and acting head of the North and South Asia Division of Foreign Affairs.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Political thought in China

Right in the middle of this astonishing book this entry, at pages 366-7.

In taking the liberty of reproducing this entry I hope some readers will be encouraged to buy the book.

I am currently writing an essay in which describing the events here as the most important pivot point in the history of the Peoples Republic of China. This blog entry thus a footnote.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Thinking through the choppy issues in trade and strategic threat.

As published today in John Menadue's blog.

The public discussion of trade war and security issues is too simplistic. Trump’s bilateral adventures in liking and bullying will mean discussion of structural changes in regional affairs to which Australia will not be party. Trump is not a passing phenomenon. We cannot say as some are saying “our alliance is with the US, not Trump”.
I am sitting at a computer attached to the internet via two things. A modem of ordinary quality, provided by my ISP, a Chinese brand, with 5G connectivity to the computer. Beyond the modem is the National Broadband Network, large parts of which are made in China. I suspect that those Chinese bits are not the elements of the NBN that fail us often here. I can’t see the strategic case against Huawei without mention of such inconvenient details.
I read the tabloid-stirring news of the US-China trade war. The Deal Artist, among changes and shocks in terms on offer, seeks to hit China by killing the world’s leading communications technology company, Huawei. Equally involved is Apple, whose products dreamt up in California are manufactured in China. There are other companies in similar situation, with Google now forced to cut off use of its software use in Chinese products.
But it’s not a simple bilateral matter.
According to a report released last year by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) titled, “A New Smartphone for Every Fifth Person on Earth: Quantifying the New Tech Cycle,” which analyzed the global smartphone supply chain, “the supply chain has evolved over the last few years and become more complex,” consisting of “large shipments [of intermediate goods] from several Asian countries to China, where final manufacturing and assembly of most smartphones takes place. [. . .] The main contributors to this complex supply chain were Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan Province of China.”
This network of mutual reliance is a major element in the rise of East Asia. With the movement of components goes language. Businesses communicate with each other. Governments nod and bind together. The ways to deal with the simple-minded US bash of China will be discussed and resolved by very smart people in this region. What languages they use, what they resolve to do, will reshape the world. Australia is not part of that evolving world.
On this ranking of international competitiveness
Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Taiwan, China, rank ahead of Australia. We delude ourselves in sense of superiority.
President Trump has been in Japan recently and, cloaked slightly in macho entertainments, has given Prime Minister Abe a roughing up. Gavan McCormack has written recently about the curious instabilities in Japan, and Abe’s circumstance.
In my view Abe’s obsequious approach to the US reflects his awareness that Japan’s economy has not recovered from its last trade war with the United States in the 1980s. The next trade war with the US will likely take down Abe and more. Trump gracelessly disagrees with Abe on North Korea as they stand together and patronisingly says he will talk to Kim Jong-un about allowing an Abe-Kim meeting. He gives this Prime Minister his approval to talk to Iran, a task, in representing the US, likely to be as successful as Menzies’ excited desire to talk to Egyptian President Nasser and tell him not to take the Suez Canal in 1956. Though Japan has been assiduous in its pursuit of good relations with the oil producers since the 1973 oil shock, that represents how Japan could be wedged away from the US, not an asset in speaking somehow for the US.
To fend off the next US economic shocks for Japan for a bit, Abe ordered another 105 F35 aircraft. An aircraft of which Wikipedia at today’s date says:
As the largest and most expensive military program ever, the F-35 became the subject of much scrutiny and criticism in the U.S. and in other countries. In 2013 and 2014, critics argued that the plane was “plagued with design flaws”, with many blaming the procurement process in which Lockheed was allowed “to design, test, and produce the F-35 all at the same time,” instead of identifying and fixing “defects before firing up its production line”.By 2014, the program was “$163 billion over budget [and] seven years behind schedule.” Critics also contend that the program’s high sunk costs and political momentum make it “too big to kill”.
Aircraft of this type are enthusiastically sought by air forces because others might have similar and because of the general enthusiasms that infect air forces. Of course a Japanese purchase like this needs to be seen in the context of Japan’s large foreign reserves and negligible cost of money in Japan.
Big tech items, military and civil, are central to the approach of the US to stem the tide of declining competitiveness. The Boeing 737MAX built in haste with accountant imperatives
has (yet to be measured) negative consequences for the US, political and financial. There are 96 MAX aircraft grounded in China and Chinese airlines will seek compensation for this loss. As will others.
We have recently been witness to an alleged security alert in the Persian Gulf. With suggestions that Iran must be responsible for non-critical damage to several oil ships not shown to journalists and drone attacks from places unknown on pumping stations in Saudi Arabia causing slight damage. In response to this US naval forces in the Gulf have been expanded, to a total strength there much greater than the rest of NATO could assemble anywhere. There is ambiguity in threats by the US towards Iran. It seems to me that the major achievement of this American deployment against a declared threat has been Presidential approval of arms sales that would probably not be approved by Congress. I find my suspicion has been articulated already by The Intercept.
There continues to be discussion as to whether we should take sides with either China or the US. I wrote recently about how the choice is about how to see the world.
But war commitment too often arises from inadvertence and unexpected foci of irritation inflaming public opinion and policy: from Sarajevo 1914, to the Gulf of Tonkin 1964, excuse for widening US commitment in Vietnam, to the minor event near the Gulf of Tonkin in 2019 involving the Australian navy.
Menzies said in 1939 that as Britain was at war with Germany, so was Australia. We live still on such a slope of easy commitment. At what level are alternatives discussed and by what strategic judgement are we engaged in Indo-Pacific exercises aimed at China, far from Australia, far from the US? Where is the debate?
Dennis Argall’s career included work in Foreign Affairs and Defence departments and overseas postings including Washington and as Ambassador to China.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

on the need for more thought about Australian strategic policy

This was published on John Menadue's blog on 28 May 2019

DENNIS ARGALL: Australian strategic posture from here forward

There is no sign of political enthusiasm to grasp the need for coherent national strategy, but basic principles need to be put in place and three particulars need urgent attention.
Australia’s international strategy has somehow slipped to mean, in political and public minds, military strategy. This is wrong and needs to be corrected. It should be central to Australian strategy that we seek war avoidance and pursuit of Australian interests by non-military means. This should be obvious but it’s not how things stand. Resort to the use of force needs to be put back in its place as an instrument of policy, bearing in mind Clausewitz’s admonition that statesmen need to be aware that this instrument of policy, having been embarked upon, tends to drive out policy and pursue its own ends. The question must remain “what are we trying to do here, what do we need?” rather than “what will we do with these submarines that will be irrelevant to security before they slide into the water?”  (substitute aircraft, other weapon systems and the overall comprehensive integration of Australian defence forces into interoperability with US forces.) Which is the brain, which is the tail of this dog?
I should perhaps stop there.  If focus goes towards that kind of thinking all else should fall into place.
But there are three urgent needs.
1: The United States Government needs to be told clearly that Australia will not go to war with Iran. One needs to say such things while they are hypothetical.  Leaving aside arguing this way and that on issues, such a war would not work. Some basics:
Iran area 1.6 million square kilometers.  Just a bit less than the combined land area of the UK 240,000, France 640,000, Germany 357,000 and Spain 506,000.
Iran culturally complex. They already had very complex societies and governance, agriculture, industry and defence capacity long before the brave English King Richard the Lionheart paid to use the flag of St George of Genoa to sail safely along the scary Mediterranean to whack Muslims. To go to war now with Iran, leaving out of the equation the use of nuclear weapons, would be like the old joke about Russia attacking China: “on day 1 the Russians advanced and took a million prisoners; on days two and three they did the same again… and on day four they surrendered.” Ludicrous, foolish to contemplate…but inasmuch as Bolton dreams about it, we need to say “no, not us, not this time” even before thinking through the Iran issues which do not compel to violence. It is a curious situation to have Trump as best hope against madness.
2: US and China. Interesting that while Jeff Bezos who made Amazon owns the Washington Post, Jack Ma, his China equivalent, who established Alibaba, now owns the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.  A better paper since Murdoch gave it up.
On 21 May 2019 the SCMP gave substantial coverage to President Xi Jinping’s speech commemorating the Long March, in which for a year, in 1934-35,  the Chinese Communist Party walked away from conflict to survival and a future.
A Long March in which Bob Hawke’s great friend. General Secretary Hu Yaobang, was once left on the battlefield triaged to die, and on another occasion was sentenced to death — Hu, whose purging and later death in 1989 precipitated the popular push for freedom in Tiananmen Square, after the crushing of which Hawke wept at a service in Parliament House in Canberra and granted residence to a host of Chinese in Australia at that time, the second wave of Chinese to shape Australia. I am old enough to have seen the anti-Chinese yellow peril advertising by conservatives in the 1950s, wise enough to recognise the old-as-Australia hysterical nonsense in the tide of anti-Chinese sentiment being whipped up now in Australia. We have to get back to the values in the Australia-China relationship as they were before they vanished under money and thoughtlessness in the Howard years. We don’t have to agree with China on everything, just as we should not have to agree with the US on everything.  The mark of a valuable country, a valuable friend, is possession of clear mind, with confidence and ability to express views that are fair, clear and directed at positive outcomes. Views that add, not just mimic. A vice foreign minister in Beijing, one night as we politely endured a long cultural event together in 1985, said: “we have always appreciated the way you have dealt with difficult issues. You have made Australia’s interests clear and Australia’s views are seen by us in that light and unlike the United States Australia has dealt with issues calmly, unlike our situation with the United States, where issues too often are inflamed and insoluble.
We tell, or we should tell, our children such principles. Easy.  Can we get back to that sort of practical decency.  Back from in the immaturity of social media and the general rubbish of much mainstream news in Australia about the region, our attention dragged to saucy margins. Can we focus on the fact that China’s population is 56 times greater than Australia’s population; that China has land borders with fourteen other countries; that the fifty five ethnic minority populations in China number around 120 million, about five Australias. Imagine our border security chiefs dealing with all that!
China is positioning itself for likely failure of sensible negotiation with the Trump Administration. Xi Jinping has called on China to undertake another Long March. We do not know to what extent China may need to discard its western financial assets. China holds over a trillion dollars in US Treasury Notes. The prospect is not of flamboyant shedding of such assets, but we should expect China to continue as now to pick apart dependence on the dollar in international finance. There is a measure of hysteria about the BRI, China’s Belt and Road Initiative. As noted above China is a continental state, with borders with fourteen other countries and long traditions and modern practical advantages in rail and other ground connection with the world. White globalism has a history of talking down to China. China now expects others to understand its five principles of peaceful coexistence. This is a useful little paper from Columbia University on that.
Contrast with the dominant meme in US strategic thinking, as first articulated by Alfred Thayer Mahan, first commandant of the US Naval War College. Thousands of metres of writing and doctrine-building about that but at its core, the idea that there can only be one dominant navy, one dominant power. As articulated not least by former president Clinton to the 2012 Democratic Party nominating convention: “We can and we will be great again.” That’s a dream, a problem-building dream, not a basis for strategy that works unless for example you really just want to be National Security Advisor to the President and have a big horse.
There is a big clash between how China and the US see the world.  We need to be focused on defining Australian interests and the weight we give to negotiation and dispute resolution on the one hand and violence on the other.  In a letter to then Foreign Minister Downer in 2003, I wrote:
I have become increasingly of the view… that it is in the nature of modern war that it tends, more than anything else – certainly it does not tend to ‘victory’ – to import into the righteous invading countries the problems you seek to eliminate by invading.
I also said then that
I am … of the view that since September 2001 we have been watching events and strategic responses unfolding as at the outbreak of war in 1914:
  • Delusions of moral rectitude.
  • Defence of imperial status quo.
  • Nothing but narrow military options.
  • Resort to alliances, hostility to thought.
  • Vilification of the enemy, climate of fear and promotion of paranoia.
  • Simplistic notions of victory, expectations of speedy end.
  • Failure to address real wider issues.
  • Enveloping sea of violence.
Alex didn’t reply. The problems still swell. We are so stuck that we have lost track of how permissible vocabulary and attitude have shrunk since 2001 as also we fail to see that the diverse horrors around the planet as they proliferate are directly comparable to the out-of-control mental frameworks and eruptions of WW1. As a nation we shut up fifteen years ago, as told to do. But the wrongs against which people spoke in 2003 are there still and are larger, smothered though they may be by downloadable pap projectable on finer and finer TV screens, far from reality.
3: Indonesia
Somehow we have to have a brain-reset about Indonesia. Away from cheap holidays to understanding that this country next door with ten times Australia’s population has a GINI coefficient (measure of inequality) not far from Australia’s. Its GDP will very soon pass Australia’s. Its affluent consumer class will soon be eight times Australia’s population. Had Indonesia at any time pursued adventurist power projection policies like Australia’s we would have fainted long ago and gone home to mamma. It is amazing that sensible nearby countries dealing with huge problems in development have continued to take seriously almost all Australian leaders, or at least receive them politely. If we cannot advance in prosperity with Indonesia then we will as a medical professional suggested to me some time ago, be the white trash of Asia. Many of us in the foreign service from the 1950s and 1960s, when national perspectives were too often disrespectful and harmful sought to advance Australian interests in the world positively, avoiding the manner and style of Apartheid era South Africa in arrogance and ignorance. We have to make up for lost time.
Dennis Argall’s career in public service was cut short by illness.  For a time he was head of the parliament’s research service, before that in domestic, defence and foreign affairs departments and overseas postings including as Counselor and Acting Minister in Washington and as Ambassador to China.

lessons for the future for the Australian Labor Party

This was published on John Menadue's blog, having been written on 19 May 2019, the day after national elections delivered an unexpected and severe loss for the Australian Labor Party.

DENNIS ARGALL. Lessons and thoughts for Labor’s future

There is a lot of emotion in the wake of disaster for Labor in the federal elections on 18 May 2019. There will be forensic examinations and recriminations. There is good prospect of a Labor Government after the next elections… if…
Labor must go steadily and clearly and must look like a government in brief exile.  
In retrospect the massive plate of reforms on offer from Labor was too big. Not just because it was a big target for Morrison to slander requiring a reverberation of detailed responses, but also because people just don’t cope with a lot of change and new ideas at once. That should have been a lesson from Whitlam, whose fall derived to a significant degree from his creation of visions, plans, programs creating whirlwinds and vortices. There should have been a lesson there from Hawke, who in success nearly always had just three points or three objectives and often enough did not get to the third.
It did not help that Keating, making points of importance about China and the state of China policy and perception in Australia, did not remember that his own electoral failure was in good part contributed to by his love of ad hominem excess. Which obliged Shorten to rebut what Keating said, placing Shorten in a potential difficult situation when in government. It was not Keating’s election.
There was a problem for the supporters in the campaign, at least in NSW, in that an online team in the NSW Labor office was allowed for a time (as throughout the state election in March) to write frequently, impolitely and less than coherently with money demands. Apparatchiks are to be invisible and unheard; and should be polite. Mercifully the leaders took over the message and wrote intelligently and informatively.
There will be much mulled over within Labor. A leader needs to be appointed without rancour and a shadow ministry needs to be a sensible and orderly force. As experience of being in government retreats, potential for disorder grows. It will be important for the new caucus to be orderly and disciplined. Review and refocus will take time. The team must not be baited and tempted by the 24 hour news cycle. Let the Morrison ‘team’ be embroiled in that.
Morrison shares some qualities with Trump, but he does not possess a tyrannical capacity to sack people right and left. Carry this thought into the problems governing in minority, with cross bench people some of whom could eat Morrison for breakfast when Morrison has more to do than bluster. First also, there is a coalition agreement to renegotiate.
I hope that the nation may realise that they did something less than best. A disciplined Labor caucus will surely have more sense than to suggest that Morrison supporters have been a ‘basket of deplorables’, but it will be generally important to leave it to people to review and rue. In 75 years I have come to realise that I have rarely met anyone who thought his or her opinion was wrong. People won’t be badgered not least because they won (Bob Brown may now understand this).
In its sea of policy papers, the Labor party lost identity with community at large, despite opposite intentions. Ours is a many-ways-divided nation. Finding a coherent package of policies going forward is difficult, but there will need to something better than rubbery mumble on the hard stuff.
We can review the calamitous issues in this very recent election, but that has to be put behind; the next war will be different.
As a particular point, there was absent from this election any show of statesmanship and leadership on international issues. Despite dogmas to the contrary, it seems to me that major elections that elect important governments in Australia have had international vision and inspiring leadership woven into them. That was at the core of our period as a positive multicultural society, admired in many places including China. Who would regards us now as an exemplary civil society?
Try to run a better parliament. The adversarial rowdiness is at the core of public disdain and of course is contributory to adversarial rowdiness and violence in society. With Morrison willing to spout irrelevance and distortion, it’s not easy, but standards are essential to be seen as a decent alternative.
There is real possibility, given the velocity of everything these days, that Labor could form government after the next elections. But Labor must go steadily and clearly and must look like a government in brief exile.
Dennis Argall’s career covered domestic departments and foreign service, overseas postings including Washington and as ambassador to China. After the disastrous (for Labor) 1977 elections, Dennis returned from Washington to head the office of the new deputy leader of the Labor Party, Lionel Bowen, who later became Deputy Prime Minister to Hawke.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Shirvan on the geopolitics of the Cold War.

I am impressed by the analyses of Shirvan, the Azeri author of the Caspian Report at YouTube. He writes with independent mind from an unusual perspective, drawing on academic resources. I am alert and watchful for manipulative writing on the web. His work seems genuinely independent. He has written now a paper and oral presentation on the geopolitics of the Cold War, to be found here. I commend it.

I added a comment, which I copy here:

Thank you Shirvan for this elegant report. My background in Australia more in the practical dimensions of the cold war from a western allied perspective. Of the theorists you mention, Mahan clearly the most influential in the US and thus of critical significance; the era of American dominance itself a Mahanian phenomenon. Mahan's vision easier seen from US-Australian oceanic perspective than mid continental Caspian. During the Cold War to 1991 there was tension between concepts of strategic balance on the one hand and on the other the persistent need for force commanders to have forces that would not balance but conquer. In practice balance does not apply to naval thinking preoccupied with staying afloat not sinking. So there was public notion of balance but planning intent for example to eliminate Soviet naval forces in the Pacific in a few hours in a central war. The US doctrine presented the third leg of the nuclear triad, the underwater submarine missile force, undetected, as fundamental to war avoidance because it could reply to any first strike from Moscow with huge prompt megadeaths, from underwater. But in fact the Soviet missile submarines were granted no such status as safe underwater, being monitored by aircraft with dropped sonars, moment to moment, with no capacity to survive. The highly entertaining movie "The Hunt for Red October" muddles all this. In the post 1991 era, the notional and fabled US dominance has meant Mahan realised and applied everywhere. Except that it doesn't work. The tendency in the cold war years for big minds, from Kissinger to Brzezinski to disregard local reality and run puppet wars without need to understand reality, led later, with sense of victory in the cold war, into the enveloping disasters and widening ruin of projected force undertaken without understanding governance, the readiness to turn badly run countries into ungovernable spaces. And in democracies, the inability of leaders so say "we were wrong".So we come through to the present where mahanic fantasies of superior capability, uninhibited power projection, destruction without consequence, Bolton certainty place us in far more jeopardy than did the Cold War... though I did not know life in Azerbaijan in the 1970-80s. In naval thought it's straightforward. You go to the bottom or stay on top. Woven among peoples in a diverse and alive world none of this makes sense. Something I wrote recently mentioning Mahan is out there now as yet unpublished, the next thoughts are shaping here