Former Australian PM accuses Scott Morrison of leading country into ‘cold war’ with China to become US’ ‘fawning acolyte’

Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating has accused current leader Scott Morrison of pushing the country into a “cold war” with China and damaging relations with Beijing in a “fawning” effort to please Washington.

In an interview with the Australian Financial Review, Keating argued that the Morrison government’s confrontational stance with China was absurd, given that Australia “is a continent sharing a border with no other state” and “has no territorial disputes with China.”

Keating pointed out that China is “12 flying hours away from the Australian coast,” yet the current government, “through its foreign policy incompetence and fawning compulsion to please America, effectively has us in a cold war with China.” Keating served as prime minister and leader of the Australian Labor Party between December 1991 and March 1996.

The former PM warned that Morrison is leading Australia into a “strategic dead end” with its “needless provocations” against Beijing.

The Morrison government is needlessly and irresponsibly pushing Australia towards a headlong confrontation with China, and doing it, in the main, to be seen in Washington as America’s fawning acolyte.

As to why US “warmongering” is currently focused on China, Keating argued Washington is upset that the Asian giant “is now a state as large as the United States, and with the potential of being much larger” – something he described as “an unforgivable sin for American triumphalists.”

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China’s rise is simply “not in the American playbook,” and its “very existence” at such a scale is “an affront to American’s notion of itself as the exceptional state.”

Keating’s take provoked instant pushback from Australia’s conservative establishment.

Peter Jennings, the executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) – which is funded by the Australian government, the US State Department, and major military contractors – told Sky News Australia that it was “simply ahistorical” to suggest China was not a threat and called Keating “profoundly incorrect.” ASPI itself, however, has been accused in Australian media of “fomenting anti-China hysteria.”

Keating is not the first former Australian leader to question Morrison over his government’s stance on China. Last month, former Prime Ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd warned that anti-Chinese remarks by the government could cause a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, as seen recently in the US.

Turnbull argued during a webinar discussion that some of the PM’s political rhetoric could undermine “the success of our multicultural society” if played up by right-wing media.

Morrison’s government has adopted a provocative foreign policy position against Beijing since he became leader of the centre-right Liberal Party and took office as PM in August 2018, succeeding Turnbull.

Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton has repeatedly hinted at a potential conflict between Australia and China. In April, Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo even controversially declared that “the drums of war” were beating.

Earlier this year, after Australia pulled out of several ‘Belt and Road initiative’ deals with China, the Chinese embassy in Canberra accused the Australian government of being “unreasonable and provocative” and of showing “no sincerity in improving China-Australia relations” – a decision it said “will only end up hurting [Australia] itself.”

Despite its posturing, several outlets have pointed out that Australia would be unlikely to fight any war with China on its own, given its military budget is 10 times less than that of Beijing.

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