The Guardian • Issue #1967

Climate cooperation cancelled with largest trading partner over baseless national security concerns

A cooperative research partnership between Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and China’s Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology (QNLM) has been cancelled following fear mongering presuming Australian submarines would be more easy to target. This move is another clear example of Australia’s shameless foreign policy to interfere with genuine scientific cooperation on climate change with China under the guise of national security. The ongoing tactics to decouple from China are frightening for the Australian working class as continued attacks on Chinese cooperation create more instability in several industries.

Previous to the cancellation, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Director-General of Security, Mike Burgess admitted that although the research is “great” for understanding climate understanding and climate modelling, “it’s also great if you’re a submariner.” The concerns were built on fears of China being able to pinpoint submarines at depths up to 500 metres, presuming China would have military advantage over Australia at some point in the future. This also presumes China is a military threat to Australia, which is only somewhat apparent in the minds of those concerned about the US losing world hegemony.

China is responsible for eighty per cent of the one billion people globally that no longer suffer from extreme poverty over the past fifty years, and also has a policy – with a proven track record – of non-interference in other nations’ affairs. Through its partnerships with over 170 countries, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is investing in infrastructure and cooperative projects worldwide, improving conditions and creating more opportunities for sustainable development. Comparatively, the US has over 800 overseas military bases worldwide, while China has just one. Australia’s national security policy is in lock-step with US policy, with irrational strategies to contain China, while falling in line with US warmongering campaigns. It is not rational for Australians to view China as an enemy.

This poor strategising is not lost on other Western nations. As pointed out in Geoff Raby’s Financial Review article on 21st June, which highlighted how if the Australian and Italian leaders set up a meeting at the G7 summit, “would [Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrson] have warned [Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi] about the dangers of the BRI and urged him to tear up Italy’s agreement as [Morrison] tore up Victoria’s memorandum of understanding (MOU)?”

This non-legally binding MOU was centred on finding new opportunities for China and the state of Victoria to cooperate in developing infrastructure and to create the ability for businesses and organisations on both sides to more easily make partnerships and investments. A framework agreement that was also cancelled delved deeper into specific needs for Victoria, including boosting trade in agriculture, food, and cosmetics, therefore creating job opportunities. China would have assisted in building Victorian infrastructure and cooperated over ongoing shared interests such as high-end manufacturing, biotechnology, agricultural technology, innovation, training, and how to deal with an ageing population.

Italy and Germany already have successful cooperative projects with China, either under the BRI or through alternative investment memorandums, as does the broader European Union. And although they are G7 members, they are not putting all their eggs in the one basket by destroying productive relationships with China at the behest of the US. Instead, the Australian government hopes to boost trade with the United Kingdom, negotiating a new free trade agreement to “deliver more Australian jobs and business opportunities for exporters.” The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website clearly states Australia and UK’s shared “rules-based global trading system” is one of the main reasons for this agreement, alluding to China as an inferior system and trading partner.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Following Brexit, the UK has lost major trade partners and agreements and is on the hunt for new agreements. Morrison’s delusions of a paternal England coming to rescue Australia ignore the reality of the UK’s desperation. While the trade deals could see some industries pick up again after ongoing trade disputes with China, the real concern is losing iron ore exports, which make up almost a quarter of Australia’s entire exports – and of which over 80 per cent is exported to China. The outcomes for Australia losing this market would be devastating, and frustratingly, the Australian working class will be the first to pay for it in this irrational ideological battle.

The Australian media’s paranoia has stretched so far as to slander a chief research scientist at the CSIRO, Dr Wenju Cai, simply for engaging in collaborative work with China’s QNLM. Would his research into global climate variability suggest he is somehow spying for the Chinese government, as an article in The Australian implies? And although the CSIRO have responded to this insinuation by explaining that QNLM does not pay Cai, the more appropriate response would have been to call out The Australian for its racist lies in suggesting a senior climate scientist who graduated at Australia’s Flinders University in 1993 is committing espionage, simply for having Chinese heritage.

Other scientists at the CSIRO have expressed their outrage at the cancellation of the partnership named The Centre for Southern Hemisphere Oceans Research (CSHOR). Many have asserted that the decision was made abruptly and that the move was ill-informed. “The Chinese also understand that CSIRO’s decision is because of pressure from the right-wing media … stoking anti-China populism,” one researcher vented. Another researcher objected that the presumed defence risks were “just a joke” and would only hurt Australia’s ability to predict and adapt to significant threats from climate change.

Axel Timmerman, Director of the IBS Centre for Climate Physics stated that the work was cutting-edge fundamental climate change work. CSHOR has important projects based around ocean dynamic processes, marine life processes and bio-resources, sea-floor processes and oil-gas resources, deep-remote oceans and polar extreme environments and strategic resources, evolution and protection of marine ecological environments, and ocean technology and equipment. Although concerns focus on QNLM’s connections with the Chinese military, the research is clearly focused on climate research which would only strengthen attention put towards environmental concerns for Australians. And regardless of whether the institution has military ties or not, the assumption that China would be engaging in cooperative scientific research for military advantage is absurd.

The Australian government has instead controversially invested in an outrageous $89 billion+ project to construct twelve Attack Class submarines. The defence-funded anti-China organisation, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), supports this move due to Australia having no closely geographically located allies. Perhaps if Australia sought to improve diplomatic ties in its own region, this would not be perceived as a necessary strategy and funds could be put towards important failing services such as health and education.

In response to the cancellation, Chief research fellow at the research centre for Pacific Island countries at Liaocheng University Yu Lei warned that “politicising scientific and technological cooperation will seriously hinder progress when it comes to advancing the human race … Compared with China, Australia’s technology is not advanced, and this latest action will only set Australia back.” Yu also commented on the hypocrisy of Morrison’s ambition to restart a dialogue with China when the government continues to use trade and technical cooperation for political attacks.

Australians who take climate action seriously should be concerned about this foolish boycott. The national security concerns are unfounded, and the political and economic outcomes could be disastrous. Even more disastrous could be the climate change outcomes for Australians, when funding for pivotal research projects is interrupted in order to serve US hegemony. Australians deserve better future prospects – economically and environmentally – and a people’s government that truly cares for its citizens and the planet.

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