The media are finding Chinese under most rocks

By JOHN MENADUE | 13 June 2018

The campaign run by some of our security agencies  and people close to them about the alleged Chinese threat is getting great support from some journalists. The latest is Andrew Greene, the  security and defence reporter at the ABC who breathtakingly reported last week that “A Chinese vessel, believed to be a spy ship, docked next to HMAS Adelaide in Fiji”. Good god!

We have had a lot of such misleading stories in recent weeks.

Fairfax’s David Wroe  recently reported that China had approached Vanuatu about setting up a permanent military presence in that country. The story turned out to be nonsense as multiple sources and the Vanuatu government said.

But that was just a warm up. We were then told by Andrew Greene  on 20 April 2018 that “Australian warships (were) challenged by Chinese military in the South China Sea”. His source was an anonymous ‘defence’ official .

Sam Bateman who was a former senior naval officer with many commands at sea described the  ‘robust‘ exchange in the following way in this blog, “Some contact with Chinese naval vessels would have been expected. The operational instructions to the RAN vessels would have covered this possibility and the contact conducted in accordance with the Code for Unplanned Encounters(CUES) which had been agreed by China and Australia. It may have seemed ‘robust’ but it would not be unusual given the situation in these waters”. Greene’s story was a beat up, plain and simple.

Last week, Andrew Greene was at it again about a Chinese spy ship docking next to HMAS Adelaide in Fiji. There were two major problems with Greene’s account. First, he informed us that the Chinese vessel was a converted Chinese fishing boat with some espionage gear hidden in the bows and “intent on marine mischief”. In fact it was a rather large high tech Chinese naval ship fitted to the gills with all sorts of communications devices. Its primary aim is claimed to be communication with Chinese satellites, but no doubt it can do much more. It was not a converted fishing boat. Second, Greene did not tell us in the report I read that HMAS Adelaide was carrying a large contingent of US marines back to Hawaii in what looked like an island-hopping gunboat diplomacy effort. It is probably the first time that we have carried that number of US marines. Why wouldn’t the Chinese want to have a look?

Chinese influence will increase in the Pacific.  Unfortunately, that influence is assisted by Australia’s failures. Our often overbearing attitudes to Pacific Island countries and savage cuts in ODA by Julie Bishop have reduced our influence and clout in our own neighbourhood. I am not aware that our defence and security  experts in the media care about that.

China is now doing the kinds of things that big powers do. Just like the US has done. The geopolitics between China and the US is changing profoundly. That presents a real challenge for Australia. In addressing this substantive issue we are not helped by being side-tracked by media beat-ups than have become all too commonplace.

(John Menadue AO worked for Gough Whitlam, followed by a distinguished career in the public and private sectors. He headed the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, was Ambassador to Japan, and later CEO of Qantas. Now retired, John is a patron of the Asylum Seekers’ Centre in Sydney. This article originally appeared in John’s own blog, “Pearls and Irritations“.)