Western strategic culture has long recognised the significance of decisive battle. The Prussian military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz, likened war to a duel between two wrestlers – a contest of wills – with resolution arising when one party is forced to submit to the will of the other through overwhelming force. Western political and military leaders have been students of Clausewitz since his book On War was published posthumously in 1833.
Many students have taken Clausewitz’s emphasis on decisive battle to heart. As he wrote forcefully: “Our conviction that only a great battle can produce a major decision is founded not on an abstract concept of war alone, but also on experience. Since time began, only great victories have paved the way for great results.”
His legacy reveals itself through two centuries of Western military history, where commanders of opposing forces sought decisive victory on the battlefield for political ends. War, as an instrument of policy, served the greater political aim of victory and the reordering of a new peace. Our presupposition has been that war and peace are two sharply distinguished spheres of social activity.
Today, however, this strategic culture has not prepared us to understand the threats that manifest themselves in the middle ground between war and peace in the 21st century. It has diminished our peacetime statecraft, fostering a culture of passivity and wishful thinking as modern great power competition begins to reshape the world order.
As a result, we are surprised to discover that authoritarian regimes like the Russian Federation or the People's Republic of China conduct hybrid and political warfare operations in the pursuit of strategic objectives, exploiting the norms and global peace built by the United States and its allies out of the ruins of the Second World War.
In less than a decade, China has built and militarised artificial islands in the South China Sea, forging unsinkable aircraft carriers from reefs and atolls. Russia has annexed Crimea from Ukraine. The international community has struggled to anticipate and reverse this development, as it has with respect to China’s aggressive debt-trap diplomacy and Russia’s general mischief and meddling.
Why is this so? The problem is primarily an intellectual one: we are unfamiliar with the strategic culture of our opponents, which emphasises subversion, and ignorant of our own Western assumptions and traditions.
Russian and Chinese strategic culture has not arisen in a vacuum. Nor have their hybrid and political warfare operations. To understand the objectives and means of such campaigns, it is necessary to appreciate the worldview of Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Tse-Tung. These men – all avowed Marxists – saw class conflict as the basic driving force of world politics. The revolutionary struggle of the proletariat against capitalism was both domestic and international – and necessarily involved using all the instruments of state power in a holistic approach.
Although their ideology has been defeated in the West, they are still shaping our world, especially in the East. Xi Jinping has been open about their influence, and it is important we take him at his word. In his 2013 speech to the Chinese Communist Party’s then-newly elected Central Committee, Xi explained: “It is Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought that guided the Chinese people out of the darkness of that long night and established a New China.”
The holistic approach developed by Lenin, and built upon by Stalin and Xi, is being pursued today, albeit it is now facilitated by advances in technology. Western societies are the targets of subversive operations, with state actors weaponising and amplifying the divisions natural to democracy. Domestic and international politics, for the Marxist-Leninist, are different expressions of the same revolutionary policy. The conceptual wall separating war and peace was replaced by the idea of continuous struggle.
The revolutionaries argued that all of life is political, inverting Clausewitz’s dictum that war is the continuation of politics by other means. As Mao Tse-Tung put it, “Politics is war without bloodshed, while war is politics with bloodshed”. Politics and warfare became interchangeable and all the instruments of the state were refashioned for subversive warfare.
Authoritarian states have weaponised previously benign activities like diplomacy, media, investment flows, infrastructure development, and foreign asset purchases. University campuses have become the modern battlegrounds of covert influence and interference. These activities complement more aggressive forms of subversive warfare such as intellectual property theft, forced technology transfer, cyber-attacks, and espionage. All these activities advance the efforts of authoritarian regimes to undermine the West.
The democratic West has lacked the intellectual framework both to perceive and to respond to these subversive tactics. We have not inhabited the revolutionary mindset or worldview, limiting our capacity to grasp the strategy of our authoritarian adversaries as they probe the boundaries of acceptable peacetime behaviour. Our passivity is dangerous, so that we risk escalating tensions if we attempt to recover ground lost by subversive means.
Nevertheless, as we awaken to the threat posed by these authoritarian campaigns of subversion, we can draw upon our own historical heritage in countering them.
We must take assertive diplomatic, economic and covert measures to push back against authoritarian states that undermine the global order at the very edge of peace. This is for both moral and practical reasons. If we want to preserve peace and avoid war, we must understand our adversaries and become practitioners of hybrid and political warfare ourselves.
The moral necessity of avoiding conflict is clear enough. But the acquisition of such expertise also multiplies the statecraft available to us to protect our geopolitical interests. Political leaders will have more flexibility and policy options at their fingertips. The question is: What needs to be done?
First, we need to recognise, understand, and articulate the challenge facing the West. This requires political leadership, since the great power competition between authoritarian and democratic states is ultimately a contest of ideas.
National leaders must affirm and articulate the values that define Western democracies, especially as we seek to build a coalition of like-minded partners to resist authoritarian political warfare. Over the last century, the West has built a powerful set of alliances and partnerships, and these now need to be mobilised.
This coalition of like-minded partners would share intelligence (at varying levels of security), technical expertise, training, and resources. It would provide an organisational framework for coordinating responses, particularly in the fast-paced cyber and information domains. It would also pay particular focus to smaller states, which are often ill-equipped to resist well-funded political warfare offensives.
Second, we must enlist the full weight of democratic institutions in this effort, including the giving of major speeches, initiating parliamentary inquiries and passing legislative measures, and educating the public. This must happen at the same time that we build resilience against clandestine and overt political warfare campaigns. Australia serves as a helpful case study of a democracy that has taken action to protect itself against such threats.
In 2018, the Espionage and Foreign Interference and Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme acts were legislated with bipartisan support to strengthen the Australian political system and civil society against malign foreign interference. The former prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, played a critical role by leading the public debate, ensuring the successful passage of the legislation. He also made the tough decision on Australia’s 5G network, preserving our digital sovereignty for future generations by applying rigorous security tests that have excluded some telecommunication companies.
This year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison bolstered Australia’s institutional resilience by establishing the University Foreign Interference Taskforce and a standing interagency Counter Foreign Interference Taskforce, manned by intelligence and law enforcement investigators. These decisions give operational and prosecutorial teeth to the existing legislative framework, aimed at disrupting foreign interference on Australian shores.
Universities remain key terrain for authoritarian powers searching for a strategic advantage because of the high value research and intellectual property held on campuses. It is therefore prudent and necessary that the Australian government works closely with the university sector to articulate guidelines to protect against foreign interference. This includes the protection of cyber networks, safeguarding research that is of national significance, and ensuring transparency in collaborative programs with foreign entities.
Third, democratic leaders must develop a strategy and define victory. For too long, democratic states have been passive and reactive in dealing with authoritarian subversive campaigns. We need to get back to first principles.
Values must be articulated. Core interests must be defined. Sovereignty, where compromised, must be recovered and protected. A powerful narrative, that both supports our own values and pushes back against those of authoritarianism, must be constructed. Democratic partners, of course, need to enliven these elements as part of "whole of government" strategy. None of this will be easy. But the alternative is reduced sovereignty, with democracies tethered to authoritarian, hyper-modern surveillance states.
Fourth, democracies should develop and establish expertise in hybrid and political warfare. This needs to occur across strategic, operational, and tactical levels of leadership in the civil and military wings of government. It will require a shift in educational focus as we reorient relevant institutions to better understand the strategic culture of our authoritarian rivals, as well as ourselves.
There will be a need for increased depth in the range of professional experience across government, given the breadth of skills required for the disruption of rival subversive campaigns, and for the conduct of our own – where necessary. Importantly, this shift must be driven by political leadership – formalised in policy documents, given democratic oversight, and appropriately resourced.
Fifth, we must build an array of political warfare instruments. This would include cyber, diplomatic, information, and media capabilities. These are important for informing domestic public about the nature and scale of the challenge, but also for exposing to international publics the activities of authoritarian regimes. These activities include corruption, espionage, fake news, and human rights abuses.
Civil society has a crucial role to play in this. Think tanks and investigative reporters, particularly, are critical in exposing subversive activities undertaken by foreign authoritarian powers. Again, Australia serves as a helpful case study. Reporters from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Channel Nine protected the Australian national interest by revealing multiple instances of malign foreign interference, setting the political conditions for the passage of EFI and FITS legislation.
Sixth, we should use economic measures to counter authoritarian economic coercion, the theft of Western intellectual property, and their future domination of strategically vital industries and critical national infrastructure. Many democracies find themselves economically co-dependent on authoritarian states and vulnerable to coercion.
Restrictions should be placed on business and other dealings with key individuals and organisations (beyond those that are diplomatic). Technology export controls could be tightened. Awareness campaigns should be launched which highlight the risks of doing business with authoritarian enterprises. Magnitsky legislation should be introduced to stop human rights abusers from using the Western financial system. Heavy tariffs should be introduced on goods known to have been produced using stolen IP or technology.
Finally, democracies need to prepare for the long haul – and to pay a price. Countering and defeating authoritarian political warfare is likely to require sustained effort and spending over several decades – and it will require difficult decisions to be made. As such, democracies need to recalibrate the management of strategic risks and costs associated with this.
We have entered a new era of great power competition between authoritarian and democratic states. Now is the time to recognise the challenge posed by the unique strategic culture of our rivals and adapt our posture accordingly – our sovereignty and democratic way of life depends upon it.
This essay was first published by the Henry Jackson Society and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in their report The Art of Deceit: How China and Russia Use Sharp Power to Subvert the West.
This op-ed was co-authored by Senator James Paterson and Andrew Hastie MP. First Published in The Daily Telegraph.
Our first duty as Commonwealth parliamentarians is to defend the sovereignty, values and national interest of the Australian people. Any self-respecting politician in the free world also feels an obligation to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.
We would be failing in these duties if we bowed to pressure to be silent.
Although we have been critical of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the past, that does not diminish our respect for the Chinese people, their culture and the achievements of their civilisation. There is much to admire about China.
But there are also significant areas of disagreement. A healthy relationship starts from the premise that we celebrate what is good, but retain the right to disagree as well.
It was in this spirit of openness that we accepted an invitation from the think tank China Matters to be their guests on a study tour to Beijing in December.
We planned to use that opportunity to respectfully discuss our genuine concerns about the policies of the CCP, particularly those that impact upon Australians.
But we also would have listened and hoped to better understand the perspective of our Chinese counterparts in a good-faith exchange of ideas. So, it was surprising and disappointing to be told that we are not welcome in China at this time.
Some people initially suggested that this ban was not political and was simply due to the media scrutiny of the visit.
This view now looks hollow given the embassy apparently raised no concerns about the third invited member of parliament, Labor MP Matt Keogh, whose participation was also canvassed in the media. Indeed, those claims were flatly contradicted by the statement from the embassy on Saturday afternoon, which accused us of a colonial mindset, disrespect, and demanded we repent for our criticism of the CCP.
The lost opportunity for dialogue is disappointing.However, it is more concerning that these events signal an apparent attempt to influence Australia’s domestic political debate about our relationship with China by punishing members of parliament based on their views.
It would be worrying if the lesson drawn from this episode among political, civic and business leaders is that silence is the safest course of action when it comes to China.
Fortunately, there are many from across the political spectrum who have stood with us in the wake of this decision by the Chinese government. We are thankful for their support and solidarity.
Australians expect their parliamentarians to be forthright, direct and honest about our values. Australian governments have rightly been vocal about the conduct of the CCP in recent years in a number of areas.
An Australian citizen, Dr Yang Hengjun, remains incarcerated on charges of espionage.
During his detention he has been denied family visits, access to a lawyer, and was held for months without charge.
In July, China’s Brisbane Consul-General praised nationalist Chinese students for their attempt to shut down pro-Hong Kong protesters on the campus of the University of Queensland.
The graphically violent scenes in Hong Kong this week, particularly at the Polytechnic University, will alarm many Australians given approximately 100,000 of their fellow citizens reside there.
Sunday’s New York Times revelations about the sophisticated, pre-planned crackdown on Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang and, more disturbingly, the internal justifications for doing so were just the latest confirmation of a profound human rights crisis in Western China.
This persecution is devastating for the thousands of Uyghur Australians who have family and friends trapped in Xinjiang. It is eerily reminiscent of the concerns many Australians have held for decades about Tibet.
Many Chinese Christians worship in fear.
Churches have been closed, pastors have been arrested, and sales and distribution of the Bible is tightly controlled.
The Chinese government has used its weight to exclude Taiwan from international forums, including the World Health Organisation, limiting the island’s ability to control the spread of infectious diseases.
China continues to militarise the South China Sea, through which a significant proportion of Australian trade passes. This is despite China’s claims of sovereignty being rejected by international law.
Raising these issues might not make us popular with the CCP. But we would be failing in our moral duty if we ignored or glossed over them.
We remain interested in learning more from China.
But we can never accept the precondition that we compromise our beliefs and self-censor.
Repenting and being born again into CCP thinking will get us nowhere. Doing so would only encourage further demands that we forgo our values in order to get along.
Any relationship which is based on the premise that we cannot freely share our sincere concerns is built on a shaky foundation.
Australia can only build a healthy relationship with China through mutual respect and self-confidence, not acquiescence.
Speech to the House of Representatives, 23 October 2019
Tonight I rise to speak on behalf of those who are vulnerable, persecuted and separated from their loved ones. Tonight I speak for Uyghur Australians who have family and friends facing systematic persecution and internment in Xinjiang province in the People's Republic of China. But first I want to say a few words about the role of Australian investigative journalism and its importance for a free, democratic society.
As this House is aware, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is conducting an inquiry into freedom of the press. As the chair, it would be improper for me to make remarks about committee deliberations or what conclusions we might reach in our report, but I do want to say that we all agree that public interest and investigative journalism is vital to a thriving liberal democracy, particularly when it comes to national security or human rights issues.
A superb example of good investigative journalism is the July Four Corners episode 'Tell the world' by ABC reporter Sophie McNeill. The program detailed the plight and suffering of more than one million Muslim minorities who have been rounded up, detained and forcibly indoctrinated by the Chinese communist regime. Australian citizens or permanent residents have been targeted and jailed. Others are trapped under state surveillance, their passports seized. I was deeply moved by those who courageously shared their story on the program. I was moved by those who have been separated from their loved ones. I think of Sadam Abudusalamu, who is separated from his wife and child—a child he has never met in person.
These individual and personal stories helped us understand and humanise the greater tragedy that is unfolding in Xinjiang province, China. I, along with many other Australians, am very troubled by the repressive surveillance state and how the Uyghur people are being banned from practicing their religious faith and how they are being oppressively monitored in their homes, in their communities, 24/7. I am very troubled by the way that Uyghur culture and identity is being systematically assaulted, deconstructed and scrubbed out by the authorities. I am very troubled by the clear evidence of re-education camps, where one million Uyghurs have been forcibly detained and indoctrinated into communists thinking. The ABC, along with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, have managed to identify 28 detention camps using satellite imagery. Most of those detained have never committed a crime. I could go on. It was a heartbreaking episode that we all needed to watch and absorb. I congratulate the ABC for running it and for the work that went into it.
Last month, I met with members of the Australian Uyghur community in my parliamentary office. That delegation was led by Nurmuhammad Majid. It was my great honour to host them and hear their personal stories. Every single one of them sitting in my office had family and friends interned or trapped in Xinjiang province. They have shown great courage and perseverance despite the tears, heartache and pain. I made a commitment to them that I would raise their plight in this House, and tonight I fulfil that commitment. I say to them: we might not see resolution soon, but we will continue to work with you and make sure your loved ones are not forgotten.
Finally, the Four Corners episode identified a range of Australian businesses that were sourcing cotton from Xinjiang province, potentially using Uyghur forced labour. Cotton On and Target Australia were two of them. Subsequent to the program, both businesses conducted internal reviews of their supply chains and have ceased sourcing cotton from Xinjiang province. I want to note the actions of Cotton On and Target Australia in this House and applaud them for the action that they have taken. Australia is a country that lives by the values of freedom and fairness, and so it is right that we acknowledge when our businesses do the right thing. I thank the House.
This article was first published by Nine media on 8 August 2019. It has recieved considerable attention and commentary, too often by people who either haven't read it or who have chosen to misrepresent its arguments.
Like many people across the world, I saw 9/11 as the geopolitical moment that would shape the 21st century. It shaped the next decade of my own life.
But I was wrong.
The most significant geopolitical moment of the 21st century had already happened, five months earlier. And most of us, distracted by more dramatic events, failed to see it. It came on April Fool’s Day, 2001.
A J-8 fighter jet from the People’s Liberation Army Navy collided with a US Navy EP-3 signals intelligence aircraft, 70 kilometres off the coast of Hainan Island. Both planes began plummeting toward the South China Sea. The PLAN fighter pilot did not survive. The 24 crew of the badly damaged US EP-3 managed a hard landing on the island, and, after being offered water and cigarettes, were held for 11 days by the Chinese government.
The crew was released to the US, but the aircraft was returned much later – in many small pieces – via a Russian Antonov cargo plane. This was an early test for the Bush administration, only 10 weeks old. It was faced with brinkmanship, intelligence plundering and technology transfer.
All this took place over what are now contested waters — where today the PLAN has forged unsinkable aircraft carriers, out of reefs and atolls.
The Hainan Island incident laid down the contours for the present challenge facing Australia. It portended the agonising security and economic balancing act we must now perform. That clash, almost 20 years ago, has now grown into overt geopolitical rivalry across the Indo-Pacific. The US seeks to remain the dominant power in the region and the People's Republic of China works to supplant it.
Australia must now, somehow, hold on to our sovereignty and prosperity. We must balance security and trade. But most importantly, we must remain true to our democratic convictions while also seeing the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.
This will be immensely difficult. It is impossible to forsake the US, our closest security and investment partner. It is also impossible to disengage from China, our largest trading partner. This is the central point: almost every strategic and economic question facing Australia in the coming decades will be refracted through the geopolitical competition of the US and the PRC.
The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, made that much abundantly clear when he said "the world has been asleep at the switch".
We must be clear-eyed about our position in the world. We are resetting the terms of engagement with China to preserve our sovereignty, security and democratic convictions, as we also reap the benefits of prosperity that come with our mutually beneficial trade relationship.
Last year, the Coalition government secured bipartisan passage of laws countering espionage, foreign interference and influence. Tough decisions were made on our future 5G network to safeguard our digital sovereignty for the generations to come. Critical assets, such as ports and gas pipelines, are now monitored much more closely, in recognition of their importance to our national life together.
But there is more to be done. Right now our greatest vulnerability lies not in our infrastructure, but in our thinking. That intellectual failure makes us institutionally weak.
If we don’t understand the challenge ahead for our civil society, in our parliaments, in our universities, in our private enterprises, in our charities — our little platoons — then choices will be made for us. Our sovereignty, our freedoms, will be diminished.
The West once believed that economic liberalisation would naturally lead to democratisation in China. This was our Maginot Line. It would keep us safe, just as the French believed their series of steel and concrete forts would guard them against the German advance in 1940. But their thinking failed catastrophically. The French had failed to appreciate the evolution of mobile warfare. Like the French, Australia has failed to see how mobile our authoritarian neighbour has become.
Even worse, we ignore the role that ideology plays in China's actions across the Indo-Pacific region. We keep using our own categories to understand its actions, such as its motivations for building ports and roads, rather than those used by the Chinese Communist Party.
The West has made this mistake before. Commentators once believed Stalin’s decisions were the rational actions of a realist great power. But the Princeton Professor of History, Stephen Kotkin, found otherwise, after years of sifting through the archives of top Soviet meetings. He discovered that Stalin and his advisers “said the same things as they said in their propaganda … [using] all the Marxian categories, because it turns out the Communists were Communists! They believed in the ideas and it’s only by taking the ideas and politics seriously, can you understand the phenomenon.”
We must be intellectually honest and take the Chinese leadership at its word. We are dealing with a fundamentally different vision for the world. Xi Jinping has made his vision of the future abundantly clear since becoming President in 2013. His speeches show that the tough choices ahead will be shaped, at least on the PRC side, by ideology – communist ideology, or in his words, by "Marxist-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought".
Xi’s view of the future is one where capitalism will be eclipsed and "the consolidation of and development of the socialist system will require its own long period of history … it will require the tireless struggle of generations, up to 10 generations".
With history as our guide, we have no reason to doubt President Xi Jinping. Our next step in safeguarding Australia’s future is accepting and adapting to the reality of the geopolitical struggle before us – its origins, its ideas and its implications for the Indo-Pacific region.
The next decade will test our democratic values, our economy, our alliances and our security like no other time in Australian history.