By Sam King
Why, exactly, did Australian PM Scott Morrison slip up during his COP26 speech and advocate: “global momentum to tackle China”, only to then quickly correct his mistake to mention “climate”?
If you listen to the speech, he actually made two slips in a row. The “China” one was the second. Before that he went off script and referred to the “Pacific” instead of the now standard US / Aust official term – “Indo-Pacific”, which again he hurriedly corrected. This is natural because “Pacific” is a long-used term. “Asia-Pacific” is another.
“Indo-pacific” by contrast is a term, probably the creation of the US State Department or perhaps Pentagon spin doctors that is now standard fare for US, Australian and other diplomats, politicians. It has been obediently popularised through liberal and other journalists in outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post and the Australian ABC.
The term “Indo-Pacific”, as it is used, has a similar or identical meaning to the more inclusive term “Asia-Pacific”. The difference is it posits India as at the centre, while also tending to exclude China from the mind of the listener. China is neither “Indo” nor, really, Pacific but a part of continental Asia.
When Morrison accidentally said “Pacific”, instead of “Indo-Pacific”, he knew the difference in meaning. He had failed to stick to the conscious ruling class script that excludes and marginalises China. His mistake put the thought (and word) “China” in his mind. In the next sentence he blurted out the thing that was still in his mind – and made the quintessential Freudian slip.
An Australian Prime Minister speaking openly at an international forum about “tackling” China should have been a big scandal. Imperialist aggression against China is far more consequential – including for the urgent task of ramping up renewables – than the banal discussion about the minor diplomatic spat between Morrison and Macron – two imperialist allies.
There is no possibility of rapid global emissions reductions while the US, Europe and Australia refuse to co-operate with China, the world’s largest emitter, on how best to organise the roll-out of renewable energy production, storage and infrastructure.
China has given every indication it is willing to cooperate on this roll-out. The Chinese short term and Zero 2060 targets are far more aggressive – considering its stage of economic development – than even the UK, let alone the US or Australia. The same might be said for India. That is despite that income in China is only around one sixth of the US and Australian levels.
There is every likelihood that international technical co-operation for expanding renewable production and the necessary grid upgrades and storage could rapidly accelerate this process especially in China and other poor countries because renewables are now the cheapest form of energy.
US policy recognises this possibility – reflected in the appointment of John Kerry as Biden’s climate envoy. However, Kerry’s effectiveness is completely undermined because Biden’s policy is to extend out one hand of co-operation while the other forms a fist to China’s face. Beijing, unsurprisingly, refuses to lend its full cooperation to “multi-lateral” efforts and deliver a diplomatic prize to Biden while it is still being smashed with sanctions, technology bans, investment bans, trade tariffs, a full-throated propaganda offensive and tightening military encirclement.
It’s not that cooperation to reduce emissions is “impossible”. Reducing the climate disaster is obviously a mutual interest of the ruling classes of all countries. However, left to their own devices, the various national capitalist groupings will continue to approach the inevitable transition to renewable power principally through the framework of their mutual competition – maximising their own profits while externalising as much as possible of the costs. This many-sided game of manoeuvre is just too slow. It does not lend itself to the necessary rapid roll-out – at least not yet and not everywhere. For that we need to ramp up or revive the mass movement from where it was crushed by the global pandemic two years ago.
Morrison laid bare a central purpose of Australian and US diplomacy today – attack China – but the mass media is so compliant that his slip-ups have hardly made a ripple. So far only the Australian ABC seems to have reported it – and then only because the incident has gone viral on Chinese social media. The ABC coverage mentions only the second slip, but not the first. Their short video shows both. See it for yourself.