Darwin port lease shows complete failure of national-interest protection mechanisms

NT political commentary and media coverage continues to largely evade the real issues concerning the Darwin port lease

 

Letter to The Northern Territory News 
Monday, 23 November 2015
(published, Thursday, 26 November 2015)

Ben Smee’s “Butt out of our business Canberra” (Sunday Territorian, Nov 22, p14) falls into the very contextual trap he accuses others of committing — looking narrowly and backwards.

Countries have only permanent interests, not permanent friends or the opposite.

If China was an internally and externally accountable democracy and a co-operative member of the rules-based international system under which Australia thrives – rather than a powerful, authoritarian and regional country apparently seeking major changes to this system – such a lease would pose minimal risk.

In its necessary grand-strategic context, the lease is a mistaken and unnecessary hostage to fortune over a very, very, long timeframe in circumstances that are likely to be strategically fluid and perhaps turbulent..

Particularly concerning overall casus belli risk and creating a future situation where detrimental Chinese perceptions, real or contrived, about the lease (such as where a temporary resumption became necessary) would increase strategic tensions when we would most need to reduce them.

The best way to avoid such long-term risks is to avoid them in the first place by cancelling the lease.

Despite subsequent spin by the NT and federal governments, what has really occurred is a state/territory-level government narrowly focused on short-term political expediency taking a major decision — which affects the future strategic security of the whole country over the next century — without realising the full implications.

It’s not primarily a commercial, foreign investment review or other economic issue.

Nor does it ultimately concern potential barriers to defence force use of commercial facilities, an increased risk of foreign espionage or sabotage, or whether Landbridge has [Chinese] Communist Party or military connections or not.

What the lease — achieved only by exploiting legal and procedural loopholes — really shows is a complete failure by both the NT and federal governments to think grand-strategically, plus major flaws in our national security decision-making machinery. 

 

[ Detailed ADA comment on this issue can be found here ]

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