Darwin port lease shows structural problem in national-interest protection decisionmaking

Those trying to defend the 99-year lease of Darwin's port might try addressing the detailed criticisms actually being made. Scattergun allegations of supposed "xenophobia" surely show a desperate attempt to evade discussing the real strategic security issues involved with such a long lease.

 

Letter to The Australian Financial Review 
Monday, 30 November 2015
(published, Wednesday, 02 December 2015)

Brian Toohey (“Security risks no judge of Chinese investment, AFR, November 30, p39) mostly repeats mundane defences against straw-man arguments that strategically-informed critics of the Darwin port lease are not making.

Such as the lease supposedly only involving foreign investment review, espionage, sabotage and port access questions.

Foremost among the real issues instead is how the Darwin decision, with its 99-year timeframe, could be made without consideration of the consequent grand-strategic context and without integrated and whole-of-government deliberations.

Particularly its deliberate use of loopholes in our national interest protection mechanisms that clearly indicate the need to thoroughly reform such machinery so such inadequate consideration does not re-occur.

The lease risks significant constraints on Australia exercising our sovereign freedom of action over a long, and probably not always strategically benign, period

Particularly in causing casus belli and escalatory risks during times of strategic tension that can be best avoided by not leasing such major geo-strategic infrastructure in the first place.

Finally, it is not a Chinese leasee per se that poses such risks and political accusations that critics somehow suffer “xenophobia” are as invalid as they are desperate.

It is the authoritarian nature of China’s system of government, and its ambivalence about supporting the rules-based international system under which Australia has thrived, that causes such a degree of strategic risk over such a long term.  

A stable and democratised China fully supporting a rules-based international system would pose few or no problems with such a lease, not least because no two democracies have waged war on each other since 1812.  

 

[Detailed ADA comment on the Darwin port lease may be found here.]

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