AUSTRALIA: THE FORGOTTEN IMPERIALISM

توجه، باز شدن در یك پنجره جدید. چاپ

Australia is a regional imperialist power, integrated in the global alliance of the U.S.-Europe-Japanese triade of the North. It is a strategic ally subordinated to the current hegemonic leader of the capitalist world system, the United States, but is "authorized" to follow policies serving its own interests in a "sphere of influence". This sphere includes essentially the South Pacific (Papua New Guinea and Bougainville, the Salomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tuvalu, Nauru, Kiribati, and more of the Coral Sea, Norfolk and Lord Howe, and several dependencies in the Indian Ocean), as well as (above all?), in Southeast Asia, East Timor –which does not happen without posing serious problems. The acceptance of this Australian zone of influence by the other countries of the triade does not exclude rivalries and periods of tensions –notably with French imperialism, which has possessions in the region (New Caledonia, Tahiti and Polynesia, Wallis-and-Futuna), and with the British one, which still has influence over its former colonies. This mission as "regional police force" is carried out in partnership with New Zealand, whose interests are focused in Polynesia (Western Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau). The United States encloses all the above by a giant arc, from Hawaii, the Johnston atolls, Wake and Midway Islands under a military administration and the Line Islands, thanks because of its control of Palau, Guam, the Federation of Micronesia, the Northern Mariana Commonwealth and American Samoa.
Australia is home of several U.S. military bases whose sites are classified as top secret –along with the number of troops present at them–, as well as a center for electronic espionage at Pine Gap, near Alice Springs, together with the Australian Defense Force. U.S. submarines resupply at Sterling Bay or Darwin –rather than at Sydney, where the anti-war movements are actively opposing nuclear weapons. These movements currntly are preparing to demonstrate against the ecological destruction that cannot fail to occur at the Great Coral Reef during the the military exercises expected by 12,000 U.S. Marines and 14,000 Australian soldiers in Queensland.
Australian imperialism is exercised first of all against the Aboriginal peoples of the continent and of Tasmania (an island off Australia's southeast coast). In the second half of the 19th century, Australia benefited by a massive influx of capital coming from England, but also of immigrants, attracted by the abondance of land and discoveries of gold, whose extraction represented more than 40% of worldwide production. Gold and land enriched the ruling class of this "England of the antipodes" and allowed a passage –not repressed by the metropolitan power– from an economy based on the exportation of raw materials to one based on a diversified industry, then on tertiary organization. The concentration of capital accelerated at the end of the 19th century, and then with the military orders and its isolation during World War I. It is during this period that Australia began to build up locally a colonial empire, replacing England or pushing out other rival powers like Germany. Australia acquired Papua in 1906, New Guinea and Bougainville in 1914, before setting off on the economic conquest of the British colonies in the Pacific: the Solomons, New Hebrides (which became Vanuatu, independent in 1980), and Fiji.
The protagonists of the Australian imperialist impulse were the big corporations, notably the Colonial Sugar Refining (CSR), based in Sydney et connected to the banks, including the Bank of New South Wales. Starting in 1900, la CSR took control of the sugar industry in Australia and New Zealand, but also in Fiji –from which came two-thirds of its exports. At the end of the 19th century, the Melanesian islands became the zones for recruiting a workforce that had a semi-slave character (blackbirding) for the sugar plantations of Queensland, or those colonial plantations of coprah and coffee in New Guinea. The labor shortage and the resistance of the Indigenous communities led the Australian ruling class to call upon Asian workers, who labored under a type of indentured servant contract, and who were of Indian, Chinese or Malaysian origin. Their ostracism from the "normal" Australian work rights of the period was an attenuated form of the segregation practiced in the South of the United States or of apartheid in South Africa. Following the "White Policy", the closing of Australia (to Asians) starting from 1904-06 involved the repatriation of numerous sugar workers –even if there remain today in the North descendants of these islanders who are Black, but different from the Aborigines. After World War II, the Australian firms CSR (succeeded by BHP), Burns Philp, W.R. Carpenter, Steamships or the Bank of NSW (which became Westpac) built up enormous fortunes by exploiting the economies of Papua New Guinea as well as those of other South Pacific islands. In 1974, these firms pulled out from the whole Papua New Guinea –on the eve of its independence, thus under colonial laws– profits that amounted to almost a quarter of the total production of these countries.
In the 70’s, the Australian mining companies, such as Rio Tinto with and the copper and gold mine of Panguna on the Bougainville Island or BHP with that of Ok Tedi in the West of New Guinea, became the largest exporters of capital to Melanesia. In 1975, more than half of the private investments were directed to Papua New Guinea, where the Australian capitalists carried out a significant share of their profits (up to 35% for Burns Philp, 30% for Carpenter). At the end of the 70’s, the economic penetration was due to Australian firms, but also to many subsidiary companies of U.S. and British transnationals established in Australia and active in the old colony: Conzinc Riotinto of Australia (CRA), Carpenter, Burns Philp, Bank of NSW, BHP, Comalco, Thiess, and also the National Australia Bank, ANZ, Boral, Dunlop, Pioneer, Rothmans… In the Fiji, Carpenter and Burns Philp were coming first. The investments by 500 Australian companies in the Pacific Islands already exceeded A$1 billion in 1980. In the 90’s, as the Australian capital moved towards Asia and remained important in New Zealand, in Great Britain and in North America, the investments to Melanesia were very profitable. The profits drawn by Australia from Papua New Guinea rose to A$400 million in 1995, to be compared to 245 from Asia (except Hong Kong) –the profits realized in the Fiji (A$24 million), in Solomon (5), in Vanuatu (3), in New Caledonia (2.5) and in the Samoa (2.5) exceeding half of those recorded in Indonesia (A$53 million).
Melanesia is a crucial objective for the Australian imperialism, even if its importance tends to decline compared to that of the Asian countries. The Pacific was the base of the expansion of Australian capitalism towards Asia. Australia continues to dominate the key economic sectors of the Southern Pacific Islands: this is the case in Papua New Guinea (gold by BHP with Ok Tedi, by Rio Tinto in Lihir, by Placer Pacific in Porgera; oil by BHP in Kutubu; copper by Rio Tinto in Panguna –that the authorities wish to reopen as soon as possible Bougainville–); in the Fiji (gold mine in Vatukoula by Emperor Mines Limited, first employer of the country; copper mine in the Namosi province of Viti Levu by Placer Pacific); as well as the Salomon Islands (Gold Ridge gold mine in Guadalcanal owned by Delta Gold Mining, which generates one third of the gross domestic product of the country). In Papua New Guinea, where two thirds of the foreign shareholders are Australian, new projects are going on, like the building of a new 2,000 km long gas pipeline by the Australian Gas Light associated with the Malaysian company Petronas for a cost of A$ 1.5 billion between Southern Highlands and Queensland.
The Southern Pacific Islands constitute a privileged, secured outlet for the Australian exports. At the end of the 90’s, this region absorbed almost as many Australian products (A$2 billion) than the huge Indonesian market. The results of the trade balances are systematically favorable to Australia, which knew how to open the markets of its partners by regional free trade agreements: SPARTECA (South Pacific and Regional Trade Agreement), Trade and Commercial Relations Agreement with Papua New Guinea –where Australia, first partner, exports annually an amount of more than A$1 billion of goods and services. Australia counts for about half of the imports of the Fiji –which in turn direct towards Australian one third of its exports (gold, but also textile and clothing for the Australian chains of distribution)–, and of the Salomon Islands –which export to Australia gold, wood and seafoods. Half of exports of the Samoa go to Australia, which in turn receives a quarter of those of Vanuatu.
The governmental aid from Australia to the countries of the region represents little compared to the profits that its transnational and its banks extracts from there. It especially aims at convincing the recipient States to adopt a line in conformity with the strategic interests of Camberra and its allies –concerning the nuclear weapons in particular. Today, nearly A$ 350 million are granted to Papua New Guinea, that is to say half of the Australian bilateral assistance. Since 1975, for this sole country, the cumulated amounts exceed A$ 5 billion. The military component occupies a central place in this assistance scheme. It corresponds to 10% of the total assistance granted to Papua New Guinea –whose army received Australian helicopters and combat ships during the Bougainville war. Besides, the presence of military personnel in a country makes it possible to see there more clearly in its internal affairs... Before the last coup d’Etat –which succeeded in spite of the threat of armed intervention by Australia–, the Fiji also received some assistance, like the majority of the countries of the region. Around 1985-1986, the Australian (Labour!) government considered that its « safety » was threatened by... Kiribati, which was on the point of signing an agreement with the USSR recognizing a 200 miles exclusive zone (refused by the United States) for... fishing!
In 1987, Australia tried to make condemn by the Southern Pacific Forum the foreign policy of Vanuatu, member of the Movement of Not-Aligned which had established relations with Cuba, the Sandinist Nicaragua and the PLO, and declared itself favorable to the struggles of national liberation of Kanaky, East Timor and West Papua (formerly Irian Jaya). In 1997, the (conservative) Prime Minister Howard threatened to suspend the assistance to the countries which would sign the international agreements on reduction of the emissions of greenhouse gas. The application of neoliberal reforms now conditions bilateral assistance. It is only when it renewed its stand-by agreement with the IMF in March 2000 that Papua New Guinea received Australian assistance in June of the same year, allowing new loans by the international organizations in December. Australia also supports the "reform of the public sector" in Vanuatu and in the Salomon Islands, as conditions of the granting of loans by the IMF and by the Asian Development Bank. Thus, more assistance means less sovereignty...
The Australian interests extend on Southeast Asia, but they are of different nature, because historically subordinated to those of the United States in the region –facing Japan especially. Australia aligned itself upon the strategy of containment of the revolutions of communist inspiration, but on the tactical support to independantist under control. It supported the U.S. involvement in Korea (1950), integrated ANZUS (1951), helped the Indonesian dictatorships at the time of the massacres of Communists (1965), took an active part in the Vietnam war, recognized Taiwan against the People’s Republic of China (until 1972), and, in spite of the opposition of the left, approved the occupation of Timor (from the crushing of Fretilin in 1975 to the massacre of Dili in 1991)... all that under the cover of "forward defence". It remained in withdrawal economically during a long time, limiting its role to the stabilization of the region, without obstructing the U.S. interests. In the 70’s, the opening of the Asian countries, from China to Indonesia, made it possible for the Australian capitalists little by little to penetrate these economies, especially their mining sectors, with BHP or Rio Tinto. Market liberalization was encouraged within the framework of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), then accelerated after the 1997Asian crisis and the IMF assistance. The current challenge is to deepen neoliberalism, by containing resistances. Nevertheless, the regional power of Australia is always limited by its submission to the diktats of the United States. As a matter of fact, it had to await Washington’s decision to replace –after the fall of its allied, Suharto– the authority over East Timor to lead the U.N. force of intervention (UNTAET) in 1999 and to consolidate the positions of its transnationals, already strong in the oil gas sectors (thanks to the Timor Gap Treaty). Furthermore, the currency of this country remains the U.S. dollar, the official language is still the Portuguese, and conflicts are virulent between Western transnationals.
Thus, the strategic interests of Australia –covering a large triangle Pakistan-India, Russian Siberia-China-Japan and the Pacific, with its immediate interests (Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Southern Pacific), would be never better served than when being subjected to those of the United States. Thus, the goal is to keep itself ready for a possible military intervention in Melanesia and in the Pacific, or even for an action under U.S. leadership in Asia (or elsewhere). Accordingly, it is expected that the military spending increases from A$12 billion in 2000 to A$20 billion in 2010. Manpower of the army was risen to 54 000. The military bases are modernized, the definitions of defence relooked (the "forward defence" of the Cold War making place to a "pro-active defence"), the materials renewed (hunters, bombers, conveyors of troops, aerial tankers, AWAC, helicopters, patrol ships...), the services sophisticated (telecommunications, computers), the training courses brought up to date (including to learn the new techniques of interception of refugees!). "Inter-operationality" becomes the key of this reorganization of the Australian army, which is more and more integrated into the U.S. military strategy, and technologically modernized in order to face the eventual risks of instability in the region. In spite of the electoral victory of Ramos-Horta, who benefited from the support of Australia, in front of Alkatiri, the leftist forces remain still powerful in East Timor. The evolution of Papua New Guinea is always difficult to anticipate, and the tensions persist in Bougainville. The pressures for democracy are going up against the old style of government in Tonga, still supported by Australia. The Salomon Islands, which have announced the next arrival of Cuban doctors, increasingly criticize the operations of "maintenance of law and order" by the RAMSI forces –mainly Australian. As for the Fiji, the soldiers openly defy Camberra there. Thus, it is impossible to forget this under-imperialism of the antipodes, especially when the Howard government increases the Australian military presence along with the United States in Iraq –with more than 2,500 men, that is to say the greatest effort for Australia since the Vietnam war...

For more details, see, among others, the publications on the website of the Democratic Socialist Party (also partly avalaible on: http://archives.econ.utah.edu/archives/marxism/) –which freely inspired the author, as well as discussions with Australian friends and activists met in Sydney in February 2007.