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Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill 2017


Moves by the Shinzo Abe government in Japan to monitor political debate in Australia about proposed foreign interference laws reveal a great deal about U.S. imperialist  diplomacy toward the Asia-Pacific region.

US foreign policy toward the region is channelled through Japan and Australia and the US seeks to have more control over their media outlets as part of their aggressive Cold War diplomatic position and wave of militarism directed, primarily, at China.

Last year the Turnbull Coalition government in Canberra drafted the Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill to deal with perceived threats to Australian sovereignty. The proposed laws specifically target journalists and are intended to make it a serious criminal offence for those convicted of covert activities. The Australian government also intend to create 'a public register for those working on behalf of foreign interests'. (1) The proposed laws are draconian. They are aimed at criminalising 'all steps of news reporting, from gathering and researching of information and communication'. (2) Journalists and their editorial staff 'could be jailed for up to 20 years for receiving classified information, even before publishing it'. (3) It was noted by legal officials the legislation used such a broad definition of 'national security' 'that journalists could trigger the offence without even knowing'. (4)
The Turnbull government has displayed a cavalier attitude toward opposition to the legislation although have offered to redraft some areas of the bill. They regard themselves as being in the regional forefront of US-led diplomatic positions with 'passing a raft of legislative measures to deal with foreign interference, restructuring the national security community, developing policies and a supporting architecture to deal with cyber threats, and vigorously defending democratic values and the rule of law'. (5) The flowery descriptive language and excuse is little other than a systematic attempt to strengthen class and state power and weaken opposition at the behest of what former foreign minister Bob Carr has described as 'the most distasteful presidency Australians have ever contemplated'. (6)
Behind the scenes the proposed laws form part of a new US-led Cold War diplomatic position toward China, with economic measures resting upon military alliances designed to encircle and contain Chinese influences. A recent US State Department media release noted the National Security Council inter-agency group had begun an investigation into 'Chinese covert influence operations' with reference to Australia. (7) The diplomatic position has also sought to provide the US with greater control over media outlets, restricting the dissemination of information within civilian populations. Unfavourable publicity about the US would appear high on the agenda for Washington.
A central mechanism of US foreign policy toward the Asia-Pacific has been to implement a regional defence and security system where Japan has become the northern regional hub for 'US interests' with Australia as a southern counterpart. The two hubs are directly linked triangularly into the Pentagon. Last month Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made a one-day visit to Tokyo as part of the final moves to implement the triangular US-led diplomacy and to 'deepen and broaden defence cooperation'. (8) The moves were also noted for 'Japan to play a greater combat role overseas'. (9)
While recent moves to include India in US-led defence and security planning with the so-called Quad have taken place, Japan and Australia remain the two important nodes. (10)
It should, therefore, be regarded as no great surprise that the Shinzo Abe government in Japan 'is closely monitoring Australia's debate about foreign interference laws and could tighten their own controls as a result'. (11) The US seeks the same degree of class and state power to implement Cold War diplomatic positions in their northern regional hub for the same reasons as in the southern one.
There is nothing particularly new about the proposed legislation, nor the timing of its intended implementation. A previous Cold War position high-lighted the role of the media and problem of them divulging information regarded as sensitive. (12) A sad fact of life for those critics concerned, however, remains the public right to know how their civil societies are governed, without relevant information being hidden or subject to draconian security laws. Journalists, also, are held by codes of conduct which tend to be of a somewhat higher standard of behaviour than most politicians.
One of the critics from the previous Cold War remains on record for stating 'Democracies are under siege' and 'the first enemy is the articulate, revolutionary militant left, working inside the democracies'. (13) The same statement also included reference to trade-unionists also being regarded as enemies of the state. (14) Little has changed with the new, proposed legislation.
The proposed Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill, 2017, has little to do with spying and foreign interference. It has been designed to strengthen the alliance with the US and their pursuit of regional 'US interests' and target those ordinary people who oppose such military planning and raise questions about class and state power.
Official military publications dealing with the role of the intelligence services note that together with usual duties they also have a role in disseminating 'secret or deniable action as an extension of policy and unattributable propaganda', and 'the essential job of a Secret Service is to get things done secretly or deniably'. (15) Their control of media outlets, therefore, can best be seen in that light; the proposed legislation enables greater control in an era where we are witnessing, in contemporary Australia, a time of heightened Cold War tensions and likely military hostilities.
We live in dangerous times: preparations are under-way for a further, heightened round of US-led militarism with a proposed 7.4 per cent boost for the Pentagon budget over the period to 2027. (16)
In addition, the stated intention from the White House has been 'we're going to have the strongest military we've ever had, by far'. (17) The moves have been accompanied by statements from some people in the Pentagon responsible for foreign policy toward the Asia-Pacific region to also table plans to have 'a grand parade of the US armed forces in Washington to celebrate military strength'. (18) All indications point to sabre-rattling and swashbuckling bravado as a prelude to hostilities as part of Cold War diplomatic positions.
An announcement that US Admiral Harry Harris being nominated as incoming Ambassador to Canberra is a further worrying development. A well-known military hawk close to President Trump, Harris has been noted for regarding China as the obvious challenge and 'a disruptive transnational force'. (19)
And if any observers have doubts about the real nature of US-led regional military planning and how it is linked to global plans, a recent statement from John Kirby, a retired navy rear-admiral and former spokesman for the Pentagon and State Department, acknowledging that the US showed their military strength 'every day in virtually every clime all over the world', should dispel any quandary. (20)
1. Labor puts journalists first on security law, Australian, 7 February 2018.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. New A-G retreats on spy laws, Australian, 8 February 2018.
5. The Autocrats Club, The Weekend Australian, 10-11 February 2018.
6. Don't bait China, Carr tells US envoy, Australian, 14 February 2018.
7. Trump orders probe into Chinese influence, The Weekend Australian, 13-14 January 2018; see also, ASIO warns foreign spooks more active than in Cold War, Australian, 1 February 2018.
8. Editorial, Australia-Japan alliance crucial, The Weekend Australian, 20-21 January 2018.
9. Ibid.
10. Tokyo eyes our help to defy China, Australian, 25 January 2018.
11. Australian, op.cit., 7 February 2018.
12. Secret Services and the Media, Secret Services and Democracy, John Bruce Lockhart, Royal United Services Institute, Brassey's Defence Yearbook, 1975-76, pp. 67-83.
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid.
16. Trump budget signals deficits are here to stay, Australian, 14 February 2018.
17. Trump puts arms ahead of alms, Australian, 14 February 2018.
18. Trump demands military parade, Australian, 8 February 2018.
19. Admiral, you can see China at a different angle from down here,  Australian, 13 February 2018; and, Australian, op.cit., 14 February 2018.
20. Australian, op.cit., 8 February 2018.