Magazine of the Socialist Party, Australian section of the CWI

Trump & Turnbull talk trade & war

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Malcolm Turnbull led a super-delegation of politicians and capitalists to the US in late February, as geo-strategic tensions continue to rise in Australia’s region. The goal was to renew relations with the US administration, but the dirty deals between Trump and Turnbull are bad news for workers.

State premiers from Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia, as well as the Chief Ministers of the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, met with US State governors.

Twenty-two powerful Australian CEOs and bosses also travelled with Turnbull. They met Trump and other government officials, as well as American big business leaders.

Nuclear tensions with North Korea and the US’s struggle with China to maintain control of Asia were the backdrop of the meeting. Media reports suggest a deal may be in the works for Australian navy ships to help enforce a new round of American sanctions on North Korea.

Trump also said he would “love” for Australia’s military to help challenge China in the South China Sea. Clearly Trump wants to do a deal on these two issues. China previously warned Australia’s government against this action, threatening use of force. The risk of these tensions causing armed conflict of one kind or another is steadily rising.

Economic relations with China have underpinned 26 years without recession in Australia, an ongoing world record. China’s dictatorship has huge political leverage over Australia’s bosses and politicians because of this economic relationship, but still not as much as the US establishment.

Despite this record-breaking boom, including nearly a decade of record bank profits, workers in Australia are facing record low wage growth, a housing crisis and an overall decline in quality of life.

The growing contradiction of the US-Australia military alliance and economic dependence on China is near breaking point. Australia’s ruling class cannot forever please their two increasingly hostile masters.

When the elastic finally breaks, capitalists and their politicians will expect workers to shield them from the snap-back. Mass job losses and a housing crash could occur.

Turnbull’s visit to the US was an attempt to lean back a little toward America economically. He proposed privatising publicly owned American infrastructure by selling it to retirement funds in Australia.

This could act as a handy political favour to Trump by providing money for his troubled domestic infrastructure program.

Turnbull also discussed a rival plan to counter China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”, a massive imperialist infrastructure scheme. The Australian Financial Review reported that the idea being worked on is for Australia, America, Japan and India to fund infrastructure projects in Indian and Pacific Ocean countries.

Discussed alongside this plan was the ‘Quadrilateral Security Dialogue’ between the same four countries. Despite official denials, clearly the “Quad” is the beginning of a possible new military alliance aimed at containing China, heating up the already-simmering maritime tensions.

Since Turnbull’s visit Trump has announced import tariffs on steel and aluminium, and a plan to impose 25% taxes on 1000 products worth $60 billion imported from China. US administration officials are calling for a ‘coalition of willing’ countries to join in the tariffs, calling up memories of the disastrous invasion of Iraq.

China has already responded, planning retaliatory measures. So-called protectionist trade policies only ever serve to protect bosses’ profits under capitalism, and never the interests of workers. A dangerous, escalating trade war is now an immediate possibility.

Trump granted Australia an exemption on his steel and aluminium tariffs, but in exchange for what? Trump may expect Turnbull’s cooperation in a military adventure, as suggested by his tweets on the issue.

The risks for Australia’s capitalists getting caught in the crossfire of a US-China trade war are far greater than the benefits of the metal exemptions. Australia’s economy is highly dependent on global trade and will be impacted in the event of a trade war. Many of Australia’s top capitalists have already spoken out strongly against Trump’s moves, fearing hits to the profits.

People across the Indian and Pacific oceans certainly are in desperate need of expanded infrastructure. If planned with the interests of the majority in mind, an infrastructure program could create jobs while improving quality of life for people in a sustainable way.

Clearly the funds and ability to coordinate this exist. However, the madness of capitalism means that the “Belt and Road initiative” and its “Quad” based rival are not planned to meet these human needs, but instead to defend and extend the interests of competing capitalists.

Workers in the region should reject this imperialist agenda and unite to throw out Turnbull, Trump, Xi Jinping, Shinzo Abe and all the rest of the capitalist despots. A new cooperative arrangement could instead be agreed based on public ownership, democratic planning and solidarity. This is the alternative to the disaster of trade conflicts and war.

By Kirk Leonard

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