A former Australian diplomat has caused a stir with a foreboding claim that Australia could be a major casualty if a military showdown between the United States and China comes to pass.
The spectre of conflict looms over the world, with a senior US general recently predicting in an internal memo to Air Force personnel that the two superpowers will "fight" in 2025.
According to John Lander, who served as Australia's Deputy Ambassador to Beijing during 1974-76, such a scenario would see Australia in a very unenviable position.
One claim in particular has caused ripples around the world. "The United States is not preparing to go to war against China. The United States is preparing Australia to go to war against China," he said.
In the bleakest of terms, Australian soldiers would be fed into the meat grinder of a proxy war, he argued.
"All Australian analysts, whether sympathetic or antipathetic to China, agree on one point. That is, that if the US goes to war against China over the status of Taiwan, or any other issue of contention, Australia will inevitably be involved," he said.
But it's the potential shape of that involvement that seemingly has him worried.
"All of these analyses overlook one significant point. US determination to pursue the Wolfowitz doctrine of preventing the rise of any power that could challenge US global supremacy... has not diminished, but has morphed into a strategy of fighting its adversaries by proxy."
Lander pointed to the build-up of US military assets in the north of Australia, including increasing troop rotations to Darwin and a reported US plan to house as many as six nuclear-capable B-52 bombers in the Northern Territory, labelling them as "indicators of war preparations".
He also noted the ANZUS Treaty "actually provides no guarantee of protection, merely assurances to consult on appropriated means of support in the event that Australia should come under attack."
Lander made the claim in a speech delivered online last month, which has since been published in Australia's independent media and has now come to the attention of China's state-controlled media.
At the beginning of the address Lander admitted he was in the "minority" with his "unique" worldview.
"[But] my minority view is gaining ground," he said.
Stripped of the more contentious elements, the overall sentiment echoes that of ANU Emeritus Professor of strategic and defence studies Hugh White, who literally wrote the book on how to defend Australia.
"Our armed forces are now being designed primarily to contribute to US-led operations in a major maritime war with China in the Western Pacific, with the aim of helping the United States to deter China from challenging the US," he wrote in June.
China's Global Times jumps on controversial take
China's Global Times mouthpiece, which often depicts Australia as a lackey of the US, has seized on the highly contentious claims, running its own interview with Lander last week in which he said Australia "went along" with becoming a "proxy adversary against China" due to its alliance with the US.
"The militarisation of northern Australia is, I believe, actually designed to make it possible to ensure that Australia will, in fact, be at war against China at some point in the not too distant future, whilst America can stand off on the sidelines and say they are not directly involved," he told the publication.
"They must help our ally by pouring in more and more weapons, materiel and ammunition, but still maintaining the pretence that they're not directly engaged in the actual war. I see this is the most likely scenario."
According to online profiles, Lander worked in the China section of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) in the lead-up to the recognition of the People’s Republic of China in 1972 and several other occasions in the 1970s and 1980s.
Yahoo News Australia has contacted DFAT for comment.
Australia's opposition leader Peter Dutton, in November made comments during his time as minister for defence that it would be "inconceivable" for Australia to not join the US in military action against China, arguing the best deterrence measure was to prepare for war.
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