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Monday, 18 October 2021 12:42

ASPI's Jennings beats the war drums again; maybe budgets are strained?

ASPI's Jennings beats the war drums again; maybe budgets are strained? Image by Rilsonav from Pixabay

It looks like the defence industry lobby group, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, is running low on funds. Nothing else can account for the surfacing of its executive director Peter Jennings on the opinion pages of The Australian, conjuring up a fictional version of a Chinese bid to grab Taiwan.

One finds it passing strange that Jennings would seek to write this kind of fantasy stuff after US President Joe Biden made it a point to stress that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping had both affirmed their commitment to the existing Taiwan policy during talks in September.

Additionally, the news that an online summit is planned between the two leaders was also ventilated. The US probably did that to try and cool things down, given reports that Chinese aircraft have been making flights close to Taiwan in increased numbers.

So while the Americans are trying to cool down things, Jennings prefers to pump up the volume and indulge in fanciful scenarios.

{laodposition sam08}ASPI's annual report for 2020-21 appears to be ready, but has not yet been placed on its website. The only part of the report which has been published on the Web is the funding breakdown for 20-21.

When one looks at the list of sponsors for ASPI, it is clear why things do not look very bright for Jennings. A fair few have fallen off since I last wrote about the institute, among them the shipbuilder Austal and MBDA Missile Systems.

aspi funding 2

Among ASPI's sponsors are US defence contractor Lockheed Martin, US defence supplier Northrop Grumman, Swedish defence company Saab, the Australian arm of American defence contractor Raytheon, French defence giant Thales, and Naval Group, the international design and build partner for Australia’s Future Submarine Program.

Given Australia's jettisoning of the contract with France to build submarines, and the adoption of a new deal with the US and the UK to acquire nuclear submarines instead — which may not eventuate until the 2040s — Jennings may also lose the Naval Group as a sponsor within the next year or so.

ASPI's cyber policy centre is backed by auDA, the American cloud behemoth Amazon Web Services, Facebook, the Australian Signals Directorate, AddAxis, the Cyber Security Co-operative Research Centre, Google, Jacobs, Microsoft, Palo Alto Networks, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Property Council of Australia, Splunk, Thales, Macquarie Government and UpGuard.

In this latter group, too, Jennings has seen a few sponsors call it a day, among them the Australian Government department Services Australia.

aspi funding 2020 21

With money pouring in from all these sources, it's a mystery how ASPI calls itself independent and non-partisan. Its deception is helped no end by newspapers like The Australian and the ABC not identifying clearly who Jennings' backers are.

Jennings has every right to propagate his own views, inflammatory as they are. But one should be given a clear picture of who is funding the show; the one who pays the piper calls the tune and Australians need to be told clearly who that paymaster is. And he never does that.

ASPI has an agreement to receive $4 million a year in grants from the Australian Government from 2018-19 to 2022-23. An additional $5 million has been granted for an US office.

Jennings' tactics are well-worn ones: hype up the fear factor so that countries in the region will stock up on arms. The arms industry will be laughing all the way to the bank and drop a few more crumbs ASPI's way. The US and the UK used to do it in the Middle East during the 1980s and 1990s, despite the fact that arms supplied to countries in that region would be needlessly used for bloodshed, and not to defend against an attack.

In December last year, Jennings was beating the war drums at the same time that many business leaders and some politicians were calling for dialling down the rhetoric between Australia and China because of the fact that Beijing is an important export market.

In his latest op-ed, Jennings says: "The Taiwanese assess perhaps a three-year time frame before an attack, while the US military command at INDOPACOM in Honolulu considers a military assault in six years is possible."

But, of course, Peter Jennings, noble warrior that he is, sees it differently and would like to shirtfront Xi Jinping right away.

Screenshots from ASPI funding breakdown.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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