Showing posts with label Pax Americana. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pax Americana. Show all posts

Saturday, December 21, 2013

X-Post: Australia’s Regional Foreign Policy Left Standing In The Shadows Of The Anglosphere

Upon taking government, Australia’s conservative coalition parties, led by Tony Abbott, had a simple foreign policy refrain: more Jakarta, less Geneva.

The previous Labor government had a more ambitious suite of policies on positioning Australia in the Asian century, yet regionalism was still order of the day. Despite the supposed predilection for regionalism and Australia’s unique geopolitical interests, leaked NSA documents on intelligence operations in Indonesia suggest the country is struggling to reconcile historical alliances to the Five Eyes network and the rising ASEAN heavyweights. In short, Australia may still be standing in the shadows of the Anglosphere.

Material leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden indicates the Australian Defence Signals Directorate attempted to tap the phones of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the president’s wife and high-level Indonesian ministers in 2009. Claims have also aired that the Australian Secret Intelligence Service placed listening devices in the Timorese cabinet room in 2004 during deliberations on a proposed oil and gas treaty with the Australian government.

The theatrical diplomatic confrontation that has followed these leaks coincides with a critical juncture in the Australia-Indonesia relationship. Indonesian cooperation with the Abbott government’s border protection strategy is operationally essential. Operation Sovereign Borders requires high-level Indonesian cooperation as most asylum seekers transit through Indonesia before making a seaward journey to Australia.

Many of the NSA revelations about Australian intelligence activities are not surprising, nor unexpected to the political elite of Asian Pacific countries. However, the revelations are likely to reinforce the worst stereotypes and popular regional (mis)conceptions of Australian foreign policy. More than ever Australian diplomatic activity will be seen through an unflattering prism of US patronage.

For the Pacific Islands, the Australian government is cast as a meddling neo-colonialist, pursing its economic and security agendas under the guise of aid effectiveness demands, unfair trade deals and conditional loans. Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Papua New Guinea’s Peter O’Neill can now become even more publicly sceptical about Australian security narratives on Melanesian state stability and efforts to counter Chinese state investment.

For the current Indonesian parliament, political class and press, historical suspicions about Australia’s position on West Papuan independence, disappointment over live cattle embargos and residual political angst at Australian intervention in East Timor have raised to the surface of Indonesian political discourse.

The parties were primed for this exact type of diplomatic conflict after the then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd referenced the 1962-66 Indonesian-Malaysian Confrontation, known as Konfrontasi (in which Australian troops fought as part of British forces in Borneo and West Malaysia against Indonesian-supported forces ), when discussing the Liberal Party’s border protection policy and its contravention of Indonesian sovereignty. Those that see the diplomatic spat as nothing more than theatre would argue these elevated suspicions are not that far from the latent, regional perceptions of Australia security and foreign policy.

Scott Hickie

" For the Pacific Islands, the Australian government is cast as a meddling neo-colonialist, pursing its economic and security agendas under the guise of aid effectiveness demands, unfair trade deals and conditional loans. Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Papua New Guinea’s Peter O’Neill can now become even more publicly sceptical about Australian security narratives on Melanesian state stability and efforts to counter Chinese state investment. "
Considering the status quo perceptions, the NSA revelations could be dismissed as having little substantive consequence – the inevitable price to be paid for a ‘regional sheriff’ keeping frail states and economically weak authoritarian regimes in check and supporting the Anglosphere.

However, the relative power balance across Southeast Asia and the Pacific has changed over the last 10 to 15 years. A notable proportion of fragile and developing states have emerged from negative growth and post conflict environments to improved security situations and increased political stability and have posted almost decade-long continued GDP growth alongside institutional reform.

These unfolding regional economic developments translate to growing political confidence and diplomatic clout for the rising ASEAN powers. The dynamic also underscores greater interdependency between Australia’s future trade interests and security posture – particularly critical on- and off-shore infrastructure in North West Australia.

This point is sometimes lost on Australia’s political class and public who harbour a decade old regional security understanding preoccupied with Australian proximity to fragile states and developing countries beset with political instability. A recent Lowy Institute poll on Australian perceptions of Indonesia shows an almost collective amnesia about any economic or political transformation post-Suharto.

Notwithstanding Australia’s considerable intelligence investment in Indonesia and the large-scale Bali terrorist attack in 2002, the security threats anticipated by the United States and Australia in early post-9/11 have not materialised to the magnitude anticipated and feared. Transboundary Islamic militancy and violent jihadist groups spreading a unified arc of insecurity across southern Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, primarily threatening Western interests, has not unfolded.

Provincial insurgencies, though in existence, have not toppled governments, triggered systemic, wide-scale human rights abuses demanding a regional/international Responsibility to Protect response or disrupted trade. Over the last decade, and in terms of wide-scale human devastation and insecurity, no event has surpassed the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that took the lives of 230,000 and left 1.69 million displaced. Yet, the call of the Anglosphere remains strong.

If the degree to which Australia plays the United States’ proxy regional security underwriter can be scaled back, diplomatic space may open for Australia to carve out a more independent regional international relations agenda. While there is significant consistency and similarity between US and Australian foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific, there remains nuanced but critical points of divergence around trade agreements, regional counter-terrorism initiatives, resolution of maritime boundary disputes, aid and human rights agendas in Southeast Asia. Most importantly, it is the emerging security interdependency at a regional scale that requires prioritisation.

One of the challenges for Australia tempering or better calibrating its regional interdependency with historical and so-called ‘civilisational’ allegiances is the optics and perception of Australia repositioning itself within some sort of Asian sphere of influence.

A US Asia-Pacific pivot and China’s increasing economic dominance and military modernisation lures existing and rising regional middle powers to the bipolar corners of the two global hegemons. Stronger Australian links with Indonesia and Malaysia could be miscalculated as Australia being one step away from falling into the Sino fold. Such a miscalculation fails to appreciate the nature of Indonesian/Malaysian and Chinese relations.

Furthermore, evolving security reconfigurations are resulting from some Southeast Asian countries establishing or augmenting security arrangements with the United States to counterbalance Chinese assertiveness around maritime claims. US efforts to build defence cooperation with Vietnam is a case in point. In one sense this may lead to a dilution of the perceived uniqueness of Australian and US defence ties within the region.

It is evident, now more than ever that Australian foreign policy needs to step out of the shadow of the Anglosphere and develop a deeper network of relations in Southeast Asia. This does not mean compromising US defence ties or being co-opted into a Sino sphere of influence. It means Australia can have greater flexibility to address critical regional trade, security and political imperatives with important neighbours.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

X-Post : Geopolitics of Racism: The NSA and the 'Five Eyes' Network.

Source: Huffington Post

Posted: 11/02/2013 10:03 pm

As Edward Snowden's disclosures continue to reverberate, the racist contours of geopolitics are becoming ever clearer. According to recent reporting, the Anglo, English-speaking countries of the world, including the U.S. and its allies Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, jointly participate in a spy group called the "Five Eyes" network. Though the classic age of imperialism has long since ended, revelations from the National Security Agency (NSA) scandal suggest that whiter nations of the world continue to harbor a deep and abiding distrust of poorer nations and people of color.

Monday, October 28, 2013

X-Post: Russia’s Pacific Destiny

Source: American Interest 


"By virtue of our unique geography”, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in a 2011 Foreign Policy article, “the United States is both an Atlantic and a Pacific power.” Russia, meanwhile, has seen itself as a Euro-Asian country, as Vladimir Putin has argued from the start of his first term in the Kremlin. The American attitude, which in Secretary Clinton’s locution is about as uncontroversial a statement as an American Secretary of State can make, reflects the country’s historic “maritime” vocation. The Russian one reflects the longstanding fascination with the country’s continental scale and reflects its traditional terrestrial focus. It is really no surprise, when you think about it, that during the “space race” Americans fetched their returning astronauts at sea, while Russians did so over land.

Despite these different conceptions of the Pacific, which is now the most dynamic region in the world, both the United States and the Russian Federation have made similar mistakes. The most striking of these has been the equation of the Pacific Rim with Asia and Asians. American and Russian policymakers and experts have commonly spoken of the Asia-Pacific or Asian-Pacific region, respectively. Both groups presuppose that the Pacific Rim cannot even be imagined without the primacy of Asian nations, tacitly agreeing that among them China appears to be a natural leader. The recent and ongoing shift of global wealth toward the Pacific is therefore widely interpreted as a harbinger of the “Asian century.”

Friday, October 25, 2013

X-Post: Pacific Politics - Lamentations from the Pacific.

Kalafi Moala writes that true freedom will come when Pacific peoples start thinking for themselves.
A cry is being heard from almost every corner of the Pacific; a cry against injustice, a cry against the harsh hand that has been dealt against us in the centuries old deliberate attempt by the powerful West and their allies to shape us and our social culture, to become like them.

In this colonization of the Pacific peoples to transform them into Western thinking and ways, the overall effect have been devastating. We’ve been abused from the back when we were not looking or when we lacked knowledge, but now we are being abused from the front, when some of us knowingly chose to be subservient rather than assertive. You annexed whole island nations like Hawaii, imprisoning kings and queens, giving the leadership of that sovereign kingdom nation to your European business friends. You took our lands and destroyed our culture, and have turned our shores into bases for your powerful military.

Many of our nations, as in Kiribati and Tuvalu, face a crisis that threatens to sink the islands from the sea-level rise effect of climate change, and our ocean environment in many places have been ruined by the same effect, scientifically proven that it is caused by global warming, a condition caused by reckless Western industrialization. Oh thou Great and Almighty West, when will you understand? When will you stop to think that what you have done and are doing to our peoples have hurt us more than helped us? You’ve set yourself up to be our problem solver. Your attitude is that you know more than we do what is best for us. It’s like a drug-based health care; the medicine often produces worse effects than the disease.

Our ancestors suffered from diseases foreign to our shores, diseases introduced to our region through your intrusions, causing epidemics that wiped out whole village populations. You fought your wars on our shores, tested your nuclear weapons on our islands, and the suffering of our peoples in French Polynesia and Micronesia is still being felt with the fatal effects of exposure to radiation. You created geopolitical divisions and partitioning among all of our island nations, so that it would be easier for you to control us. You divided us among your allies: British, American, French, Australian, and even the Kiwis were given a share.

We felt like war spoils being shared around.
Kalafi Moala

" Oh thou Great and Almighty West, when will you understand? When will you stop to think that what you have done and are doing to our peoples have hurt us more than helped us? "
You would not leave us alone because now you need someone to control, which is characteristic of your imperialist nature. But even when some of our nations have been decolonized politically, you’ve continued the re-colonization process through education, media, and other social configurations. And we have become so aid dependent, we lack the knowledge of what else to do, because we have been trained by you not to think creatively but only to think what we’ve been taught.

You mined our gas and petroleum resources, and sold them to the tune of billions, yet our people in those island states remain poor. You exploited our forest resources, and now those areas are barren and our balanced eco systems have been forever altered. You signed agreements with our governments for seabed mining, fishing rights, and to abstract whatever you need from our ocean life.

For thousands of years our peoples were proud to be self-determined and had homegrown solutions to their problems. They sailed our great ocean lanes to trade, to explore, and even to make a fight or two. But thanks to you we are no longer independent as you have given us a system of civilization that makes us dependent on you, and in the process we have lost our dignity and our determination not just to survive but to live thriving meaningful lives.

In our desperate plight to survive, in a world where you control almost everything, we’ve welcomed the willing help offered us by countries like China, India, UAE, Japan, Korea, and others from the non-Western world; but you have insulted us by saying that we are just changing aid dependency from one colonial power to another. You would rather we continue the dependency on you than on others you’ve held in spite because of their success in self-determined development. Well, for whatever its worth, we don’t recall China or India ever taking over by force our sovereign nations. They did not test their nuclear weapons on us, you did. Is it no wonder we welcome their help more than we do yours?

In a world where the standard of success set by you is measured by political, economic, and social wellbeing, rather than by meaningful relationships and its effects of peace and happiness, it is no wonder why it is so hard for us to make it in your world. Some of our people are relegated to the corners of poverty, ignorance, and high crime rate, in your cities.
Kalafi Moala

" You are the same brutal imperialist power that brought suffering to our forefathers, and we have inherited their unjust plight. "
We speak your language, learn your culture, and operate in your system of things, yet you do not respect us enough to learn our language, observe our culture and values. The solutions you have given to us is that we need to be transformed to be like you – we need to learn your systems, practice your culture, in fact, think like you do, and we then can make it in your world.

Some of our leaders, in fact a lot of our people have embraced your ways and think the way you do. They have made alliance with you, and now they have acted like you, abusing us from within, and selling out on our values. For the past two decades you have increasingly ignored the islands of the Pacific partly due to your view that our worth maybe less than any meaningful investment you make.

The Western powers headed up by the USA and UK have diminished involvement in the Pacific, handing Australia and New Zealand the responsibility to “govern and manage Pacific affairs.” These two regional powers have been outsourced the running of things for the Western powers in the Pacific – from trade, fisheries, mining, forestry, transportation, finance, border security, natural disaster management, to telecommunication, energy, climate change, environment, and many other things serving your own interests.

Now that our non-Western friends like China are becoming more involved in our region, you’ve decided to come back in, but your basic mentality, attitude, policy, and practice have not changed. You are the same brutal imperialist power that brought suffering to our forefathers, and we have inherited their unjust plight.

The basis of unjust policy and practice must be replaced with that of justice. But that is not going to happen until the mighty and powerful decide to come to their senses and forego the misguided illusion that might is right, and power cannot be unchallenged.

As the steps to a long journey begin with the first one, it is time Pacific peoples start thinking and doing what needs to be done so as to start them on their journey to freedom. This is a freedom that only them know when it happens, a freedom that restores independence, self-determination, and dignity.

Source: Pacific Politics


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Apppear- The Relevance Of Pacific Islands Forum To Fiji.

The 43rd Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in Cook Islands has been hyped as a much anticipated affair, not so much about the agenda, but more so about the invited guests-some with a higher profile than others. In a press briefing, PIF General Secretary, Neori Slade, admonished the journalists covering the PIF: “So if you can concentrate without getting too hyper on personalities (like US secretary of state Hillary Clinton) I think we’ll appreciate it.” 

Slade also mentioned that ,the journalists should not be sidetracked about the major powers attending the Forum and adroitly maneuvered the conversation to the prepared talking points of the PIF agenda. An important consideration, is that, the major power players attending the PIF did not travel thousands of miles to the Cook Islands, to chat about the dangers of climate change or just to exchange diplomatic niceties.
It is about furthering their own interests and maintaining their spheres of influence. Steven Ratuva, a Pacific affairs specialist at Auckland University, expressed his opinion with Pacific Scoop  regarding the current affairs: " [T]he US was trying to establish dominance in the Forum this year was because China had a strong foothold with the MSG, a powerful body in terms of its political power within the Forum, particularly through funding of infrastructure and supporting MSG operations.”

Graham Davis latest posting on Grubsheet, illustrated the undulated diplomatic landscape:
Hilary Clinton, who is making the first visit to a Forum summit by a US Secretary of State. Clinton knows that Fiji is too big to be ignored, too strategically important to be sidelined and that it’s high time its isolation was ended. This is almost certain to be the last time Bainimarama is excluded as America works this week to persuade its ANZUS partners, in particular, to bring him in from the cold.
There is no doubt that, the intransigent policies from Canberra and Wellington in isolating Fiji has resoundingly failed, and under girded their own shortcomings. Ratuva added: “[I]n spite of being suspended from the Forum, Fiji has some cards falling its way[...]Instead of weakening Fiji’s position, the suspension is actually strengthening it.”

Unquestionably, Fiji's suspension from PIF has opened up alternative channels of diplomatic exchanges, that invariably makes the PIF inextricably, obsolete. In an opinion piece in the The AustralianMichael O'Keefe, addressed the challenges to the PIF: "[The Pacific Islands Forum] will either forge a new path for the region's pre-eminent institution or give ground to the alternative architecture that has grown since Fiji's suspension from participation."

Fiji Hosts 3rd Engaging the Pacific Meeting -Pacific SIDS (video posted below)

Ratuva addressed the benefits of the 'free agent' status of Fiji's diplomacy: “[...]Fiji can do anything, it can mobilise its ‘alternative forum’ outside the Forum, and it has also strengthened the Melanesian Spearhead Group, because now the MSG is keeping tightly close as a group because they came around through Fiji’s support.”

Davis points out the waning relevance of the PIF:
Clinton knows that the Pacific Forum is a shadow of its former self so long as Fiji is excluded. Why? Because no Pacific plan of action can realistically be implemented without the country’s participation. It is too significant and too influential to be bypassed. It has also successfully defied all attempts by its bigger southern neighbours -Australia and NZ – to bring it to heel and has demonstrated a nimble dexterity to find support wherever it can.

O'Keefe added to the narrative of failed policies of isolating Fiji:
The rise of alternative forms of regionalism is a direct result of Fiji's suspension and poses the largest challenge to Australia[...]Fiji has made new friends and opened up new avenues of co-operation and as Australia chooses to re-engage it will be operating in a vastly different Pacific seascape. In this climate the continuing relevance of the PIF will need to be demonstrated rather than simply asserted. Fiji is not likely to accept the status quo and may need to be encouraged to resume its engagement with PIF.
Among Fiji's alternative diplomatic engagements, is their attendance to the Non-Alignment -Movement (NAM) Summit in Tehran; currently in session.

Analysis of NAM group. (video posted below)

This 120 member group of countries, include notable members of the BRICS, have come of age and are quietly overshadowing the Western bloc of countries, in terms of influence in shaping World affairs. NAM accounts for 14% of the World's GDP. There are three NAM Pacific island nations: Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, who are also members of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG).

NAM policies are diametrically opposite to that of the ANZUS alliance, with respect to Non-Interference. Australia and New Zealand's role in Pax-Americana have eroded any perception of being a honest broker in the Pacific region. Notwithstanding, the tainted colonial history of the Trans-Tasman cousins, further compounds this .

This diplomatic coalescing of MSG and NAM principles in Pacific affairs, would represent a significant threat to the interests and influence of the Trans-Tasman countries in the region. There appears to be a similar situation of failed isolation policies affecting both Fiji and Iran. In both cases, Western aligned countries have attempted to isolate them.
In both cases, each have been recently elected to chair the important nation groups-MSG and NAM respectively. The policies and its architects, have since demonstrably been rejected. Without a doubt, these series of diplomatic Faux Pas in the Western Alliance, underscores their demise of influence. In discussions with Metropolitan neighbors and the Island diplomats, the stakes in the Pacific are simply undermentioned; but the leverage the Islanders wield are widely understood.


Fars News: Iran to establish diplomatic ties with Fiji.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

X-Post:WSWS - US Demands Greater Australian Military Spending

By James Cogan
25 July 2012
Over the past two weeks, American military commanders and strategic analysts, undoubtedly acting in close consultation with the Obama administration, have publicly criticized the size of Australia’s defense budget.
The criticisms amount to an open intervention into Australian politics, seeking to pressure the minority Labor government to boost military spending in order to ensure that Australian forces can serve as a credible partner in the US preparations for a confrontation with China in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Labor government has already clearly aligned itself with the US. In 2009, it released a Defense White Paper, which named China as a potential threat for the first time, and announced that Australia would spend over $100 billion on new ships, aircraft and other military hardware during the next two decades.
That alignment was intensified after Julia Gillard was installed as prime minister in mid-2010. The Obama administration tacitly backed the ousting of her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, in an inner-party political coup as he was regarded as being insufficiently in tune with Washington’s confrontational approach to China.


" Obama administration’s concentration of US military power in the Asia-Pacific “is not an opportunity for a free ride by anybody—not Japan, not Australia, or anybody else."
In November 2011, Gillard and President Barack Obama announced agreements to develop key staging bases for US air, sea and marine operations in northern and western Australia, requiring major upgrades to ports and airbases. Earlier this year, plans were unveiled to develop the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean as a base for US drone aircraft, also necessitating hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure development.

The US-Australia agreements form one component of the US “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific. The Obama administration has sought to cement alliances, strategic partnerships and basing arrangements with a number of countries in Asia, with the intention of encircling China.Washington is now sending a blunt message to Canberra that having committed to the US, it must meet the cost of ramping up the size and capabilities of its armed forces.

On July 13, the head of US Pacific Command, Admiral Samuel Locklear, told journalists after meeting Gillard in Canberra that he was “concerned” that Australian military spending was well below the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) standard of 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Locklear stated: “There are many nations that don’t meet that from time to time, and so it’s not for me to comment on how the Australian people decide to do it, but I would hope that in the security environment that we are in that there is a long-term view of defense planning that has the proper level of resources behind it.”

Locklear’s comments were the first public US reaction to the Labor government’s decision, revealed in its May budget, to cut $5.5 billion from defence spending over the next four years, as part of its efforts to meet the demands of the financial markets to return the budget to surplus. He focused on one of the most expensive planned Australian defence acquisitions—a new fleet of 12 submarines that could significantly contribute to US-led operations to block China’s access to the crucial sea-lanes between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The fleet could cost as much as $30 billion.

The US admiral declared: “If you’re going to build a submarine force, you can take years to figure out how to make that cost effective and get what you need out of it… I would hope that as the Australians work through that, that they recognize and contemplate this.” The US ambassador in Canberra, Jeffrey Bleich, had stated in February that the US would be prepared to sell or lease Australia a fleet of American nuclear submarines to ensure that the Australian Navy had a war-fighting capability that Washington viewed as “crucial to security.” In May, however, the Labor government made no decision about how the new submarines would be financed. Instead, it deferred the acquisition for two years, pending another review of possible options. It also deferred for several years the purchase of some F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

According to Australian media reports, Admiral Locklear’s criticisms of Australian military spending were repeated on July 17 during a Washington meeting between Duncan Lewis, the head of the Australian Defence Department, and his Pentagon counterparts. The issue was publicly canvassed the next day by Richard Armitage, an assistant secretary of state under the Bush administration and prominent strategic analyst.
Armitage bluntly told the annual Australian American Leadership Dialogue in Washington on July 18: “Australia’s defense budget is inadequate. It’s about Australia’s ability to work as an ally of the US. I would say you’ve got to look at 2 percent of GDP.” In an interview with the Australian, he said the Obama administration’s concentration of US military power in the Asia-Pacific “is not an opportunity for a free ride by anybody—not Japan, not Australia, or anybody else.”

In an indication of the White House’s involvement, the Australian observed: “Armitage is willing to say what is widely said off the record in Washington.”
Opposition Liberal leader Tony Abbott, in Washington for the Leadership Dialogue and to cultivate support for his party from the US establishment, endorsed these criticisms when addressing the right-wing think-tank, the Heritage Foundation. Abbott condemned Labor’s spending cuts, which reduced defence from 1.8 percent of GDP in last year’s budget to 1.56 percent, saying this was the lowest level since 1938. “That is quite a concern,” he declared, “as we do not live in a benign environment, we do not live in benign times.”
Several Australian commentators echoed US demands last weekend endorsing the call for the military budget to be increased to at least 2 percent of GDP. That figure would amount to more than $30 billion a year or $6 billion more than the current allocation.

Sydney Morning Herald political editor Peter Hartcher, focused on increased Chinese military spending and growing tensions over the conflicting territorial claims between China and other states in the South China and East China Seas. “It is a time of rising risk of war, even if only by accident,” he wrote.
Australian foreign editor Greg Sheridan wrote that Washington had interpreted the Australian budget cuts as “an ominous erosion of capacity in the US alliance system within Asia” in conditions where regional tensions could lead to conflict.
Right-wing pundit Piers Akerman declared in the Sunday Telegraph: “The US is saying bluntly that Australia is not pulling its weight on defense and that the implications of letting down the side in this manner are enormous and long-ranging.”
The US intervention over the Australian defense budget demonstrates that Washington’s confrontational stance against China, embraced by the Gillard government, necessarily means a stepped-up assault on the social and democratic rights of the working class, as well as the danger of a catastrophic war.
Amid the worsening global economic crisis, greater military spending can be paid for only by drastic austerity cutbacks to social programs and infrastructure, particularly in health care, education and welfare. If Gillard baulks, the next intervention from Washington may well be behind-the-scenes support for ousting her as prime minister.

Source: WSWS

Club Em Designs

Friday, July 13, 2012

X-Post: Islands Business- China’s Clever Game In The Pacific

"China has played its game in the Pacific cleverly. It has employed what is termed as ‘soft power’ 
to win influence. It has extended the hand of unconditional friendship and one cannot say there has 
been coercion or threatens of any sort. That is one of the reasons why its influence has grown so rapidly 
over such sweeping swathes of the Pacific under the radar as it were."

That the Pacific islands region will be the theater of action in the next big global race for geopolitical hegemony is not a question of if as much as it is of when. And that when may be soon. Once it breaks out, the race could stay a cold war for a long time with all sorts of posturing from all parties, or it could escalate into a full blown battle. No matter how it finally turns out, the next big theatre for the big powers’ global machinations will be the Pacific and its epicenter could well be Fiji’s capital, Suva. 

At the turn of the millennium, this twenty first century was touted as the Century of Asia/Pacific. The promise was great: the Pacific Rim countries’ confidence brimmed, powered by their blitzing growth rates; the Asian tigers were on a roll; and the Pacific islands were redrawing the extent of their sovereign oceanic territories as new mineral discoveries were being made on land and the seabed. 

The first decade of this century saw sustained forays by the Asian giants into the Pacific islands region, establishing new outposts in tiny islands nations, helping build infrastructure and doling out loans and grants with a firm eye on the vast natural resources that the islands are thought to possess. All this happened as the Pacific islands’ traditional western world partners were progressively downsizing their long-held commitments to the islands.

Throughout the first decade of this century, China had a fairly open run of the Pacific Oceanic region. It upped its financial assistance and infrastructure building programmes around the region in schemes and arrangements that were different from the ones Pacific islands governments were used to when such assistance came from Western friends.

Pacific islands leaders spoke approvingly of China’s ‘no strings attached’ approach to aid, in marked contrast to the West’s more structured and highly conditions-based manner of dealing with assistance programmes. This was enticement enough for most Pacific islands countries to happily get into bed with China for several ‘development’ initiatives in return for poorly documented (at least in the media) concessions in tapping natural resources and fisheries.

Islands Business

" China has played its game in the Pacific cleverly. It has employed what is commonly termed as ‘soft power’ to win influence. It has extended the hand of unconditional friendship and one cannot say there has been coercion or threats of any sort. That is one of the reasons why its influence has grown so rapidly over such sweeping swathes of the Pacific—under the radar as it were. Meanwhile, the United States was busy with its endless war mongering in the Middle East for the better part of the past two decades[...]

China rebuilt its embassy into a bigger facility in Fiji, the US decided to follow suit almost immediately. Both countries realise the strategic, geopolitical importance of Fiji, just as colonial powers in bygone eras had. "

Simultaneously, political developments like those in Fiji forced the leadership to evolve strategies like Fiji’s ‘Look North’ policy where almost every new realm of economic and developmental activity became closely aligned to China, Korea and several other countries of the Pacific Rim, gaining precedence over traditional ties to Australia and New Zealand.
China has played its game in the Pacific cleverly. It has employed what is commonly termed as ‘soft power’ to win influence. It has extended the hand of unconditional friendship and one cannot say there has been coercion or threats of any sort. That is one of the reasons why its influence has grown so rapidly over such sweeping swathes of the Pacific—under the radar as it were.

Meanwhile, the United States was busy with its endless war mongering in the Middle East for the better part of the past two decades and all but ignored China’s growing influence in the Pacific islands region. As if awoken suddenly from a deep slumber, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a knee jerk statement during one of her Pacific whistle stop tours a few years ago that the US would not “cede” territory to anybody—obviously implying it wouldn’t take China’s machinations in the region lying down.

As the world now progresses towards the middle of this century’s second decade, it is becoming increasingly apparent that this is the Century of the Asia/Pacific for many more reasons than those that were touted at the turn of the millennium. And some of these reasons are undoubtedly a cause for worry—not just for the region but also for the world.
China has already begun protesting against the US planned joint exercises in the Pacific this year that involves some 22 nations including several of the Pacific Rim, including Australia and New Zealand and even distant powers like Russia. China has pointedly been excluded from these exercises that will include a range of nuclear submarines besides other sophisticated naval hardware and armaments.

China is also dealing with a number of more regional geopolitical and territorial problems— particularly the one involving the Philippines in the South China Sea. The Philippines has a strong US connection for historical reasons. This is one instance of how these local problems have the potential to polarise the region across the two superpowers vying for the region’s favours.

The joint naval exercises are obviously a bold and firm statement directed at China that the US wants to make—that it is well and truly means business in the region. In including the 22 nations in its exercises including South Korea and Japan, it has thumbed its nose at the Asian superpower. In fact, the US started this sort of posturing when it rebuilt its embassy in Fiji’s capital, Suva.

In ages gone by, kings and emperors announced their hegemony by building towers and monuments on the territories they conquered. In modern times, countries can’t conquer and can’t build towers and monuments. Instead, they build embassies in the countries they want to win favour from to help them expand their influence. So when China rebuilt its embassy into a bigger facility in Fiji, the US decided to follow suit almost immediately.

Both countries realise the strategic, geopolitical importance of Fiji, just as colonial powers in bygone eras had. In any aggression that takes place in the Pacific Ocean in the near future, Fiji will undoubtedly be catapulted into the centre stage because of this. 

What has begun as benign posturing could quite easily escalate into a cold war but could a cold war result in a full-blown conflict? Consider this: the arms industry is the engine of the US economy. With action in the Middle East all but over, there are few places left for war mongering.
The Pacific Ocean is an extremely suitable candidate to kick-start the arms industry and pull the country out of the recession. The development of a whole new suite of weapons suited for vast stretches of ocean would be a challenge worth pursuing and investing in. And thanks to the sparseness of the population, collateral damage would be negligible.  

Fanciful though this may sound, the possibility can scarcely be discounted. Unfortunately for the Pacific islands and their citizens, they have already been reduced to pawns. Geopolitics may well grow to be a more pressing worry than the ravages of climate change.

Club Em Designs