Political leaders who attended the recent ASEAN Special Summit in Sydney in March signed a counter-terrorism agreement together with other considerations.
Essentially an economic and corporate-based organisation, ASEAN has always dealt with defence and security considerations.
Reading between the lines of media releases, however, reveals a curious drama being played out in the Asia-Pacific region with highly deceptive language and terminology.
Nothing, it would appear, can possibly be taken at face value.
In March the Turnbull Coalition government hosted a Special Summit for the political leaders of ASEAN in Sydney. Behind the bonhomie and social networking of their large entourages lay three important factors to be considered: it was the first time ASEAN leaders had attended a meeting in Australia; Australia is not even a member of the organisation; ASEAN was established as a classic Cold War body.
The fact ASEAN political leaders were hosted in Australia has revealed the significance of the country within US-led defence and security planning. Now implemented, the US-led Global Transformation of Defence and Security (GTDS), linking Japan as a northern hub for 'US interests' with Australia as a southern counterpart, has direct contact with the Pentagon through vast electronic warfare (EW) networks. The GTDS rested on previous, less sophisticated military planning. The specific aim of the triangular military plan is also not new. It is directed toward containing and encircling Chinese influence throughout the region and globally.
Modern-day China, however, with its dramatic rise and displacement of Japan as the second biggest economy in the world, has now altered the balance of forces. US imperialism has now been placed on the defensive, regarding China as a threat to its traditional hegemonic positions. Present day US military planning is not, therefore, defensive, but aggressive. The recent change of US Secretary of State and sacking of Rex Tillerson with elevation of Mike Pompeo to the position, together with Gina Haspel as new leader of the CIA, and John Bolton as Ambassador to the United Nations is evidence of a more aggressive stance taken by the Trump administration.
Australia has no need to join ASEAN, its regional position has been achieved through US defence and security provision with the GTDS, resting on previous military planning. Diplomatic media releases noted Australia was 'the main key partner' with the regional body. (1)
ASEAN, moreover, has developed significant economic growth and development in the Asia-Pacific region. It has been noted by the business-classes as 'an economic powerhouse with booming cities and an expanding consumer class'. (2) US imperialism therefore, seeks to control ASEAN through tutelage to prevent it becoming a threat to 'US interests'. They also have military planning to use the body as a potential counter to China.
To understand the present dynamic, it is important to consider the reasons for the establishment of ASEAN and its evolution through subsequent decades.
ASEAN was established during the 1960s at the height of the Cold War and 'its aim was to give Australia leadership in the region'. (3) It evolved from a number of earlier organisations which included those with links to the Australian-based National Civic Council (NCC), a shadowy, conspiratorial, anti-communist grouping used by the intelligence services and corporate sector for covert operations. (4) It is not difficult to establish the complicity with state power. Bob Santamaria, NCC leader, was a lifelong friend of Ted Serong, who was ‘Australia's man inside the US intelligence services', serving 'in various capacities with the CIA and the Pentagon'. (5)
From early days Australia provided diplomatic support for ASEAN and was 'the first country the bloc turned to when it began developing its external relations', revealing the importance of Canberra for US-led regional military planning. (6) The period was marked by the Vietnam War and US military planning to prevent hostilities spilling over into the wider region. As contemporary history has evolved into the present day, however, ASEAN still remains an important regional organisation for US-led hegemonic ambitions.
When the chairman of ASEAN, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, stated on the eve of the Special Summit that 'the US remains the key anchor for regional security in Asia' it was a hallmark of traditional hegemonic positions, now rapidly changing. (7) When Australian Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, addressed the part of the Special Summit dealing with counter-terrorism, a curious and seemingly highly duplicitous drama taking place in the region was revealed.
The anti-terrorist part of the agenda of the Special Summit included the signing of a 'transnational agreement to share cyber intelligence and policing resources'. (8) There was also provision for a regional forensic task-force together with the sharing of intelligence 'modelled on the five eyes pact Australia is involved in. (9) The five eyes agreement links Australia with the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand, for intelligence gathering and sharing. The aim is to now expand intelligence gathering with 'senior defence officials from the six South-east Asia nations supposed to meet every two weeks to trade information on terrorists'. (10) The outcome will also provide the Pentagon with greater access into the domestic political situation in the Asia-Pacific region through Australian involvement.
Dutton then turned his attention to the current situation in the Middle East, stating 'despite military successes in Iraq and Syria in defeating Islamic State in its strongholds' there were problems wider afield with 'the presence of the terror group's supporters in communities in Australia and neighbouring countries'. (11) He also drew attention to 'around 220 Australians' being involved with jihadists and concerns about 'those individuals returning to our shores' with terrorist attacks. (12)
If the problem of terrorism does, however, arise in Australia it might be due to US evacuation procedures of their 'intelligence assets' from war-zones in Syria. In late August, 2017, a US Air Force helicopter evacuated two Daesh (Islamic State) field commanders of European origin with family members from Deir Ez-Zor. Two days later a further twenty field commanders were evacuated and airlifted to northern Syria for further unspecified deployment elsewhere. (13) The evacuations were filmed and shown on Russian television.
What Dutton also did not include in his address was the jihadists concerned had been armed and trained by the US and their allies. A wealth of evidence exists. In Syria the US intelligence assets were then used to destabilise the Assad administration. While initially denied by the US, their position has become increasingly untenable; the armed opposition in Syria 'was under direct command of foreign governments' according to a 'leaked top secret National Security Agency document' from the Pentagon. (14)
In Iraq, jihadist forces moved into the vacuum created by the removal of traditional elites following the military incursion of the so-called Coalition of the Willing; pro-US forces, including Australia, willing to embark upon war-crimes for the spoils of war. The subsequent problems in Iraq with the failure to establish centralised administration and basic security was also highly likely part of the military plan to continue longer-term destabilisation of the wider region.
The diatribe Dutton delivered to the ASEAN Special Summit also included reference to 'military successes' in Syria without clarifying they were the direct outcome of Russian Federation involvement. In fact, the US Military Review publication has officially acknowledged the RF victory over the US-backed opposition. They also noted developments had resulted in a political victory, aiding Moscow to become a longer-term power-broker in the Middle East. (15) Dutton appeared oblivious to the development; Australian involvement included following US-led directives which included support for the jihadists, which were the losing side.
Furthermore, the Dutton contribution to the Summit also included highlighting supposed terrorist involvement in telecommunications networks with encryption. (16) Planning is already underway to coordinate regional police monitoring and surveillance procedures following revelations the messaging Whatsapp was used in the March 2017 terrorist attack on Westminster. (17) When Dutton stated 'cyber issues will be a central element of the ASEAN leadership summit this weekend', his own political position was soon undermined by the government of which he is a minister by those in more senior positions.
Following the ASEAN Special Summit, the Australian government announced they were following US directives to not use the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei due to national security concerns. Official media releases also noted 'Australia is now consulting other nations about their security concerns around Huawei'. (18) The moves took place following Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull being given a briefing about Huawei behind closed doors by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security, Washington in February. (19)
It was not noted, however, Huawei products and services are used in over 170 countries. Any serious move, therefore, to coordinate police monitoring and surveillance of terrorist communications and activity would appear seriously deficient if Huawei were not included, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. This seems to have been part of Dutton’s approach at ASEAN.
There are a number of possible explanations about the role of Dutton in the summit. As a former Police Officer he was used to accepting the views, judgements and directives of those higher up the vertical hierarchies. The pattern of behaviour has continued to the present day. Questioning and discussing such positions would not be usual for an underling, whether toward his own Prime Minister or those in Washington who provided the directive in February.
In conclusion, the ASEAN Special Summit anti-terrorist agreement was discussed and signed amid confusion. Whether those concerned were really dealing with threats of terrorism or a more clearly defined agenda of containing and encircling Chinese influence remains highly questionable. One aspect of the whole charade, however, has remained; both the role and function of ASEAN has been consistent from its origins to the present day.
1. Trade war threat bonds Australia with ASEAN, Australian, 21 March 2018.
2. Shared history of friendship and opportunities, Australian, 16 March 2018.
3. Ted Serong, The Life of an Australian Counter-Insurgency Expert, Anne Blair, (Melbourne, 2002), Page 133.
5. Ibid., and page 3.
6. Australian, op.cit., 16 March 2018.
7. US vital to region's security, says Lee, Australian, 16 March 2018.
8. Dutton's terror alert for leaders, The Weekend Australian, 17-18 March 2018.
9. Summit to seal deal on counter-terror, Australian, 14 March 2018.
11. Weekend Australian, op.cit., 17-18 March 2018.
13. US Aircraft Evacuates over 20 Daesh Commanders from Deir Ez-Zor, Sputnik News, 7 September 2017.
14. Shocking Interview, Information Clearing House, 30 October 2017.
15. Review: Official US Army Journal Concedes Russian Victory in Syria, Military Review, Journal of the US Combined Arms Center (USACAC), March/April 2018, Sputnik News, 3 March 2018.
16. Weekend Australian, op.cit., 17-18 March 2018.
18. Huawei facing heat on all fronts, Australian, 22 March 2018.