Sunday, September 20, 2020

US swashbuckling can’t hide its decline

 Written by: (Contributed) on 21 September 2020

An escalation of US-led diplomatic tensions toward China in the Asia-Pacific region has seen one aggressive foreign policy initiative launched after another.

Regional allies have already been drawn closer to the US through military alliances.

In the lead-up to US presidential elections in November, diplomatic tensions toward China have escalated. 

A dominant feature of the campaign has been the sparring between President Trump and contender Joe Biden over who is the 'tougher on China'. (1) With the Asia-Pacific being the most dynamic sector of the global economy, most of the aggressive US foreign policy has been played-out across the region.

A continual diplomatic stand-off is being played-out with endless US-led military exercises and brinkmanship in the South China Seas, a congested main regional shipping-lane.

Central to the US foreign policy position is the fact they have to deal with a competitor.
The matter is more complicated than most US assessments acknowledge. US foreign policy, historically, has been based in defence and security considerations resting on economic foundations, which combined, are 'US interests'. The US also has also a long history of wholesale interference in the domestic affairs of allies, with the aim of safeguarding their 'US interests'.  

China's foreign policy, in contrast, is primarily economic and based on trade relations and investment. While it has established defence and security provision for safeguarding vital supply-lines and other facilities, and the PLA now has the task of safeguarding China’s overseas interests, it is not simply repeating the pattern of US-style military aggressiveness. And despite the Murdoch media’s scaremongering about Chinese interference in Australia, a recent study established that 'Beijing's influence operations into Australian politics have been a dismal failure'. (2)

With a rapidly expanding economy it is, however, no surprise to find China has increased its regional influence and diplomacy in its nearby region. It has invested heavily in the smaller Pacific island countries of the western and southern Pacific and Micronesia. The development has been assessed by the Pentagon as a major threat to traditional US hegemonic positions.

Regional allies have also been drawn closer to aggressive US diplomatic positions: both Australia and Japan have been developed as major hubs for regional 'US interests', with a subsequent clustering of nearby countries as spokes.  

Ports in the storm

An example of the role of Australia and its relationship with the US can be seen with the development of a network of sensitive maritime facilities extended across the nearby region. Over the past year Ports Australia has extended its reach into Fiji, Samoa, the Cook Islands, PNG and the Solomon Islands. (3) The maritime facilities across the western and south Pacific regions, can be easily converted for military use, if, and when, required. A Ports Australia feature in the Australian was quite explicit abut its moves into the region: 'strong regional ports', they declared, lead to 'strong regions'. (4)

Lombrum base on Manus Island, PNG, as a further example, has been used by maritime vessels and freight for decades. It is now being considered for an upgrade for joint military use. The present practice of satellite-tracking of cargo and freight has already been used for other intelligence purposes, including the use of shipping-lanes by vessels from other countries.   

It is, however, the interoperability of defence, security and intelligence systems across the region and the role of the US which is an important consideration:

Each Pacific island country has their own defence and security provision, with a reliance upon Australia as the Mother Country. Australian military and security have operated historically, with US guidance and under the arc from Pine Gap to Diego Garcia and Guam, and further round into the western Pacific.

The relationship between the three areas of provision, however, is problematic.

Studies: “US could lose war with China”

In recent times a number of intelligence assessments about the Asia-Pacific have revealed an underlying trend of relative US decline in regional affairs and influence, creating a situation whereby a volatile mixture of frantic attempts to reassert traditional hegemonic positions have also included denial. They both have a major bearing on present US regional diplomatic positions which have been noted by the Australian corporate sector to have reached 'new lows'. (5) Whatever the outcome of the US presidential elections, the present Cold War outcomes are unlikely to be reversed.  

Behind the present US-led diplomatic stand-off with China lie military considerations.

Last year a major study of US military capability established the country was losing superiority with China. A special commission formed by US Congress in late 2018, likewise, concluded 'the US is no longer clearly superior'. (6) It was, furthermore, noted 'the US might fail to deter – or could even lose – a limited war with China, with devastating consequences for the region's future strategic landscape'. (7)  

The studies were also accompanied with results from a military simulation exercise conducted by the Rand Organisation at the Centre for New American Security, contracted by the Pentagon. The outcome of the simulation exercise saw the US 'totally destroyed by Russia and China in almost every scenario'. (8) Despite a massive defence budget of about $1 trillion, 'the US had lost its military edge' and there remained an urgent need to further increase defence spending. (9)

Despite these developments the two main competitors in the forthcoming US presidential elections continue to talk about military superiority and trade war with China, as if in a state of denial of the practical consequences of their actions.

As the presidential campaign has been used to heighten diplomatic tensions toward China, it can be seen how we do, indeed, live in troubled times, with the everyday threat of real-war scenarios occurring being very real: We need an independent foreign policy!

1.     Military build-up blamed on America, Australian, 11 September 2020.
2.     Beijing 'a failure on foreign influence', Australian, 17 September 2020.
3.     Regional alliance to aid trade, security, Ports Australia, Special Report, Australian, 18 September 2020.
4.     Ibid., Regional ports are future focused,
5.     'Don't confuse China trade with security', Australian, 17 September 2020.
6.     Study: US no longer dominant power in the Pacific, Paul D. Shinkman, Information Clearing House, 22 August 2019.
7.     Ibid.
8.     World War Three simulations, The Sun (U.K.), 12 March 2019

9.     ibid

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