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Friday, December 11, 2020
Imperialism and the scramble to control SW Pacific Exclusive Economic Zones
Written by: (Contributed) on 12 December 2020
An article published by a Japanese right-wing media outlet has inadvertently provided reliable information about problems confronting US imperialism in the Pacific.
The information is substantiated with similar reliable sources elsewhere.
Two important considerations have arisen:
•the failure of the US to prevent further problems with Taiwan's dwindling diplomatic recognition, with reference to US regional military and security provision;
•the failure of previous US-led regional foreign policy to facilitate self-sustainable economic development programs in the region has been shown to be counter-productive.
The problems have implications for Australia.
The mid-August edition of Japan Forward included an article about the changing balance of forces in the Pacific: traditional US domination has been seriously challenged by the rise of China as a competitor. (1) The on-line media outlet has a marked right-wing political stance on a variety of issues. Reactionary US former government officials, including John Bolton, are regarded highly.
The article in question focused upon the significance of both the Solomon Islands and Kiribati switching diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China late last year. It noted that before the switch Taiwan and China had about equal recognition across the Pacific, with six countries each. The tally now is four to eight, but with another far-reaching implication: countries in the Pacific have, historically, had large Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ), providing rights to natural resources and sensitive shipping-lanes.
The EEZ of the Solomon Islands, for example, is 56 times the size of their landmass, the EEZ of Kiribati is 4,238 times the size of their landmass.
After the recent diplomatic switch with the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, Taiwan's access to Pacific EEZs was, therefore, reduced to 3,656,453 square kms, while China's has been increased to 13,252,247 square kms, a share of about 20 per cent to 80 per cent in favour of China.
Both the Solomon Islands and Kiribati are also strategically situated within parts of the region that US imperialism seeks to keep under its control.
The Solomon Islands forms part of the South Pacific buffer to the north of Australia.
Kiribati, similarly, is located in an area of the Pacific regarded as critical for the US military: it has three distinct areas within its massive EEZ which include the Gilbert Islands, the Phoenix Islands and the Line Islands, which form part of the US demarcation of the region with Island Chain Theory (ICT). Taiwan, and its diplomatic recognition, is regarded by the US as the lynch-pin of ICT.
The article also noted that most Pacific countries were unable to manage or develop their maritime resources without assistance from foreign powers. Regional surveillance has been provided by the US in conjunction with the Australian navy.
Many of the small island landmasses also host sensitive monitoring equipment. US-led regional military planning, for example, has already focused upon Palau for hosting a high-frequency radar system to detect both air and sea targets.
Elsewhere, the US territory of Wake Island and Minami-Torishima, are regarded as 'critical bases for the A2AD military facilities'. (2)
Failure to promote economic development
For sixty years following the end of the Second World War, US-led regional diplomacy did not have to deal with serious competitors; it, however, squandered opportunities to facilitate sustainable economic development programs. Many of the small countries were needlessly exploited for their natural resources and raw materials, financial gain siphoned-off to shareholders’ dividends elsewhere, and not used to finance local projects. The US-led foreign policy followed a certain logic: countries condemned to economic backwardness tend to be easier to control by foreign powers, as was the case.
It is, therefore, not surprising the Japan Forward article noted both the Solomon Islands and Kiribati ‘changed their diplomatic allegiance to China … because … they needed assistance for economic development’. (3)
It noted, furthermore, that a pressing problem facing regional governments has been the rapid population growth rates where upwards of fifty per cent of total populations are composed of the under-25 year age group. The problem of unemployment and under-employment has accompanied the failure of colonial and imperialist policy to promote economic development. It has created conditions whereby economic considerations have far-reaching political implications, in a region where instability of government institutions has been commonplace.
China, with its noted softer-style diplomacy, has, therefore, been able to move quietly into sensitive areas of the Pacific, and elsewhere, with relative ease. They already have huge economic developments projects across the wider region.
It has not been difficult to establish the changing balance of forces across the wider region and US moves toward dealing with the problem.
A recent statement from the Pentagon noted that 'Uncle Sam had lost assured command of the Western Pacific to its great power rival … China was now capable of controlling the South China Seas in all scenarios short of war with the US', and, 'the US war plan in the Western Pacific was now limited to fighting largely outside the first island chain, where Taiwan lies, with long distance strikes until forces could arrive'. (4) US military provision has usually been located either in Japan, Hawaii and Australia, with smaller garrisons elsewhere, including Guam.
The matters arising have far-reaching implications for Australia; as the strategic hub for US interests with large-scale troop rotations, Australia has been drawn ever closer to US-led regional operations, which, to date, have fallen just short of real-war scenarios.
As the competition to US domination escalates, Australia should have an independent foreign policy before greater problems arise with serious implications.
1. Democracies must step up to counter China's dominance over the Pacific Islands, Japan Forward, 14 August 2020.
4. US losing control of Pacific to Beijing, The Weekend Australian, 5-6 December 2020.