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China, the US, the S-W Pacific and “critical mineral” projects

Written by: Contributed on 7 December 2019


It is always important to monitor how decision-makers in Canberra and the business classes think.

A recent briefing paper about the South-west Pacific, for example, followed an almost set pattern of pushing the US-led Cold War agenda by highlighting the rise of China and attempting to formulate superficial hypothetical military scenarios, while failing to elaborate around the importance and significance of various developments.

There is no wonder, therefore, why such people push wave after wave of militarism, as part of aggressive foreign policy. It is the natural outcome of US-led regional planning.
 
Almost hidden within the briefing paper, however, lay two paragraphs of highly incriminating information linking their failure to tie effective neo-colonial policies in with recent US-led regional military and security assessments.
 
At the end of October, the Future Directions International (FDI) organisation published another Strategic Analysis Paper about the South-West Pacific. The seven-page briefing paper, China's Strategic Objectives and Ambitions in the South West Pacific, formed part of a series of similar publications primarily for Canberra-based decision-makers and the Australian business-classes. (1)
 
Much of the information within the publication was re-hashed from previous papers and included reference to Island Chain Theory. (2) The military theory is a relic of the previous Cold War, when US-led military planners sought to chart the Asia-Pacific region amid chains of small land-masses used to delineate sensitive areas, for perceived encroachment by adversaries into areas traditionally dominated by US imperialism. In recent times Pentagon military planners have re-used the theory specifically for assessing China's rise and its perceived threat to US hegemonic positions. It, therefore, does little to enhance the position of the FDI organisation to grant Island Chain Theory credibility; it was largely discredited with the demise of the previous Cold War, although right-wing military hawks in the corridors of power in the Pentagon kept it in wraps for future use, as, and when, required.
 
It is, therefore, no surprise to find the FDI briefing paper does not differentiate between China as a sovereign power as recognised by the United Nations, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in classic Cold War mode with the specific intention of demonising all activity by the former in the name of the latter. (3) It is interesting to note, therefore, the briefing paper did acknowledge that China's political aspirations in the region were unlikely to transgress beyond trade and diplomacy, highlighting a contradictory pattern of thinking also found elsewhere in the publication. It stated, for example, that 'it is highly unlikely that Beijing will be able to convince these territories to move further into its orbit, given the long-standing political, economic and cultural ties between island territories and their respective metropolitan states'. (4)
 
Elsewhere in the briefing paper, passing reference has been given to the remote location of the South-West Pacific and the fact the small region 'traditionally commanded very little international political attention'. (5) While the paper did acknowledge the area was 'traditionally regarded by Canberra as Australia's backyard', it did not specify it was subject to US-led regional military planning, with outsourced responsibilities given to Australia for defence and security. (6) The logical inference of the FDI position could be regarded as a failure by US-led allies Australia and New Zealand to establish effective neo-colonial policies to economically develop the countries of the region. To the contrary, these US client states would appear to have been content to keep the countries poor as a means of prolonged control. US-led military planning, likewise, was designed to control strategically-placed landmasses for hegemonic positions.
 
It is not particularly difficult to establish the chain of command.
 
The shadowy trail of intelligence links and traditional positions of domination and control has revealed the historical diplomatic relationship between Pacific Islands, Australia and the US. Australia has hosted US intelligence and military facilities based at Pine Gap for decades. They are closely linked into similar facilities on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. US-led military planning, therefore, has been keen to maintain a cordon around Australia for military and security provision. Each Pacific Island has historically had its own intelligence service, linked into Australian regional provision and, invariably, the British Commonwealth. Resting over the top of the intelligence relationship, however, the US maintains its global networks which link Five Eyes (Australia, Canada, the UK and NZ) relations with the Pentagon. 
 
Nevertheless, the paper says that 'it is little surprise that Beijing has now turned its attention toward the South Pacific', without providing a suitable explanation. (7) Whether the omission has been done to serve Cold War US-led agendas has not been clarified, although it would certainly appear to serve the purpose
China's regional foreign policy and diplomatic position toward the South-west Pacific has rested upon its rapid economic expansion: the briefing paper, interestingly, focussed upon China's foreign aid budget toward the South-west Pacific although it has amounted to only a fifth of that provided by Australia. (10) The explanation provided by FDI was that China sought to 'break out of Washington's efforts to contain China's influence and displace the US as the dominant Pacific power'. (11)
 
The briefing paper has remained bogged-down in military-type assessments which include reference to future plans by China to increase their numbers of aircraft-carriers and other equipment. (12) Reference to the fear that China is planning a military base and naval facilities somewhere in the region is, likewise, dealt with more along the lines of a psychological obsession and paranoia rather than a means by which Beijing is attempting to secure remote supply-lines and trade routes. (13)
 
US imperialism and regional natural resources control
 
The most important part of the briefing paper, however, lay in a mere two paragraphs under the heading: Assessing Natural Resources. (14) Light was thrown into a very dark corner of US regional aspirations.
 
A number of the countries in the South-west Pacific are known to possess rare-earth minerals and other metalloids within their Exclusive Economic Zones. (15) The briefing paper acknowledged China had achieved the technological expertise to assist countries in the region with mineral exploration. It also acknowledged that the ability of the countries to shift their trade away from an agricultural base 'is definitely in their natural interests'. (16) No further elaboration was provided although such a move would effectively challenge traditional neo-colonial positions foisted upon the countries with political independence designed to maintain economic control. No reference, therefore, was provided about how 'Pacific interests' might come into direct confrontation with 'US interests'.
 
The section in the briefing paper about natural resources was concluded without further elaboration. It has not been difficult to establish a suitable explanation: the ability of Pacific Island countries to develop their own rare-earth facilities with expertise from China would enable governments to gain greater bargaining power when dealing with US-led allies including Australia. 
 
Elsewhere US disquiet about China's expertise at extracting rare-earth minerals has not been difficult to access from the public domain. The findings, nevertheless, reflect badly upon US planning and have, therefore, been played-down to avoid unnecessary publicity about the shortcomings.
 
Two recent single-column articles in the Australian newspaper, nevertheless, provided information of a highly sensitive nature: the first stated a $4.4 billion fund linked to the defence budget was to be 'thrown open to potential rare-earths miners as part of the federal government's latest efforts to stimulate a new wave of mining projects'. (17) The mining projects concerned were specified as 'critical mineral', and included cobalt, magnesium, vanadium and chromium. (18)     
 
The second article elaborated upon concerns in Canberra that 'China dominates not only mining of rare earths, but also processing and conversion of the materials into alloys, metals and magnets'. (19) The outcome is that China has gained a strategic advantage with cutting-edge technological development for the production of mobile telephones, wind-turbines, electric cars and military equipment including fighter jets. (20)
 
One single paragraph, almost hidden in the articles, encapsulates the problem confronting US-led strategic planning. The market for rare-earths mineral exploration is regarded as 'weak'. Companies interested in beginning projects directly linked into Australian military and security provision generate, at present, too little profit to be considered viable. (21)
 
An important consideration, therefore, has arisen: part of the Australian military budget has been opened to boost the profits of mining companies and returns for share-holders, with very little publicity. It was not intended for that purpose and would tend to show the present Coalition government clutching at straws as a means of rectifying their failure to address important military and security considerations. Such people, however, are specifically recruited from elite patronage systems and groomed to not ask too many questions; they have, for generations, followed directives issued from Washington and the Pentagon. 
 
And as for the FDI briefing paper, it can perhaps be viewed in the light of providing more information about what has come to pass as superficial business and diplomatic intelligence material rather than factual information readily accessible elsewhere from within the public domain.          
 
It does, nevertheless, serve to provide evidence of just how far Australia has been pushed into the forefront of US-led foreign policy toward the South-west Pacific, including all which that entails: neo-colonialism and military planning for real-war scenarios;
 
We need an independent foreign policy!

1.     China's Strategic Objectives and Ambitions in the South-West Pacific, Strategic Analysis Paper (SAP), Future Directions International (FDI), 31 October 2019.
2.     Ibid., pp. 4-5.
3.     Ibid., page 2; and, The Assault on the West, Ian Grieg, Surrey, 1968), with a foreword by Sir Alec Douglas-Home, a leading member of the British Conservative Party and supporter of white supremacist regimes in Southern Africa. Throughout the 357 pages of the publication, lists of supposed front organisations linked to various Communist Parties are accompanied by right-wing military assessments of the prevailing balance of forces during the previous Cold War.
4.     Ibid., SAP/FDI., page 6.
5.     Ibid., page 3.
6.     Ibid., page 2; and, US to lift its Pacific clout to counter China, Australian, 26 July 2018, provided an official media release from Canberra about the AUSMIN Consultations which included reference to the region as 'Australia's part of the world'.
7.     Ibid., SAP/FDI.
10.   SAP/FDI., op.cit., page 2.
11.   Ibid.
12.   Ibid., page 5.
13.   Ibid.
14.   Ibid., page 6.
15.   Ibid.
16.   Ibid.
17.   Miners to secure defence funding, Australian, 14 November 2019.
18.   Ibid.
19.   Warning on rare earths funding, Australian, 15 November 2019.
20.   Australian, op.cit., 14 November 2019.
21.   Ibid.
 

 

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