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Enforced compliance: the USA in the Asian-Pacific region

(Contributed)          25 March 2019
 
Recent media releases, timed to coincide with the arrival of the new US ambassador to Australia, have revealed a major US-led economic initiative in the Pacific.
 
Newly announced US-led diplomacy toward many countries in the region has been aimed at reasserting US imperialist domination which include compliant governments and neo-colonial economic relations. And also, additional options, if economic initiatives fail.
 
The positions form part of a massive wave of US-led militarism across the wider region.
 
US-led diplomacy toward the Asia-Pacific rests upon Japan as a northern regional hub for 'US interests' with Australia in the south. The triangular relationship has provided the US with two regional conduits through which their foreign policy can be channelled. When official diplomatic media releases deal with regional affairs, the notion of it being 'critically important for peace and stability in this region to have an American presence' is a central feature. Australia and Japan are described as 'delivering joint exercises and both are delivering systems toward enhanced law enforcement capabilities', showing how the two hubs follow US-led planning. (1)   
 
In May 2018, the US Defence Department renamed their Pacific Command the Indo-Pacific Command in response to the 'increasing connectivity of the Indian and Pacific Oceans'. (2) The development also included Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and Guam in Micronesia being used as logistics hubs for rapid deployment, on an arc from Pine Gap, Central Australia, as a major US-led intelligence facility. 
 
The above references relate to regional 'US interests' and traditional hegemonic positions which include current US military and civilian personnel totalling about 375,000 across their enlarged regional presence, based in various facilities often hosted by regional governments in recently reopened bases. (3)
 
In recent times, nevertheless, it has been noted the regional 'balance of forces continues to shift'. (4) The rapid rise of China as a regional economic power has shaken US domination. Further afield, a recently published 57-page internal US navy report has acknowledged 'shifted power dynamics between the world's two biggest economies' and a trend towards 'altering the calculus of global power'. (5)  
A number of considerations have arisen.
 
US domination over other countries has historically rested upon neo-colonial economic relations supported by vast military and security provision. The chosen method of US-led control of countries across the region is perhaps best explained in the words of John Foster Dulles, a US Cold War warrior and Secretary of State, 1953-59:
 
          There are two ways of conquering a foreign nation. One is to gain control of its people
          by force of arms; the other is to gain control of its economy by financial means. (6)
 
While the US did resort to wholesale military incursion as in the case of Vietnam, economic invasion often proved far more effective; it remained largely invisible and was not regarded as particularly newsworthy. Most local people were not even aware it had taken place.
In recent times, however, while many of the Asian countries have experienced their own economic sustainability, their Pacific Island counterparts have remained at low levels of development. The problems of the latter have also been exacerbated by US-led western interests declining over decades. Many Pacific Island states have become backwaters, where the majority of the population live subsistence lifestyles. The support of governments across the Pacific were usually taken for granted by the US and its allies; they were regarded as post-colonial outposts and left to their own devices.
 
Successive governments in Canberra have remained indifferent to the plight of millions of people for whom the three Melanesian countries of the South Pacific, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu were their home. Australian aid programs have also become notorious for dual-use purposes: economic considerations have been merged with defence and security provision; spurious allocation of resources has been strongly associated with military planning, not poverty reduction.
 
A report only last year from Canberra about PNG, for example, highlighted how 'progress had fallen short of expectations and restorative action' was required by Australia to facilitate economic growth. (7)
 
Against this backcloth of US-led western indifference to millions of Indigenous peoples, China has seen opportunities to increase its influence particularly by providing loans for economic development programs. China's foreign policy has also concentrated upon mutually beneficial economic projects, with a minimum of defence and security provision. With often a bare minimum of capital, maximum outcomes have taken place with infrastructure development, particularly in the South Pacific. 
 
New, strong diplomatic relations with China, however, rest upon a far longer history.
 
Many Pacific Islands have had curious political histories, not clear-cut or overtly ideological. Papua New Guinea, for example, established full diplomatic links with China soon after independence in the mid-1970s. While never clearly identifying as part of the Third World, successive governments in Port Moresby never established links with the former Soviet Union or countries under its control until their demise in the early 1990s. However, western expatriate workers in PNG, of whom there were large numbers following independence, were often not replaced by fellow country-people after their departure when contracts were completed; other expatriates, from newly independent countries in Africa, were often favoured including those with strong links with Cuba. PNG also developed diplomatic links with Cuba, Vietnam and the DPRK even in the darker days of the last Cold War.
 
The Solomon Islands, meanwhile, developed strong links with Cuba for medical training of their nation’s health workers and development of their health service. Vanuatu, likewise, while having progressive governments in Port Vila was also a centre for Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) regional operations for many years.
 
With the arrival of the Trump administration in the White House, US-led foreign policy toward the Pacific was soon placed in a new Cold War mode; diplomatic hostilities toward China became an almost daily event. Many of the hostilities have been played-out in the South Pacific.
 
The recent arrival of Arthur B. Culvahouse as US Ambassador to Australia took place 'amid a flurry of visits by US officials to the Pacific Islands. (8) Culvahouse, furthermore, would appear to also have been allocated regional diplomatic responsibilities for other countries having been referred to in official documentation as an envoy. (9)
 
Culvahouse has already been responsible for gross interference in the sovereign affairs of neighbouring Pacific Island countries with the official and high-handed statement that 'it was up to US allies and western liberal democracies to educate people about the dangers of these loans', when speaking about China's recent economic initiatives. (10) The US would appear to be establishing a new neo-colonial position, reasserting themselves against China.
 
The reference to education did not convey the usual classroom approach to learning, the interpretation of the word being left open.
In fact, under such circumstances, it should be no surprise to find some PNG political figures have spoken about Australian aid being paternalistic, and complained that 'there is animosity and anger about being lectured to' by Canberra. (11)  
 
And, if the softer economic initiatives do not produce the planned outcome, the US appears to have already formulated stronger military positions to support their neo-colonial position. The recent Avalon Australian International Air-show, for example, provided observers with glimpses of new US-led regional military planning; the recent purchasing of ten C-27J Spartan airlifters by the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has left little to the imagination. Official Avalon information material referred to the ten planes as providing the ADF with 'greater flexibility in moving personnel and cargo to remote locations', including PNG, together with their ability to be converted into gunships and intelligence collection. (12)
 
The ten C-27J Spartans are also not intended as playthings by the ADF. Military planners have already earmarked the planes for counter-insurgency provision, offshore, in a 'future scenario of an expeditionary deployment to undertake stabilisation in a contested environment'. (13) The planes are intended for use in support of ground-based military forces with battlefield intelligence provision and 'airborne electronic warfare support'. (14)
 
Trump will hopefully be a one-term US president, departing the White House before too much lasting damage has been done.
 
We, nevertheless, require an independent foreign policy to distance ourselves from this war-mongering and likelihood of military exercises turning into real-war scenarios!
*****
1.     The word according to Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, The Australian Financial Review, 2021 January 2018.
2.     US military renamed Pacific Command, BBC News, 31 May 2018.
3.     Ibid.
4.     Warships needed closer to home, Australian, 5 October 2017.
5.     Military 'under siege from hackers', Australian, 14 March 2019.
6.     Quoted, The Enemy, Felix Greene, (London, 1970), page 139.
7.     Amber alert issued on PNG aid, Australian, 13 June 2018.
8.     Warning on China's 'loan diplomacy', Australian, 14 March 2019.
9.     US envoy arrives to 'translate Trump', Australian, 13 March 2019.
10.   US making trouble over loans: China, Australian, 15 March 2019.
11.   Australian, op.cit., 13 June 2018.
12.   Spartan lifter could be ADF's first gunship, Avalon 2019, Special Report, Australian, 26 February 2019.
13.   Ibid.
14.   Ibid.

 

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