Australia, Japan and the drivers of Pentagon policy
Recent high-level Asia-Pacific diplomatic meetings in Tokyo with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe have revealed widespread concern in Pentagon-led regional decision-making circles.
Most countries in the Asia-Pacific region have historically been bound to United States defence and security planning, pursued through diplomatic alliances. The alliances also rest upon layers of so-called Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).
Two problems have now arisen:
Firstly, the rise of China in the region and elsewhere, economically and diplomatically, has presented the US with a challenge to traditional hegemonic positions.
Secondly, the Trump administration has entered into the second year of office. Its pursuit of an America First political agenda has created the appearance of a general lack of interest in the Asia-Pacific region. Both Australian and Japan appear to have taken a leadership role to defend traditional US imperialist positions.
In mid-January PM Malcolm Turnbull met PM Shinzo Abe for high-level diplomatic meetings reported as dealing with 'our bilateral relationship'. (1) Turnbull quite clearly felt comfortable dealing with Abe, a right-wing nationalist. Abe is also popular with the Japanese far-right being linked directly to war-criminals through his maternal grandfather, a former Prime Minister with active involvement in Class A War Crimes. Since assuming office Shinzo Abe has also boosted a five-year military expansion from 2013, culminating in the 2018 high-level diplomatic meetings with Turnbull. The development would appear reminiscent of a family tradition of militarism, from the days of Imperial Japan to the present day.
The wording of the official media release, however, intentionally made no direct reference to the US. Both Australia and Japan are closely linked into US-led regional defence and security planning from the period when Donald Rumsfeld was Defence Secretary in the Bush administrations. Australia, as a regional hub for US interests in the southern part was linked to Japan as a northern counterpart. The triangular diplomatic relationship had been designed to specifically encircle and contain China and its rising influence in the region and elsewhere which was assessed as a major threat to traditional hegemonic positions. Both Australia and Japan are maritime countries in the Pacific where access and egress with shipping-lanes form a major part of defence and security planning. The rise of China has therefore increased those concerns about essential maritime supply-lines.
Across the Asia-Pacific region pro-US diplomacy has been increasingly channelled through Australia and Japan to provide a more structured control. Diplomacy, endless war-games and military exercises have also rested upon numerous FTAs which seek to provide pro-US allies with a means of checking Chinese influence. It is not difficult to find evidence of the link between defence and security and economic considerations. In a recent interview with the Australian Financial Review Abe spoke about 'upgraded bilateral military ties, with Japanese fighter jets and other aircraft set to conduct training exercises with the Australian Air Force'. (2) He also noted 'such closer security ties have been built on long-standing economic cooperation'. (3)
Defence and security planning and economic considerations are not, however, clear-cut. They exist in shades of grey. US imperialism, for example, requires a compliant government in the Republic of Korea; they use military facilities in the country as part of their Defence of Japan doctrine and have over 28,000 troops in various bases, many for rapid deployment elsewhere. Moves by both Australia and the US to have FTAs with the Republic of Korea, therefore, were not specifically intended to boost economic growth in the former but to counter increasing Chinese influence which was regarded as a threat. They are also linked to frequent military exercises off the Korean peninsula as a carefully planned strategy of regional tension against the northern DPRK and China.
Another example of the linking of defence and security planning with economic considerations has included the revival of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) regional FTA which will be formally signed in March. Official media releases have stated 'Australia and Japan have been central to efforts to salvage a Pacific Rim agreement from the original 12-nation TPP'. (4) Shortly after taking office President Trump pulled the US out of the trade deal, pushing protectionist America First policies. (5) Australia and Japan appear to have taken over a new leadership-type role to re-establish the 11 nation $13.7 trillion regional FTA.
An official media release from Canberra has revealed widespread concern in Australian diplomatic circles about the Trump administration. It has been suggested the America First policies have done 'much to undermine perceptions of the US administration's commitment to the region' and that 'the let-down gave China an opening to gain further economic and strategic advantage'. (6) America First policies were also regarded by a former senior Japanese government adviser Kotaro Tamura as meaning 'Asia, second or third'. (7)
A diplomatic statement nevertheless noted 'the timing of Mr Turnbull's Tokyo visit was as vital as the initiatives arising from it'. (8) Since then Australian media releases have praised the proposed TPP with endless streams of figures promoting the corporate-led agenda and how it will benefit Australia. To date, however, no reference has been made in mainstream media that ordinary working people have little or nothing to gain from the revived TPP.
Concerns, nevertheless, have already arisen from within the corridors of power: a media statement from Tokyo has cast doubt upon whether recent initiatives were capable of dealing effectively with China. It was noted, 'Japan was looking to Australia as it believed its alliance with the US was not enough to halt China', and that the moves taken 'would not be enough to halt China taking control in Asia'. (9) It was also stated the US was not stable and 'US engagement will be fading away'. (10)
Reference was also made to 'the chaos in the White House' on account of the ineptitude of the Trump administration. (11)
Japan, in particular, faces an uncertain economic future which has far-reaching implications for defence and security planning. Their present military budget, for example, amounts to about one per cent of GDP. In contrast, its ageing population and shrinking workforce require more than 20 per cent of GDP. (12) It was noted that Japan 'could not afford to defend itself in the event of a conflict'.
(13) Australia, likewise, also faces an uncertain economic future. Recent studies from the business sector have shown Australia has dropped out of the top ten countries attracting foreign investment. (14) Economic growth has slumped, living standards for most Australians have fallen 1.6 per cent in the past year. (15) Australia is a country in relative decline.
No wonder the recent Australian and Japanese high-level diplomatic meetings took place. The two Prime Ministers and their coteries of sycophantic advisers were clutching at straws, dreaming of bygone times. Sensible people should be on their guard: particularly when Pentagon planners intend sitting back and using other countries to defend US interests in the Asia-Pacific region. Ordinary working people have nothing to gain from militarism and war.
And as if to show a complete disregard for more pressing political matters, Trump has already begun plans for a one-year-of-office celebration at his Mar-a-Lago holiday resort in Florida with tickets starting at $100,000.
1. Editorial, Australia-Japan alliance crucial, The Weekend Australian, 20-21 January 2018.
2. All the way with Abe, Australian Financial Review Weekend, 20-21 January 2018.
4. Trade win after Pacific deal sealed, Australian, 24 January 2018.
5. Editorial, op.cit., 20-21 January 2018.
7. Tokyo eyes our help to defy China, Australian, 25 January 2018.
8. Editorial, op.cit., 20-21 January 2018.
9. Tokyo eyes, op.cit., 25 January 2018.
14. Australia out of top investment destination list, Australian, 23 January 2018.
15. Bill shock: standard of living slump, Australian, 5 January 2018.