Taiwan a conduit for US influence in South Pacific
The wave of US-led militarism sweeping the Asia-Pacific region has, in many ways, focussed upon pushing more favourable diplomatic links with Taiwan.
The US-led initiatives aim to tighten the net of containment and encirclement of China.
Two important considerations have, however, come to light:
• a recent development in the Solomon Islands which may have major implications for Australian localised military and security provision;
• the manner in which US-led Taiwanese diplomacy has been conducted in countries such as the Solomon Islands has revealed high levels of interference with potentially serious implications for continued political stability, with potentially catastrophic implications.
Diplomatic tensions have been rising between the US and China in recent times with the former providing increased support for Taiwan. Even before the presidential inauguration, members of the Trump administration were eagerly pushing Taiwan as a major player in US regional foreign policy against China.
In recent times a number of issues have heightened diplomatic tensions.
The US imperialists have increased their number of so-called 'freedom of navigation' operations in the Taiwan Straits together with arms sales to Taipei which have included a recent announcement from Washington that they plan to sell more than sixty F-16 Lockheed Martin fighter planes to the Taiwanese government of President Tsai Ing-wen. (1)
The problem has been exacerbated by the US also having increased numbers of naval patrols in the South China Seas, which include sensitive shipping-lanes used by China for the southern Straits of Molucca to provide access to the Indian Ocean. (2)
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who leads the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, has also been drawn closer into the US sphere of interests. It has been noted in official media releases that the US has been responsible for 'increasing support for Dr. Tsai'. (3)
Recent matters, including President Tsai being allowed a stop-over in Hawaii on a recent high-level diplomatic visit to allies in the Pacific, further heightened tensions with Beijing. Hawaii is the centre of US military operations for the Indo-Pacific region, with the US Third Fleet covering the Pacific to Latin America, the Seventh Fleet covering the Indian Ocean to South Africa and the Fifth Fleet covering the northern part of the Indian Ocean. Australia, historically, has provided a major point of reference with the US military planning; the eastern coastline being the dividing line between the Pacific and Indian Ocean fleets. (4)
China regards the developments in a dim light with their One China policy; Taiwan has little diplomatic significance and is regarded as a rebel province.
Most countries at United Nations level also diplomatically recognise China, meaning Taiwan has been pushed aside in recent years, with only seventeen allies; the Trump administration, however, appear intent on pushing Taiwan back into a major centre of 'US interests'. The US diplomatic initiatives, to date, have not been particularly successful.
Taiwan has only six Pacific allies and the fact President Tsai chose to visit three, Palau, Nauru and the Marshall Islands during recent high-level diplomatic talks together with the stop-over, reveal important US-led initiatives appear to be taking place behind the scenes. To counter the revelations, US media releases announced President Tsai's travel arrangements were 'private and confidential', although they had to acknowledge that James Moriarty, Chair of the American Institute in Taiwan, officially greeted the president on her stop-over in Hawaii. (5)
The so-called American Institute in Taiwan, while being pushed by Washington as an independent body, carries all the functions of an unofficial embassy in Taipei. The fact Moriarty was in Hawaii at the same time as President Tsai was hardly coincidental.
The developments have followed controversy over President Tsai visiting the US last year and the official welcoming she received during a much-publicised stop-over. (6)
While the high-level diplomacy between the US and Taiwan has been played-out in official channels with acknowledgement that 'the Trump administration also seems determined to step up its support for Taiwan', another related development has far-reaching implications for Australia. (7)
The major diplomatic stand-off between the US and China over Taiwan is likely to be played-out on Australia's doorstep, in the South Pacific.
Recent elections in the Solomon Islands have resulted in their diplomatic links with Taiwan being seriously questioned. Current Prime Minister Rick Hou, issued a media release in early April stating his political party will 'review Solomon Islands' relations with Taiwan if re-elected'. (8)
Two important considerations appear to have arisen for the government in Honiara: China is considered a rising power in the region; China is also the Solomon Islands' largest export market. (9)
While the elections in the Solomon Islands have already taken place, the final results have yet to be announced; a large number of independent candidates and coalition-building amongst those elected as M.P.s have resulted in a number of problems. The election of the Prime Minister, therefore, is not expected until Easter, at the very earliest.
The Solomon Islands have long-held major defence and security planning for Australia: the Defence of Australia (DOA) doctrine rests upon the three Melanesian countries of the Solomons together with Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, acting as a buffer to protect northern approaches in time of threat of military incursion. The stability of the three countries has been a major preoccupation with Canberra for nearly seventy years following the end of the Second World War, from the time of colonial control to independence and neo-colonial economic relations.
In reality, dominant attitudes in Canberra have long-been questionable toward the three Melanesian countries. A long series of spurious aid programs have allowed Australian-based mining companies to plunder and pillage the land-masses for the benefit of shareholders the world over. Life, for the vast majority of people in the three countries, however, has remained based at subsistence levels with few realistic life-chances.
One particularly obnoxious part of the neo-colonial relationship with Australia toward the three Melanesian countries and wider Pacific, has been racism. Last October, for example, the Australia government hosted an official high-level diplomatic visit for President Anote Tong of Kiribati to discuss climate change. Australian coalition Environment Minister Melissa Price, during a parliamentary dinner accused President Anote Tong 'of being in Australia just to get a cash handout'. (10) Following her denial, the full statement was released in which it is alleged she had also said:
I know why you're here. It is for the cash. For the Pacific, it is always about the cash.
I have my chequebook here, how much do you want? (11)
While Australian attitudes have long regarded the three Melanesian countries as a backwater, recent diplomatic initiatives from China have turned the DOA countries into a highly sensitive hotspot.
The present questioning of diplomatic links between the Solomon Islands and Taiwan is likely to now raise political temperatures still higher.
Behind the scenes, however, recent revelations about US-led Taiwanese diplomatic positions toward the Solomon Islands have shown widespread interference in the sovereign affairs of the country.
A recent study conducted by Australian National University academic Dr. Denghua Zhang, concluded with the statement, 'it would be a mistake to under-estimate the extent of Taiwan's influence with the local political elite'. (12) Like many developing countries, the population of the Solomon Islands are based in multi-ethnicity; different ethnic groups have historically populated various islands. Institutions of state, including the legislature, are also weak and have possessed limited legitimacy in the eyes of many islanders; they fear the dominance of one ethnic group gaining the opportunity to exploit another through government systems.
Political stability across the Solomon Islands, therefore, is at best, fragile and tense.
Taiwanese diplomacy toward countries such as the Solomon Islands has also tended to be run along lines of provision of constituency development funds 'which are directly allocated to elected officials and are funded from Taipei'. (13) M.P.s. therefore, are given a payroll type of operation; influence clearly is brought to bear from outside for services rendered, which ultimately tend to be formally or informally linked to 'US interests'. The funding has been responsible for creating division and competition for patronage.
Previous elections in the Solomon Islands in 2014, for example, resulted in only about a quarter of elected members losing their seats, and 'there was speculation that had to do with the large increase in constituency development funds' at the time. (14)
Decision-makers in Canberra, particularly those involved with aid programs for the Solomon Islands, have been shown to be quite content to hide behind diplomatic silence while Taipei conducted pro-US policies and corruption with the DOA provision. The position has added weight to the observation decades ago, that 'the South Pacific is an area in which intelligence collection, political interference, and various dirty tricks can all too easily merge'. (15) Little has changed in a very long time.
Whatever the outcome of the possible changed diplomatic position of Honiara toward Taiwan and China, the fact the pro-US policies and corruption is now being questioned in the Solomon Islands is perhaps a major shift in itself.
The gravity of the present situation in the Solomon Islands was evidenced when Australian Defence Force personnel were posted 'to guard against possible outbreaks of violence' during the recent elections. (16) Their postings show just how important the Solomon Islands remain to DOA provision: fears of major hostilities between different ethnic groupings arising over gaining access to illicit funding from Taipei have serious implications for lasting political stability.
Inter-ethnic problems and rivalries are not uncommon in the Solomon Islands.
The last major problems, nearly twenty years ago, cost Australian tax-payers in excess of $1,000 million for evacuation procedures and political stabilisation programs which included a major policing operation conducted by the Manchester (UK) police force for several years. (17)
The present US-led Cold War is burning very hot at present in the South Pacific.
We need an independent foreign policy to distance ourselves from this US-led charade!
1. US warns China over Taiwan sabre-rattling, Australian, 4 April 2019.
2. China hardens stance on Taiwan, Australian, 6 March 2019.
3. Australian, op.cit., 4 April 2019.
4. Fundamental Study of American Military Power, H. Fudzii, (Tokyo, 1986), page 214.
5. China warns US on stop-over for Taiwan leader, The Weekend Australian, 23-24 April 2019.
6. Australian, op.cit., 6 March 2019.
7. Australian, op.cit., 4 April 2019.
8. Pacific Island looking to China, Australian, 3 April 2019.
10. Pacific Ocean: environment disaster zone, The Guardian, 20 March 2019.
12. Australian, op.cit., 3 April 2019.
15. Oyster, The Story of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Brian Toohey and William Pinwill, (Victoria, 1989), page 262.
16. Australian, op.cit., 3 April 2019.
17. Confidential source, interview with senior ABC reporter.