More US political moves in the South Pacific to “contain” China
The recent US foreign policy initiative to invite three prominent Pacific Island leaders to the White House for high-level diplomatic talks, has revealed an escalation of hostilities toward China.
The US remains desperate to reassert its domination in the face of a rising China, in the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere.
Official US media releases remain couched in previous Cold War rhetoric which the Pentagon regards as suitable for the present period.
US imperialism to “expand its diplomatic footprint”
In mid-May, Alex Grey, the US National Security Council director for the Oceania and Indo-Pacific Security, announced the Trump administration was planning to host three Pacific Island leaders at the White House. (1) While the three were not named, their countries of origin were: the Marshall Islands, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia. It is significant to note the first two countries diplomatically recognise Taiwan as opposed to China while the last includes Guam, a large and strategically-placed US military facility.
The official US media release about the high-level diplomacy with the three countries left little to the imagination: it stated 'the US should expand its diplomatic footprint – which is inadequate given the region's strategic importance'. (2)
The foreign policy initiative was also closely linked to other US moves to counter the rise of China in the wider region. In recent years Chinese diplomatic officials have been active across the region establishing favourable trade relations. It is no surprise the Trump administration has established a specific position within the National Security Council (NSC) for the Pacific and in recent times ‘has sent some of its most senior officials to the Pacific to consult with island leaders'. (3)
US imperialism has drawn Australia and Japan closely into the rising tide of Cold War diplomatic hostilities through their implementation of triangular defence and security provision. Australia remains an important hub for 'US interests' with Pine Gap in Central Australia. The status of Japan in US-led military planning has also been elevated in recent years to be a northern hub for similar 'US interests'. In reality, the outcome of US foreign policy initiatives toward the region will be thrust upon Australia and Japan. The recent media release drew attention, for example, 'to other like-minded nations who share interests in the Pacific Islands such as Japan and Australia to build connectivity, resilience and other critical needs'. (4)
Island Chain Theory
Included in the official media release, however, was reference to classic Cold War positions held by the US following the Second World War, on which their traditional hegemonic position rested: Island Chain Theory.
Island Chain theory grew out of the Cold War military thinking of John Foster Dulles, US Secretary of State, 1953-59, following the Korean War. It is composed of three island marking points which are regarded as stepping-stones and strategic buffers for defence and security considerations. (5) While the military planning drew heavily upon earlier references to 'offshore island arcs', used by Imperial Germany before the First World War, after 1945, island chain theory became the manner in which the US controlled the region.
Island Chain Theory is composed of three lines drawn upon maritime maps:
• The first island chain is a line from the Kuril Islands to Borneo, together with the northern part of the Philippines. The Kuril Islands, composed of 56 landmasses in Russia's Sakhalin Oblast region are about 1,300 kms north-east of Japan. Borneo, part of Indonesia, is a geographical centre of maritime south-east Asia.
• The second island chain is a line from the Ogasawara Islands to the Volcano Islands including the Mariana Islands, historically controlled by the US. The former is composed of thirty small islands controlled by Japan, about a thousand kms south of Tokyo.
• The third island chain is a line from the Aleutian Islands to Oceania, centred upon Hawaii which is the headquarters of the US Indo-Pacific Command. The former is composed of 69 islands belonging to the Russian Federation and Alaska, the latter a vast geographical area including Australia, Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia.
Studying the three island chains on an actual size Peters Projection World Map shows a vast area of ocean with a multitude of small island nations, many of which have successfully established favourable diplomatic and trading relations with China.
The US, however, takes care to obscure their defence and security system by using a usual size world map in official media releases, which distorts distances and proximity. Coverage of their military planning for their regional X-band systems, for example, deliberately hid the role of Australia with their Third and Seventh Fleets to avoid unnecessary publicity with Pine Gap linked to Diego Garcia and Silvermine facilities in South Africa. (6)
The US also uses various parts of the Island Chains for placing defence and security facilities, linked to military bases elsewhere. Forays, made by then President Obama, to visit numerous countries in the Asia-Pacific region in 2012 and 2014 were likely to have been used to enable the systems to be activated. Great emphasis was placed on the US diplomacy of the period to 'be partnered out there with nations and have a rotational presence that would allow us to build up common capabilities for common interests'. (7)
In fact, the rise of China has effectively created a regional trade competitor for the US with further fears of Beijing also establishing a military presence in the region. In classic Cold War military thinking, therefore, such a development has been assessed by the Pentagon as enabling 'China to project power beyond the second island chain and severely complicate the ability of the US Navy to control Pacific waters of vital strategic interest'. (8) Reference was also made to sea-lanes 'running from Australia to Hawaii', which in practical terms carry very little trade either import or export. The sea-lanes are, however, essential for regional US-led military planning and logistics.
US sources also reveal the highly strategic position of Australia within US defence and security provision. A recent media statement, for example, stressed 'were China to acquire a military base in the South-east Asia archipelago, the strategic consequences for Australia would be serious'. (9)
Furthermore, Australia in recent times, has been responsible for numerous high-level diplomatic talks with South Pacific island countries which form part of the Defence of Australia doctrine: Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu.
While the agendas for the forthcoming high-level diplomatic meetings between the Trump administration and three Pacific Island leaders have not been openly publicised, it is not too difficult to establish what will be discussed: an official US media release stated the US sought to 'invest more in infrastructure and telecommunications to counter China's growing economic presence. (10)
The reasons why the areas of interest are regarded as important, include:
The first area of US interest would appear to include Pentagon planning for military scenarios. The position of the previous colonial and post-colonial administrations was to use limited access to areas of the countries as a means of controlling the population; that, has now been assessed as an obstacle to US-led military planning. Many of the countries in the region, for example, have limited access for military vehicles at time of planned incursion. It would be extremely difficult, for example, for a full-size US battalion to invade Papua New Guinea in the usual manner. Obstacles, including vast areas of jungle and mountainous terrain would hinder usual military access, or at least make it far slower than needed by an invading power.
Secondly, many countries across the Asia-Pacific region now use Huawei, the Chinese telephone company for their telecommunications. While the US has effectively banned Huawei from having access to their telecommunications systems, they have to deal with countries where the Chinese systems are already installed and fully operational. The problem for the Pentagon is that anywhere in the region which has sensitive US defence and security facilities including those with only minimal consular offices or being hosted in a military base, have to access Huawei networks for diplomatic communications.
Remote areas in Mindanao, in the southern part of the Philippines, are also, for example, known to house sensitive US surveillance facilities to monitor Chinese maritime and naval use of shipping-lanes across the South China Seas. The US facilities are obviously linked into a centralised network converging upon the Pentagon. A noticeable development in recent times has also been for military communications to use commercial satellites, many of which are linked to Huawei facilities.
Following China's successful diplomacy with most countries across the Asia-Pacific region, the Trump administration want to reassert traditional hegemonic positions.
Australia needs an independent foreign policy to distance ourselves from the US-led Cold War and real-war scenarios!
1. Leader boosts Pacific presence, Australian, 17 May 2019.
5. Why Islands still matter in Asia, The National Interest, 5 February 2016.
6. U.S. Seeks New Asia Defences, The Wall Street Journal, 24-26 August 2012, includes a world map depicting US fleet boundaries with the caption “The US plans to deploy a new X-band system in Japan”.
7. US eyes return to south-east Asian bases, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 29 June 2012; and, US signs defence deal in Asia, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 2 May 2014.
8. Australian, op.cit., 17 May 2019.
9. 'Overhaul nation's defence strategy' to handle China's rise, experts warn, Australian, 15 November 2017.
10. Australian, op.cit., 17 May 2019.