South Pacific: Tide turns for Taiwan and US imperialism
The announcement that Kiribati was switching its diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China has sent alarm bells ringing in Canberra and Washington.
Coming so soon after the Solomon Islands made a similar diplomatic move has added to the fears of declining US-led regional domination.
A further announcement that Tuvalu was also considering similar diplomatic initiatives has met with official silence; it has been the only tenable position for US-led regional diplomacy.
Taiwan has long been regarded as a US-led bastion against China. The moves signify a nightmare scenario for US-led military planners; diplomatic positions, in their circles, rest upon clear military considerations.
It remains to be seen how the US will eventually respond to the situation, although recent US-led military exercises include provision for 'real-war' scenarios.
Diplomatic defections an embarrassment for Trump….
The announcement on Friday 20 September that Kiribati, a strategically-placed small country in the south-west Pacific, was abandoning its diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favour of China came like a shot out of the dark. It had not been expected by Canberra or Washington. To add insult to injury for US-led regional diplomacy, the following day Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi with his Solomon Islands counterpart, Jeremiah Manele signed a joint communique 'formalising the establishment of diplomatic relations'. (1) The Solomon Islands had long been regarded as loyal to Taiwan, having initially establishing full diplomatic ties soon after independence in the 1970s. A recent change of government in Honiara, however, saw a significant shift in foreign policy planning after 36 years.
The development has taken place at a particularly embarrassing time for the Trump administration which has recently approved a huge arms deal with Taipei. It was subsequently noted by the Taiwanese Foreign Ministry that the country 'stands in the forefront' of US-led regional military planning against China. (2) The $2.2 billion deal is intended to arm the Taiwanese military against China, intensifying rivalries across the Straits. The US arms deal has also coincided with increased naval patrols in the Taiwan Straits as part of their US-led wave of regional militarism. (3)
….and “Titanium Man” Morrison
While the diplomatic switch with the Solomon Islands received some coverage in mainstream Australian media outlets, similar moves in Kiribati received very little, indicating apprehension and hesitancy on the part of Canberra. The fact that Prime Minister Scott Morrison was in Washington at the same time personally involved in high-level diplomacy with President Trump might offer a partial explanation for the behaviour. While the matter arising was not specifically addressed, Morrison was quoted in a meeting of the Chicago Institute of Global Affairs saying that 'we are substantially increasing our economic, security and infra-structure co-operation in the south-west Pacific'. (4)
The accompanying official media release of Morrison in the US, likewise, also included reference to a statement from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and their US counterparts, for 'a new focus on the Pacific Islands'. (5)
Part of the revamped Australian regional planning has included a call for businesses and financiers 'to boost investment in the South Pacific', in line with a defence and security plan where 'Australia has a fundamental national interest in a Pacific that is secure strategically, stable economically and sovereign politically'. (6) The position adopted in Canberra was little other than an attempt to revive already failed neo-colonial policies across a region, where economic considerations underpinned defence and security provision. The planning also included reference, for example, to a corporate organisation Scope Global, which had already been awarded multiple contracts and provided advisers to nations across the Pacific. (7)
As if to play down another problem arising, the media releases used only a five-line reference to recent elections in Tuvalu where the pro-Taiwan Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga lost his position to Kausea Natano. (8) It did note, nevertheless, that the 'focus was now on Tuvalu', without providing any further details or information. (9)
It is not particularly difficult to establish why both the Solomon Islands and Kiribati have switched their diplomatic allegiance to China from Taiwan. The ruling Taiwanese presidential administration of Tsai Ing-wen has included a number of highly vocal personnel who have campaigned for Taiwan to seek full independence. The moves have back-fired; following her election in 2016, President Tsai Ing-wen has seen seven countries sever diplomatic links with Taipei. Taiwan now has only fifteen countries with full diplomatic links. China, by contrast, has 180.
The likely explanation for the diplomatic development has been concern that if Taiwan does opt to seek full independence, those countries with diplomatic links with it will be drawn into conflict with China; not exactly an enviable position for small, isolated countries in the Pacific, Latin America and Africa. Some also have extensive investment from China, channelled through overseas Chinese ethnic groups which have been resident for centuries.
It has also not been particularly difficult to establish why recent moves in the Pacific raise a serious concern for US-led regional diplomacy.
Australia has provided an important contribution toward US-led regional military and security planning and is regarded by the Pentagon as 'a valuable strategic asset by the US in its military planning'. (10) Australia is regarded by the US as a strategic hub for 'US interests' in the southern part of the region: Japan, in the northern part, is regarded as a counterpart; both hubs host strategically-placed US-led intelligence facilities providing the Pentagon with real-time surveillance.
While all the Pacific Islands have their own intelligence agencies, they tend to be small and primarily concerned with localised issues including illegal fishing and drug-trafficking. They, nevertheless, provide a point of immediate reference for the larger, Australian-based facilities with the provision of localised information.
Over the two rest the dominant US-led military and security facilities.
It has not been difficult, therefore, to assess the official US position toward recent developments. Criticism was noted from US vice-president Mike Pence who cancelled a meeting scheduled to have taken place on the sidelines of the UN general assembly with Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogayare next week. (11) The cancellation can be best viewed along lines that the US had little, if anything, of significance left to say. The deed had been done.
In such a light, three important factors have arisen in recent times:
• the generation of political leaders who took Pacific Islands to independence decades ago, have now largely gone. In their place a new generation of better educated and politically more astute leaders have taken their place. They are naturally reluctant to accept US-led directives at face value; many have experienced their countries being pillaged and plundered by foreign capital while the mass of their subject populations continues to live in poverty;
• the rise of China has provided a direct challenge to traditional US-led hegemonic positions across the region. The new generation of political leaders are well-aware their future lies with diplomatic positions and favourable trade with Beijing, even if the move is regarded in a dim light by Washington;
• the Pacific Islands are tending to assert their ability to manage their own affairs, not necessarily following the US-led neo-colonial directives issued through Canberra.
The development has far-reaching implications for US-led military and security provision.
A great deal of the Australian neo-colonial position toward the Pacific Islands, for example, rests upon economic considerations together with military planning. China's diplomacy, however, has been highly successful at winning mutually beneficial trade; while Australia has pumped aid money into the Solomon Islands, its trade with Honiara is extremely limited. China, in recent years by contrast, has become the most important trading partner for the Solomon Islands. The switching of diplomatic links with Honiara to Beijing, is therefore the natural progression of mutually beneficial economic considerations.
War games against China
It is against this backcloth that recent US-led military planning and exercises have left little to the imagination about possible future real-war scenarios as they attempt to deal with what they have assessed as a threat to their traditional hegemonic position.
The recent Talisman Sabre exercises last July included 34,000 US, Australian and Japanese troops, with eighteen other observer countries. It included the staged liberation of a fictional island, Legais, which had been occupied by a larger country, Kamaria. Emphasis was placed, throughout the exercise, upon the 'interoperability' of the US, Australian and Japanese forces, in line with US-led regional defence and security provision.
The fact Kamaria was modelled upon China, was dismissed in official media releases although elsewhere it was noted the exercises had taken place 'in a measure of how the rise of China is upending the strategic order'. (12) No clear definition of what actually constituted an 'occupation' was provided; whether it was a straightforward military occupation or some level of control achieved by economic means with 'foreign advisors and government officials' was intentionally left unclear.
The media release also drew attention to Australian-based intelligence facilities throughout the exercise maintaining close co-operation with their Pacific Island counterparts. The exercise, for example, included a 'pre-landing force deployed 48 hours earlier.... feeding vital intelligence about enemy troop locations to their colleagues off-shore'. (13) The pre-landing personnel were presumably of the same ethnic backgrounds and also disguised as local people to avoid detection.
References to 'our plans for the Lombrum naval base on Manus Island' in Papua New Guinea, likewise, reveal how US-led military planning pursued through Australia, has come to rely upon the Pacific Islands for hosting facilities intended for rapid deployment within the countries concerned and elsewhere across the region. (14) We are entering into dangerous and troublesome times where the peace and stability of Australia is being threatened by US-led military planning and manoeuvres.
Subsequent accompanying media release about the Talisman Sabre exercises included reference to the mind-set of the military planners: it acknowledged they were fictional, but, 'only just', their purpose being described as 'realism', in a struggle waged 'for mastery of the air, sea and land'. (15) The aim of the military planners was noted as, 'throughout the exercise, we will be focussed on combat readiness'. (16) Such military planning remains totally unambiguous and clear about stated intentions, with no room for any imagination.
With such forces at work in Australia: we need an independent foreign policy!
1. Taiwan leader under pressure as friends jump ship, Australian, 23 September 2019.
2. US bid to sell tanks, missiles to Taiwan, Australian, 10 July 2019.
3. Keep out of China's business, US warned, Australian, 11 July 2019.
4. PM's 'practical' green plan, Australian, 24 September 2019.
6. Business urged to dive into the Pacific, Australian, 19 September 2019.
8. Australian, op.cit., 23 September 2019.
10. Strategic alliance in north enthuses visiting US chiefs, Australian, 22 August 2019.
11. Solomons 'not paid' to break Taiwan ties, Australian, 25 September 2019.
12. Battle of the Pacific begins at home as allies flex muscles, Australian, 7 July 2019.
14. Morrison seeks to turn the tide of neighbourly states, Australian, 5 June 2019.
15. Red, might and Blue to keep it real, The Weekend Australian, 13-14 July 2019.