A new nuclear powered English speaking alliance joins a more diverse QUAD in tightening the noose around China
We have confirmation that the Taiwan Straits and the South and East China Seas are Uncle Sam's new preferred battlegrounds. From the viewpoint of 1.4 billion Chinese, this looks very much like a return to the gunboat diplomacy of the 1800s. By the 1900s that had morphed into fears about a Yellow Peril. This century it has been upgraded (officially) into a supposed contest between "like minded democracies'' and "authoritarian" challenger states. The authors of this latest form of belligerence, called AUKUS (Australia, UK and US), are comically avoiding naming China as the principal target.
Whose Freedom of Navigation needs protecting?
Australia sells iron ore to fuel the Chinese steel industry. China then exports finished products back to Australia and the entire world market by ship through the Indian and Pacific oceans. It is utterly dependent on oil from the Arabian peninsula. So, if the Chinese navy were to interdict shipping it would be destroying its own economy. It would be taking a knife to its arteries. Would someone explain why they would want to do so? Beijing requires another three decades to lift its people from middle income status to become an advanced developed economy like Japan or Germany. So, the very last thing China would want right now or medium term is war which disrupts its economic ascent.
How about democracy then?
Let us look at the smaller islands of the South China Sea and Taiwan. Both are actually connected. Japan occupied Taiwan from 1895 to 1945. Taiwan was the spoils of conquest after the Japanese defeated the Qing empire. During World War Two, the Allies demanded the return of Taiwan back to the Republic of China. This happened after Japan' surrendered at the end of World War Two. The American backed nationalists (Guomindang) lost the civil war to the Communists of Mao Zedong in 1949 and fled to Taiwan. It then ruled the island as a one party state for four decades. This was fine and dandy with the US as democracy was lower down the list compared to the war on communism. The disputed Islands in the South China Sea were claimed by the (non Communist) Nationalist Republic. Once again, this was not then an issue.
One can see something similar with regards to Hong Kong. The British, of course, bombed the Qing Chinese Empire in the Opium Wars, so that drugs could sail from Bengal to Guangzhou and profitably debilitate the Chinese. For most of their period of rule, the British authorities did not feel it necessary for Hong Kong to enjoy democracy. Until that is, the end of the lease in 1997 loomed. Then, it suddenly became imperative that Red China agree to 'One Country Two Systems'. Beijing needed foreign capital to flow through Hong Kong and agreed.
When Nixon and Kissinger approached Communist China in 1971, Taiwan was dropped like a hot potato. European powers such as Spain, Portugal, the Dutch and the British, and nearby Japan have attempted to take over Taiwan since the 1500s. This series has run for several seasons. Democracy was never in the script.
India in a pickle
India has not been invited into this nuclear powered naval alliance. It, however, is being feted this weekend as the other quasi military QUAD formally meet. This grouping is effectively AUKUS, minus the UK and plus Japan and India. The QUAD flies in the face of India's national interest. India stands out as the poor man in the Club of Rich.
The QUAD and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) are meeting within days of each other. Modi went in person to the QUAD meeting while his Foreign Minister was dispatched to Dushanbe to represent a confused India at the SCO gathering. The sad result is that India, over the last few weeks. has demonstrated its irrelevance in its neighbourhood, centred on Afghanistan.
In the grown up world, Iran is being admitted to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which is celebrating its twentieth anniversary. India has been physically there, but never in spirit.
AUKUS reminds us that white, privileged Anglo Saxon powers (along with the jilted, ever so betrayed French) are absolutely determined to retain primacy. They are all trying to stop the clock before the inevitable return of Asia to where it was in 1750. It will have taken three long centuries for Asia to regain that position by 2050. The present and coming conflicts are not for democracy but domination.
Farid Erkizia Bakht is a political analyst