WSWS for apr 19

Australia intensifies military preparations for US-China conflict over Taiwan
Mike Head, WSWS, Apr 19 2021

At the urging of the Biden administration, the Australian government and the country’s military are working intensely with the US to ramp up their preparations for what could be a catastrophic war against China for control over Taiwan. The plans would place Australian forces on the front line of a US drive to reassert Washington’s global hegemony that is increasingly focused on the strategically and economically crucial island, just 160 km from the Chinese mainland. Despite the details being hidden from public view, the plans are evidently detailed. The Australian Financial Review informed its corporate readership last Friday:

The Australian government has sharply escalated its internal preparations for potential military action in the Taiwan Strait. Informed sources said the Australian Defence Force was planning for a potential worst-case scenario if the US and China clashed over Taiwan, prompting debate over the scope and scale of Canberra’s contribution to what would be an unprecedented conflict in the region. Options include contributing to an allied effort with submarines, as well as maritime surveillance aircraft, air-to-air refuellers and potentially Super Hornet fighters operating from US bases in Guam or the Philippines, and even Japan. Another option, a riskier one, would be to incorporate Air Warfare Destroyers into US aircraft carrier groups. There is no doubt Australia would be called on to support the US if there was a conflict with China.

Washington’s hand in stepping up these preparations was indicated late last month when Michael Goldman, the US chargé d’affaires in Australia, currently Washington’s highest representative in the country, said during an Australian National University podcast that the two allies’ “strategic planning” covered a “range of contingencies of which Taiwan is obviously an important component.” As no doubt intended by the Biden administration, Goldman’s comments were widely reported in prominent media outlets in Asia and the US, heightening the provocation toward Beijing over the island. In recent weeks both the outgoing and incoming commanders of INDOPACOM, Admirals Phil Davidson and John Aquilino, have warned of a war over China within the next six years, or even earlier. Davidson and Aquilino accused China of planning to “invade” Taiwan. In reality, the US is undercutting the “One China” policy, established in 1979 when Washington ended diplomatic relations with Taiwan, recognising Beijing as the government of all China, including Taiwan.

The Biden administration is stepping up an array of destabilising moves initiated by the Trump White House, including the junking of previous restrictions on contact between US and Taiwanese officials and the development of closer military collaboration with Taiwan. Last week, an “unofficial” US delegation became the latest in a series of high profile visits to Taiwan. The delegation included Richard Armitage, the anti-China “hawk” who served as Bush 43’s deputy secretary of state. Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen told the delegation her government would work with the US to deter China’s “adventurous manoeuvres and provocations.” Speaking last week at an Indian foreign affairs conference, known as the Raisina Dialogue, chief of Australia’s Defence Force, General Angus Campbell justified the plans for war over Taiwan, saying all militaries undertook “a whole variety of planning” and “rarely ever talk about it.”

However, the fact that such military preparations are being publicly “talked about” is a warning of how far the Biden administration is prepared to go to block China from challenging the supremacy over the Indo-Pacific that the US obtained via victory in WW2. “Analysts” cited by the AFR said the US pressure on Australia to commit to join a US attack on China had intensified with last month’s first-ever Quad summit, convened by President Joe Biden with the leaders of Japan, India and Australia. Michael Shoebridge from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a government-funded and US-linked thinktank, said:

Biden is using fast multilateralism. Obama wanted to get everyone in the tent and consult. Biden doesn’t want to do that. He wants partners to work with him at the speed that he needs to work.

Another indication of the pace of developments came last week with Biden’s decision to end the long, disastrous and criminal US military campaign in Afghanistan, in order to concentrate forces further in the Indo-Pacific. That announcement was immediately matched by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who cited last year’s defence policy update, which called for the Australian military to shift focus from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific. A “former Defence official” told the AFR there would be questions in the government over whether the ANZUS Treaty automatically applied in the event of an alleged Chinese strike against Taiwan. Article IV of that US-Australia-New Zealand pact, signed in 1951, commits each party to meet the “common danger” from an attack on their “armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific.” That issue points to how sharply the Australian ruling class has shifted its position to commit itself to a US-led war, despite China becoming Australian capitalism’s largest export market over the past two decades.

In 2004, the Bush administration sought an immediate explanation after Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, during a visit to China, described the ANZUS Treaty as “symbolic.” Downer said Australia would not automatically support the US in a conflict with China over Taiwan. Downer’s comments were denounced by Australia’s military and political establishment, including the Labor Party’s then shadow foreign minister Kevin Rudd, as a threat to the US alliance. Two years later it was revealed that at least seven diplomatic cables had been exchanged with Washington over Downer’s remarks, prompting Prime Minister John Howard to repair relations with the Bush White House by claiming that Downer had been taken out of context. Today, whatever the discussions about citing the ANZUS Treaty in an effort to justify Australian participation in a US-led assault on China, the Liberal-National Coalition government is already engaged in preparations for war, confident of the backing of the opposition Labor Party. As they have done in every major war, Labor and the trade unions are doing everything they can to stifle anti-war sentiment and demonise the targeted enemy. At Labor’s recent national conference, the unions helped pass six resolutions denouncing China for “aggression” or “human rights abuses” on every front nominated by the Trump and Biden administrations, including Taiwan.

Biden and Suga ramp up confrontation with China over Taiwan
Ben McGrath, Peter Symonds, WSWS, Apr 19 2021

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met with Biden Friday in Washington for a summit aimed at strengthening the US-Japan military alliance amid Washington’s escalating confrontation with China. The meeting was the first Biden has held in-person with a world leader since taking office, indicating the importance Washington places on Japan for its agenda. In their joint statement, Biden and Suga accused China of destabilizing the Indo-Pacific region. The statement said:

The two leaders exchanged views on the impact of China’s actions on peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and the world, and shared their concerns over Chinese activities that are inconsistent with the international rules-based order, including the use of economic and other forms of coercion.

Washington insists that China bow to the “international rules-based order,” meaning the post-WW2 framework established by the US in which American imperialism was the dominant power and set the rules. Driven by the fear that China could undermine its global position, first under Obama, then Trump and now Biden, the US has sought for the past decade to undermine China economically and strategically, including through a massive military build-up in the Indo-Pacific. The most significant aspect of the Biden-Suga statement was a reference to Taiwan, which has been thrust to the fore by Washington, particularly in the past year. The statement declared “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” and encouraged “the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.” This is the first time that US and Japanese leaders have directly mentioned Taiwan since Richard Nixon and Eisaku Sato made such a declaration in 1969.

While the reference might appear innocuous, it further undermines the “One China” policy that both the US and Japan accepted as the basis for establishing diplomatic relations with China, following Nixon’s visit to Beijing in 1972. Under the “One China” policy, the two countries effectively recognized Beijing as the legitimate government of all China, including Taiwan. Previously they had recognized the Kuomintang (KMT) dictatorship in Taipei, established after it fled the Chinese mainland following the 1949 Chinese Revolution, as the government-in-exile of all China. In the protracted discussions before the establishment of US diplomatic relations with China in 1979, Taiwan had been the most difficult obstacle to overcome, a measure of how sensitive it is today. While President Jimmy Carter oversaw the process, he also signed into law the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act that ensured the sale of US military hardware to Taiwan and gave a vague guarantee of US support for Taiwan against alleged Chinese aggression. The Trump administration significantly boosted arms sales to Taiwan and stepped up contacts between Taiwanese and US officials. In his final days in office, Pompeo dispensed with long-standing diplomatic protocols limiting such contacts and thereby undermined the “One China policy,” a move that Biden has largely continued. At the same time, top-level US officials have been warning of a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan as a means for justifying even closer relations with Taiwan, including possible military ties.

The Biden administration had been pushing Japan to take a tougher stance against China over Taiwan. The fact that it was even mentioned in the joint statement indicates that behind closed doors Biden and Suga discussed closer collaboration over Taiwan in some detail. The issue is particularly delicate for Japan as it was the colonial ruler of Taiwan (Formosa) from 1895 to 1945 when it reverted to China after Japan’s defeat. Japan is also heavily dependent on its economic relations with China. Beijing immediately criticized the joint Biden-Suga statement. The Chinese embassy in Washington accused the two countries of “stoking division and building blocs against other countries under the banner of ‘free and open.’” The embassy’s statement reiterated that Taiwan, along with Hong Kong and Xinjiang, were internal Chinese affairs and warned that Beijing would “firmly safeguard its national sovereignty, security and development interests.” Beijing has repeatedly warned that it would use force if the government in Taipei were to declare formal independence from China. In response to the Biden-Suga statement, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng said:

We are prepared to do everything we can for a peaceful reunification (with Taiwan). That said, we don’t pledge to give up other options. No option is excluded.

The Biden administration is deliberately raising tensions with China over what is potentially the most dangerous flashpoint for war in Asia. The current Taiwanese administration is headed by President Tsai Ing-wen from the Democratic Progressive Party, which advocates a more independent stance for Taiwan. By forging closer ties with Taipei, the US, aided by Japan, is encouraging Tsai to push for independence and risk conflict. Under Biden, the US navy has already sailed through the Taiwan Strait four times, on track to pass the annual record of 13 such voyages set under Trump last year. At the same time, Biden and Suga restated their opposition to China in other flashpoints. Biden said:

We reiterated our objections to China’s unlawful maritime claims and activities in the South China Sea and reaffirmed our strong shared interest in a free and open South China Sea governed by international law, in which freedom of navigation and overflight are guaranteed, consistent with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Biden has continued “freedom of navigation” operations, provocatively sending US warships into Chinese-claimed waters in the South China Sea. The US has not signed the UN convention that it accuses China of breaching. Biden also reaffirmed that the US-Japan Security Treaty applies to the uninhabited rocky outcrops in the East China Sea, known as the Senkaku or Diaoyu Islands, that are controlled by Japan but also claimed by China. In other words, the US would back Japan militarily in the event of war with China over these islets, “using its full range of capabilities, including nuclear.”

The Biden-Suga talks are part of a US diplomatic offensive to strengthen its strategic partnerships in preparation for conflict with China. Last month, Biden held the first-ever leaders’ summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue that included Suga along with prime ministers Scott Morrison and Narendra Modi of Australia and India respectively. The “Quad” is a quasi-military alliance aimed against China. This was followed by the first overseas trip by Blinken and Austin to Japan and South Korea. South Korean President Moon Jae-in is due to meet Biden in Washington early next month. Biden and Suga also pledged to deepen their economic cooperation. At a joint press conference, Biden prefaced the announcement of the new US-Japan Competitiveness and Resilience Partnership (CoRe) by again declaring that the two countries would work “together to take on the challenges from China.” In particular, the US and Japan plan to spend $2.5b and $2b respectively to develop 5G mobile networks, as well as future “6G” networks. A White House statement said the two would also “cooperate on sensitive supply chains, including semiconductors, and on the promotion and protection of critical technologies.” These communication networks and technologies are crucial for US war efforts. Semiconductors are essential for military equipment like warplanes and missile guidance systems. The fact that the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company dominates the global production of chips, particularly the most advanced, is a factor in the US focus on Taiwan.

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