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Why Taiwan is an explosive flashpoint for a US-China war
Peter Symonds, WSWS, Oct 16 2021

As the Biden administration ramps up its aggressive confrontation with China, Taiwan is rapidly becoming the most immediate and dangerous flashpoint for war between the world’s two largest economies, both armed with nuclear weapons. The status of Taiwan has long been highly contentious and potentially explosive. However, for four decades, after the US and China established diplomatic relations in 1979, tensions over Taiwan were largely managed and contained within the framework of delicately balanced arrangements. Beginning with the Trump administration, those agreements, diplomatic protocols and tacit understandings increasingly have been torn up, a process that Biden is accelerating. The most egregious step, so far, has been the provocative leak this month via the WSJ that US special forces have been on Taiwan training troops for more than a year. In 1979, the US, as part of its arrangements with China, withdrew all of its military forces from Taiwan, broke off diplomatic relations and ended its military treaty with Taipei. The stationing of US troops on Taiwan is a flagrant breach of what has been the status quo for decades and calls into question the basis for US-China diplomatic ties.

To understand the great dangers posed by the Biden administration’s deliberately inflammatory actions it is necessary to examine the historical background. To justify its menacing military build-up in the region and the inflaming of this sensitive flashpoint, the US portrays Taiwan as a thriving democracy confronted with a growing Chinese threat of aggression. In reality, US imperialism has never had the slightest concern for democracy on Taiwan or anywhere else in the region. Following Japan’s WW2 defeat in 1945, the US helped install the dictatorial Kuomintang (KMT) regime of Chiang Kai-shek as the government of China. In Oct 1945, the US Navy transported KMT troops to Taiwan, which had been a Japanese colony following China’s defeat in the 1895 Sino-Japanese war.

The brutal US-backed Kuomintang regime

The KMT administration under the governorship of General Chen Yi was brutal from the outset as a worsening economic crisis strained relations between local Taiwanese and newly-arrived Chinese from the mainland. The shooting of a civilian protestor on February 28, 1947 provoked island-wide unrest that was violently suppressed by the KMT military. Estimates of the number killed range from 18k to 30k. The savage repression in Taiwan was part of the broader crisis of the Chiang Kai-shek regime, which was riddled with corruption. It used police-state measures against rising opposition that included a strike movement in the working class and from 1947 reignited a civil war against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In the wake of the CCP’s victory in 1949 and the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China, the KMT and its supporters fled to Taiwan.

Chiang Kai-shek reviewing troops in 1966

The mass exodus of some two million people included the KMT leadership, soldiers, officials and the wealthy business elites. China’s gold and foreign currency reserves, as well as many national cultural treasures, were carted off to Taiwan. The KMT government proclaimed Taipei the temporary capital of the Republic of China (ROC) and declared that its aim was to retake the mainland. Taiwan today, separate from China, is the creation of American imperialism. Following the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, then President Truman placed the island under the protection of the US Seventh Fleet. The KMT could only posture as a government-in-exile of all China with the backing of the US. With Washington’s backing, China’s seat on the UNSC was handed to the ROC and Taipei, not Beijing, was recognised as the capital of China. Just as it backed dictatorial and autocratic regimes throughout Asia, the US gave its full support to the KMT dictatorship, which imposed martial rule in May 1949 that continued for nearly four decades, until 1987. The KMT ruthlessly suppressed all political opposition, in what was known as the White Terror. According to one estimate, that involved the imprisonment or execution of 140k people for alleged anti-KMT or pro-Communist sentiments. KMT provocations against Beijing, with US backing, including an air and naval blockade of the Chinese coast, were a constant source of tension. Taipei controlled, and continues to control, a number of fortified islets just kilometres off the Chinese mainland and close to major Chinese cities.

Two major crises erupted in the 1950s. In August 1954, the KMT put tens of thousands of troops onto the islets of Matsu and Kinmen and began building military installations, to which the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) responded by shelling Kinmen. At the height of the crisis, the US Congress authorised the use of military force against China and the Pentagon advocated nuclear strikes. A second Taiwan Strait crisis erupted in Aug 1958 after the shelling of Matsu and Kinmen and clashes between KMT and PLA forces near Dongding Island. Air and sea engagements and artillery exchanges continued for three months, with losses amounting to hundreds dead on both sides. The US reinforced the KMT military, escorted KMT naval vessels to the beleaguered islets and the Pentagon again raised the necessity of using nuclear weapons. The hostile standoff between China and the KMT regime on Taiwan, backed militarily by the US continued throughout the 1960s.

Washington’s rapprochement with Beijing

US President Nixon’s visit to China in February 1972 marked a major shift in geo-political relations. The trip had been announced the previous year, based on secret talks that Nixon’s National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger had held with senior CCP leaders. Nixon and Kissinger calculated that the US could exploit the Sino-Soviet split of the early 1960s and the sharp tensions between Moscow and Beijing, which included border clashes, to forge a quasi-alliance with China against the Soviet Union. Nixon’s meeting with Chinese leader Mao Zedong and the release of the joint Shanghai Communiqué paved the way for the establishment of diplomatic relations. It was a reactionary partnership in which the CCP regime backed right-wing US allies such as the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile and the repressive Iranian regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The pact also opened the door for the reintegration of China into the world capitalist market as a cheap labour platform.

Mao Zedong with US President Richard Nixon in 1972

Washington’s abrupt about-face had far-reaching consequences for the KMT dictatorship on Taiwan. The status of Taiwan was a central issue in the protracted negotiations that eventually led to formal diplomatic ties between the US and China in 1979. The CCP insisted that the US recognise “One China” with Taiwan as part of China and end its military and diplomatic ties with Taipei. In the Shanghai Communiqué, the US acknowledged:

All Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The US Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves.

Furthermore, it affirmed “the ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all US forces and military installations from Taiwan.” In 1979, when diplomatic ties were established, Washington broke diplomatic relations with Taipei, withdrew its forces and abrogated its military treaty—effectively, though not formally, acknowledging “One China” with the CCP regime in Beijing as the legitimate government. Taipei had already lost its seat in the UN in 1971 when Beijing took China’s position as a permanent member of the UNSC, a move that the US did not block. At the same time, the US Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act, which opposed any attempt by Beijing to reunify Taiwan by force, authorised the sale of “defensive” military weapons to Taiwan and established the American Institute in Taiwan, through which unofficial ties could be maintained. Washington adopted a stance of “strategic ambiguity” toward a conflict between China and Taiwan. That is, it did not give a guarantee as to whether it would intervene. This was aimed at curbing both Chinese aggression and provocative actions by Taiwan.

The end of the KMT dictatorship

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the US assisted Taiwan economically with financial assistance, investment and access to the American market that assisted in its state-supported industrialisation. During the 1970s, Taiwan was the fastest growing economy in Asia after Japan. With the turn to globalised production from the late 1970s, Taiwan became one of the major cheap labour platforms in Asia. Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore, the four Asian Tigers, were held up as a new model for economic development. The KMT dictatorship was based on a nationally-regulated economy that was associated with corruption involving KMT cronies, “mainlanders,” at the expense of the indigenous Taiwanese elites. Under pressure from the US, the regime began to open up its economy in the 1980s, privatising state-owned corporations and eliminating state economic regulation, moves that led to a weakening of the KMT’s political base of support. Political opposition remained illegal under martial law but was increasingly voiced through protests against the regime’s anti-democratic measures. Taiwan’s rapid economic expansion also led to a huge growth of the working class that was increasingly militant and conducted a wave of strikes demanding improved wages and conditions.

In response, the KMT conceded a series of limited democratic reforms. The bourgeois political opposition led by indigenous Taiwanese elites was able to form the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 1986 and the following year martial law was lifted on the main island of Taiwan. The main legislative bodies, the Legislative Yuan and National Assembly, had been stacked with unelected KMT representatives for provinces in mainland China on the basis of the fiction that the government still represented all of China. A full election for a reformed National Assembly was held in 1991 and a reformed Legislative Yuan in 1992. The first direct election for the president and vice-president was held in 1996. The status of Taiwan, which is inextricably intertwined with relations with mainland China, has increasingly dominated Taiwanese politics. President Lee Teng-hui, who initiated the limited democratic reforms, became the first Taiwanese-born president. Although a member of the KMT, he sought to promote a Taiwanese identity to counter the influence of the DPP and to project Taiwan on the international stage.

Lee challenged long-standing US diplomatic protocols against high-level visits by Taiwanese officials to the US by accepting an invitation in 1995 from Cornell University to deliver a speech on “Taiwan’s Democratisation Experience.” While the Clinton administration turned down his request for a visa, Congress supported the visit. It went ahead, provoking an angry reaction from Beijing, which denounced Lee as a “traitor” who was attempting to split China. For its part, the CCP regime under Deng Xiaoping pushed the reunification of Taiwan on the basis of the formula “One Country, Two Systems.” Taiwan would retain a significant degree of autonomy in politics, state structures and economy. Beijing was hostile to any suggestion that Taiwan could declare formal independence and regarded Lee’s visit to the US as a breach of undertakings given by Washington in 1979. The visit provoked the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1995–96, underscoring the dangers of the current deliberate breaches by the US of its arrangements with China. Beijing announced missile tests and a build-up of military forces in Fujian—the Chinese province adjacent to Taiwan across the Taiwan Strait. The Clinton administration responded with the largest show of military might in Asia since the Vietnam War, dispatching two aircraft carrier battle groups to waters near Taiwan and sending one through the narrow Taiwan Strait. Beijing backed down.

The polarisation of Taiwanese politics between a pro-independence DPP and a KMT oriented toward China is rooted in the island’s economy. On the one hand, the lack of diplomatic recognition is a barrier to Taiwan’s entry into international bodies, including economic institutions, and makes economic and trade relations more difficult. The 2000 election of the first DPP President Chen Shui-bian, who promoted greater Taiwanese autonomy, heightened tensions with Beijing, which warned it would respond to any formal declaration of Taiwanese independence with force. On the other, capitalist restoration in China from 1978 onward opened up huge economic opportunities for Taiwanese corporations. Taiwanese businesses invested $118b in China between 1991 and early 2020 and the value of cross-strait trade in 2019 was $149.2b. The KMT has sought to facilitate relations with China. Under KMT President Ma Ying-jeou, who was elected in 2008, a trade agreement opened up direct flights and cargo shipments between Taiwan and China, and economic relations strengthened. In 2015, the first-ever meeting between Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping took place in Singapore. They carefully stepped around any suggestion of two presidents of two countries by addressing each other as “Mr” and referring to “two coasts” rather than the PRC and the ROC. Both adhered to what is known as the 1992 consensus whereby the CCP and KMT agree that there is One China but still disagree as to who rules it.

US heightens tensions over Taiwan

The installation of Obama as president in 2009 marked a sharp turn toward confrontation with China, reflecting Democrat criticism of the previous Bush administration for ignoring Asia while prosecuting wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East. While the “pivot to Asia” was formally announced in 2011, the Obama administration initiated a wide-ranging offensive aimed at boosting the US position in Asia, undermining China economically and strengthening the US military presence and alliances throughout the region. By 2020, 60% of US naval and air assets were to be positioned in the Indo-Pacific, in line with the Pentagon’s AirSea Battle strategy for war with China. The Obama administration deliberately stoked up tensions in the South China Sea by declaring that it had a “national interest” in the low-key territorial disputes between China and its neighbours. It made no attempt to end festering tensions on the Korean Peninsula over North Korea’s nuclear programs. At the same time, however, Obama steered clear of destabilising the status quo over Taiwan, in recognition of its centrality to US relations with China and the potentially explosive consequences. Trump had no such qualms. Even before his formal inauguration, Trump provocatively took a phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen from the DPP who had taken office in mid-2016. While the phone call was nominally to congratulate Trump on winning the election, it breached established protocols.

Tsai Ing-wen speaking on the phone with Trump in Dec 2016

Trump also put Beijing on notice by publicly declaring in an interview with Fox News in December 2016: “I don’t know why we have to be bound by a One China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade.” The statement effectively transformed the “One China” policy from the basis for US-China relations to a bargaining chip in the trade and economic warfare Trump was to unleash. The Trump administration included a number of top officials who had longstanding ties to Taiwan and who were deeply hostile to China, including his initial chief of staff Reince Priebus and White House trade adviser Peter Navarro. Under Trump, the US ramped up arms sales to Taiwan, increased the number of US warships passing through the Taiwan Strait, backed Taiwanese President Tsai’s anti-China stance and boosted contact between US and Taiwanese officials—all despite Chinese objections. In August 2020, Secretary of Health Alex Azar became the highest-ranking US official to visit Taiwan since 1979.

Trump’s deliberate and provocative stoking of the issue of Taiwan greatly heightened the danger of war. While the American propaganda incessantly warns of potential “Chinese aggression,” a new book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa published earlier this year entitled ‘Peril’ revealed that General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was compelled to take extraordinary steps to counter Trump’s efforts to instigate a war with China as part of Trump’s attempt to overturn his election defeat. Far from attempting to mend relations with China, the Biden administration has further heightened tensions, including over Taiwan. Biden signalled his intentions to develop close relations with Taiwan by being the first president to invite the de facto Taiwanese ambassador to Washington Hsiao Bi-Khim to attend his inauguration. In the dying days of the Trump administration, Sec State Pompeo had announced he was ending all limitations on contact between US and Taiwanese officials, civilian and military, at every level. With minor modifications, the Biden administration has continued that policy. In June, with Biden’s blessing, a group of US senators visited Taiwan nominally to announce a donation of COVID-19 vaccines.

US military and economic threats

The dispute between China and the US over Taiwan is not simply about diplomatic protocols. The strengthening of US ties with Taiwan poses definite threats to China—strategically and economically. The secret deployment of US special forces trainers to Taiwan coincides with a more sinister possibility, revealed in the Japanese Nikkei news agency, that the US was considering the stationing of medium-range offensive missiles in Asia, including on Taiwan. The island of Taiwan is not only strategically located close to the Chinese mainland but forms part of the first island chain, stretching from Japan through to the Philippines, that US strategic planners regard as vital to hemming in Chinese naval forces in the event of war. During the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur stated that Taiwan was “an unsinkable aircraft carrier” able to project American power along China’s coast in a containment strategy.

Economically, Taiwan is home to the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), which accounts for a 55% of international chip production and a massive 90% of the most advanced chips required both for industrial and military use. Trump has already dealt Chinese tech giant Huawei a huge blow by pressuring TSMC to stop supplying it chips. In US military circles an intense discussion is underway over the danger of war with China over Taiwan. In March, Admiral Phil Davidson, the outgoing head of INDOPACOM, which would be on the front line of any conflict with China, warned that the US could be at war with China in less than six years and called for a huge increase in his command’s budget. Pointing to Chinese advances in military technology, Davidson and others have called for the accelerated development of new weapons systems for use in a conflict with China.

Behind the war drive by US imperialism against China is both the fear in Washington it is being overtaken economically and the profound political and social crisis at home. Amid huge social tensions and mounting struggles of the American working class, the ruling class could resort to war as a means of turning social tensions outward against an external enemy and at the same time reversing its historic decline and reasserting the regional and global hegemony it obtained after WW2. For all the claims that China is considering an invasion of Taiwan, the US, by undermining the One China policy, step-by-step strengthening ties with Taipei and integrating it into US war plans, is goading Beijing toward making military moves. Any war between the world’s two largest economies, both nuclear-armed, would be catastrophic for the working class in China, Taiwan, the US and the world. The rising tensions over Taiwan must be taken as a serious call to action for workers and youth around the world to build an international anti-war movement of the working class based on a socialist perspective to put an end to the capitalist system that is the root cause of war.

Polish Constitutional Court ruling deepens EU crisis
Martin Nowak, Clara Weiss, WSWS, Oct 16 2021

Demonstration for the European Union in Warsaw

On Oct 7, the Polish Constitutional Court ruled that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has no right to make decisions about the Polish judiciary, effectively asserting Polish national law precedence over European law. The ruling, which was handed down by a vote of 10 to 2, has further exacerbated the political crisis in the European Union and also within Poland. Many observers interpret the ruling, which came at the request of the right-wing nationalist PiS [Law and Justice Party] government, as a step toward “Polexit,” even though the government itself denies seeking Poland’s exit from the EU. Since the ruling, there have been calls for the EU to cut its extensive subsidies to Poland.

The specific issue in the court case was whether provisions of the EU treaties that give the EU Commission a say in questions concerning the rule of law are compatible with the Polish constitution. The EU has long criticized the PiS for systematically subordinating the Polish judiciary, and, in particular, the Constitutional Court, to its political interests, and for undermining the principle of the separation of powers since coming to power in 2015. The Constitutional Court is now almost completely dominated by PiS. Presiding Judge Julia Przyłębska is considered to be PiS-affiliated and a close confidant of PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński. On Mar 2 of this year, the ECJ concluded that the PiS government’s controversial judicial reform could partially violate EU law. It found that EU law overrides individual provisions in national law and national constitutional law, and that it could therefore force Poland to repeal parts of the controversial judicial reform. The PiS government objected to this. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki personally appealed to the Polish Constitutional Court to review the ECJ’s decision. The court has now ruled in his favour and openly questioned the authority of the ECJ. Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro celebrated the ruling in blatantly nationalistic terms. He said it was a “very important decision” in a situation where Brussels and Berlin were “treating Poland like a quasi-colony.”

The Polish opposition, led by the liberal Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO), which backs greater cooperation between Warsaw and the EU, and Berlin in particular, organized protests Sunday against the Constitutional Court’s ruling. Donald Tusk, the PO’s main leader, served five years as president of the European Council until 2019 and acquired a reputation for being close to German Chancellor Angela Merkel politically. Tens of thousands took part in protests in the capital, Warsaw, according to media reports. Protests also took place in other cities. However, the overall number of participants fell well short of the mass protests against the abortion law last year. The demonstrations were mainly supported by the middle-class layers that benefit economically from Poland’s EU integration and make up the PO’s social base. Former Solidarność leader Lech Wałęsa, who played a central role in the reintroduction of capitalism to Poland, supported the protests.

The Financial Times, the mouthpiece of British and European finance capital, was particularly strident in its opposition to the court decision. The newspaper called the ruling “a greater challenge to EU unity than Brexit.” It was “a direct attack on the EU’s legal order, the cement that holds the EU together,” the newspaper wrote. It went on to say it was “regrettable” that the EU had no mechanism to “exclude” members like Poland. The only way to respond, therefore, was to massively cut EU funds to Poland. As the largest net recipient, Poland receives about €12b/yr from the EU budget. The EU Commission is currently examining whether Poland’s €36b from the EU’s Coronavirus reconstruction fund can be cut. So far, it has been withholding these funds. Former Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski has publicly threatened that Poland would cancel an equally large portion of its EU contributions if this were to happen. EU Commission President and former German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said she was “deeply concerned” by the Polish Constitutional Court’s ruling. she declared:

EU law takes precedence over national law, including constitutional provisions. We will use all the powers we have under the treaties to ensure this.

Nevertheless, many media outlets and members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have criticized von der Leyen, who was elected Commission president thanks to the votes of Poland and Hungary, saying she remains largely passive. Some MEPs have even launched a failure to act case against the Commission to force faster action against Poland.

The conflict between the EU and Poland must be understood against the backdrop of the deep crisis of European capitalism, growing tensions with the US and preparations for war against Russia and China. Berlin has so far kept a relatively low profile not only because the PiS supported von der Leyen’s election, but also because German companies are among the main beneficiaries of massive EU subsidies to Poland. According to a report in business weekly WirtschaftsWoche, more and more German companies are closing their sites in Germany and relocating production to Poland, where they benefit both from EU subsidies and the extremely low wages of well-trained Polish workers. Among the 5,800 companies with subsidiaries in Poland are Lufthansa and Siemens. Economic ties between Poland and Germany have been growing steadily for years. Germany is by far the most important export and import trading partner for Poland, accounting for around 28% in each direction. Since 1990, German capital has invested around €40b in the neighbouring country. The chairman of the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, Oliver Hermes, has warned against restricting EU payments to Poland or even Hungary. He wrote:

Delays in the allocation of EU funds also affect German companies in Poland and Hungary, because EU co-financed investments have been a key growth driver since 2004.

Poland is also of crucial geopolitical importance. It plays a key role in the expansion of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), as all direct land links to the three Baltic EU states, Ukraine and Russia run through Poland. The Polish government, which emerged from the restoration of capitalism, plays a key role in NATO’s war preparations against Russia. Most recently it has been at the centre of NATO manoeuvrers such as “Defender-Europe 20.”

Since 1989, the Polish bourgeoisie has been oriented primarily toward a military alliance with the United States. In contrast to the previous PO administration, the PiS government has refrained from closer military cooperation with Germany. Instead, it is seeking to build an alliance of Eastern European states along the lines of the “Intermarium,” directed against both Russia and Germany. Under Donald Trump, Washington openly supported this policy. The Biden administration’s growing focus on war preparations against China and its efforts to somewhat dampen the conflict with Russia, at least temporarily, may now undermine Warsaw’s adoption of this orientation. At the same time, there are discussions in Germany about whether the “Intermarium” strategy could be used in its own interests. A strategy paper by the pro-government Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (Science and Politics Foundation) argued that Berlin should “pursue a policy of interested and benevolent involvement” despite Polish resistance to admitting Germany in order to “position itself in the region as a geo-economic actor alongside the US as well as China and Russia.”

The conflicts within the Polish bourgeoisie, the dispute between the EU and Poland, and the growing threat of war are ultimately the result of the intensification of international conflicts and class tensions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. As in other Eastern European countries, the pandemic has claimed a particularly large number of lives in Poland, mainly as a result of the disastrous consequences of capitalist restoration 30 years ago, and it has exacerbated the political crisis of the PiS government, which is now rejected by more than two-thirds of the population. With its aggressive nationalist course, the PiS is trying, not least, to distract attention from the growing protests and strikes at home. On the basis of the struggle for a United Socialist States of Europe, the working class must formulate its own response to the crisis of European and world capitalism, independent of all factions of the ruling class.

UK-EU conflict over Northern Ireland Protocol amid spiralling national tensions
Thomas Scripps, WSWS, Oct 16 2021

Vehicles at the port of Larne, Northern Ireland, Feb 2 2021. (Photo: Peter Morrison/AP)

Political hostilities have erupted once again between Britain and the European Union over the Northern Ireland Protocol. Agreed as part of the Brexit deal done in early 2020, the protocol governs the passage of goods between the UK and EU economic areas, where a hard border, or extensive border infrastructure, between Northern Ireland and EU member state the Republic of Ireland would jeopardise the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended the decades-long armed conflict in the north. Under the agreement, Northern Ireland remains within the EU’s single market for goods which the rest of the UK has withdrawn from. EU product inspections and customs checks on goods travelling from the UK are conducted at ports in Northern Ireland immediately after crossing the Irish Sea and can then move freely through the entire island of Ireland. This prompted opposition from large sections of the Conservative party and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland, who complained that a border was effectively set up in the Irish Sea. Prime Minister Boris Johnson endorsed the 2019 agreement in that year’s general election as a means of “getting Brexit done.” But antagonisms have rumbled on ever since, with the agreement threatened by both sides in the early part of this year and the EU briefly invoking Article 16, which allows one party to unilaterally suspend elements of the deal.

Talks to defuse the situation ever since have only highlighted the national tensions driving apart Britain and the EU, at a time of rising tensions within the European Union itself. The UK Brexit Minister, Lord Frost, has called for the protocol to be scrapped and the elimination of all customs checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, allowing goods to circulate freely if they conform to either UK or EU regulations. He also wants the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to be removed from the arbitration of future disputes over the agreement, demanding “international arbitration instead of a system of EU law ultimately policed in the court of one of the parties, the European Court of Justice.” On Wednesday, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Maroš Šefčovič offered a series of concessions to the UK’s position, including measures to reduce checks on British retail goods by 80%, halve customs paperwork, waive the requirement for medical manufacturers to move out of Northern Ireland into Britain, and streamline the certification process for road freight. He declared that the EU had “completely turned our rules upside down and inside out” to find agreement. He insisted:

It’s very clear that we cannot have access to the single market without the supervision of the ECJ.

Talks on the EU’s proposals will take place for a maximum of three weeks. Commentators have raised the adoption of a Swiss style treaty as a possible final compromise. Disputes between Switzerland and the EU are dealt with by an independent arbitration panel, although it must take into account the ECJ’s view on matters of EU law. But comments suggest that Britain will demand “the moon,” in the words of one EU diplomat speaking to the Financial Times (FT). On Wednesday, the day Šefčovič announced his proposals, Johnson’s former senior adviser and current political enemy Dominic Cummings tweeted that the government had signed the Brexit deal planning to “ditch bits we didn’t like after whacking Corbyn.” He continued:

Our priorities meant e.g getting Brexit done is 10000x more important than lawyers yapping re international law in negotiations with people who break law all the time.

Cummings’s account was then confirmed by leading DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr. He told BBC Newsnight:

Boris Johnson did tell me personally that he would, after agreeing to the protocol, he would sign up to changing that protocol and indeed tearing it up, that this was just for the semantics.

Frost has admitted, cryptically, that the UK only agreed to the ECJ’s oversight of the protocol “because of the very specific circumstances of that negotiation.” Preparations are already being made in Europe for a trade war should Britain reject the EU’s proposals and trigger Article 16. According to the FT, representatives from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain met with Šefčovič Monday to demand contingency plans including tariffs on British exports, restricting the UK’s access to Europe’s energy supplies and ending the trade agreement between the two parties. An EU diplomat told the FT:

Frost knows he’s playing with fire. But when you play with fire, you get burnt. The EU has a broad palette of options for hitting back at the UK.

Britain’s rationale for pushing a conflict with the EU is most openly expressed in the Daily Telegraph. Columnist Nick Timothy accuses the EU of “playing with fire on the Northern Ireland Protocol.” He writes:

The issue is… sovereignty. The Government cannot allow the continued jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over the NI Protocol.

The UK government feels “sovereignty” is a stick it can successfully beat the EU with, in light of the ruling last week by Poland’s Constitutional Court that parts of EU law are “incompatible” with the Polish constitution, overturning the fundamental primacy of EU law within the union. Poland has been backed by Hungary, which has also been engaged in a long-running legal dispute with the EU over legislation linking European subsidies to respect for the rule of law. The Brexiteer press in the UK has also made much of recent statements by Michel Barnier, the EU’s former chief Brexit negotiator. Barnier is now running in the French Presidential race on a fiercely anti-migrant platform, calling for France to regain its “legal sovereignty” by casting off the threat of a “ruling or a condemnation at the level of the European Court of Justice or the European Convention on Human Rights.” Johnson gloated at last week’s Tory Party conference:

That is what happens if you spend a year trying to argue with Lord Frost.

These events are proof of the analysis made by the Socialist Equality Party of Brexit as “the most advanced expression of an escalating breakdown of the EU, under the pressure of mounting centrifugal forces that are intensifying conflicts not only with the US but between the European states.” The Johnson government identifies itself with this development. It hopes to use Brexit to place itself in pole position among European nations pursuing increasingly independent policies, either within or having broken loose from a paralysed EU. Leading Tory Brexiteer Sir Ian Duncan Smith MP cited Lord Palmerston in the Telegraph Thursday:

We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.

Central to this policy is the UK’s pitch to the US as its most slavishly dependable ally. But this course is fraught with uncertainty. The Brexit policy in the British ruling class was spurred by the presidency of Donald Trump, who made his hostility to the major European powers, Germany and France, plain. Under President Joe Biden, the US has adopted a subtler approach. September’s AUKUS military alliance between the UK, US and Australia, involving the repudiation of a submarine deal between Canberra and Paris, boosted Johnson’s standing in Washington. But Biden has consistently stated that his administration would respond severely over any move the UK makes jeopardising the Good Friday Agreement. He is also more determined than Trump to win the support of Europe in the escalating conflict with China. The outcome of the dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol is therefore bound up with calculations made in the increasingly frenzied war drive in the Asia-Pacific. Combined, these geopolitical tensions threaten an explosion of trade and military conflicts. They can find no resolution within the framework of imperialist politics. They can only be combatted through the development of a unified socialist movement of the European and international working class against nationalism, war and the pursuit of profit over human need.

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