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Richard Tanter on Trump, Australia and war with China

Richard Tanter, ‘Trump chaos to our north? Where do we stand at the end of US hegemony in Asia?’, Arena Magazine, 146, March/April 2017, pp. 7-9,

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IPAN Peace conference

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“Through a chaotic mélange of intent, incompetence and cultural prejudice, the new Trump administration will overturn the post-war system of US hegemony in Asia. Of course, that hegemonic regime has been creaking for decades, most obviously in the case of the rise of China, and in light of China’s clear determination to have a say in making the rules of the global order. Whatever else Trump does or does not do, his incumbency will dramatically accelerate those geopolitical and system-structural processes.
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Never before has this kind of geopolitical transformation taken place in a conjuncture characterised by a violent globalised economic and class framework, an anachronistic state system of often dysfunctional, nominally sovereign nation states, high levels of global militarisation, widespread possession of nuclear weapons, and, above all, the climate-change impact of the Anthropocene unfolding in what will increasingly be abrupt non-linear form.” …

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Picasso Peace dove

During his Senate confirmation hearing on 12 January, Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, called for a US blockade of China’s facilities on the islands/reefs it occupies in the South China Sea. It is best to be clear on these matters:
a naval blockade is one step away from the outbreak of war, in this case between two nuclear-armed powers.

Several years ago Des Ball and Rob Ayson pointed out that the assumption of most that a potential conflict between China and Japan could be prevented from escalating into major armed conflict is implausible. Their argument, which originally focused on East China Sea issues, carries even more weight in the even more complex setting of the South China Sea, where time for ambiguity in Australian policy is running out.

The Tillerson stream of Trump thinking has plans for Australia. Confirming Tillerson’s intent, a senior Trump transition adviser

told Reuters about specifics under consideration, such as basing a second aircraft carrier in the region, deploying more destroyers, attack submarines and missile defense batteries and expanding or adding new bases in Japan and Australia.
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This view sits well with those in the Pentagon who have been nudging Canberra into still closer alignment with US operational planning. On 23 January Republican Senator John McCain, often identified as irretrievably hostile to Trump, called for US$7.5 billion of new US military spending for an Asia-Pacific Stability Initiative. Reuters reported that

A US military official, who did not want to be identified, said the funds could go to construct new military runways in countries such as Australia and the Philippines.

“The South China Sea issue is the immediate expression of a general urgent need for an independent Australian foreign and defence policy, for which two primary requirements are a policy framework sufficiently disentangled from the American alliance that government can discern where Australian interests and American interests diverge, and the resolution to articulate that policy. The problem is general, but Trump’s China policy makes it urgent.”
“In defence policy, a starting point is to think deeply about the relevance today of three remarkable works from the 1980s and early 1990s. The first is David Martin’s Armed Neutrality for Australia (1984), perhaps the most original book on Australian defence policy. Our first task is to apply Martin’s thinking about neutrality in a bipolar Cold War world to the developing contemporary multipolar situation. What would neutrality mean in relation to China and the United States? If not neutrality, then what? ”

“Labelling Tillerson’s remark as ‘simply ludicrous’, Paul Keating sounded the tocsin:

When the US secretary of state-designate threatens to involve Australia in war with China, the Australian people need to take note. That is the only way Rex Tillerson’s testimony that a ‘signal’ should be sent to China that ‘access to these islands is not going to be allowed’, and that US allies in the region should be there ‘to show back-up’, can be read.
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Keating is right in saying that we need a firm line from Canberra that, ally or no, Australia wants no truck with this kind of high-risk bravado in a part of the world in which we, unlike the United States, have to live.

This is not just a matter of risk avoidance but of rethinking the deep settler-colonial mindset of Australian foreign-policy discourse, which, as Henry Reynolds’ Forgotten War reminds us, extends back to the Australia and the Boer War of a century ago.”

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…”And, rather than contemplating acquiescing to suggestions for new US bases or homeporting an aircraft-carrier task group in Fremantle, we need to start setting limits on the activities the United States can conduct from Australian bases to which it has access, including requiring an end to the violations of international law in Pine Gap’s contribution to targeting of US drone strikes in countries with which neither Australia nor the U.S. are at war.” Read the whole article



Waging Peace on War: Canberra. WACA Peace Convergence

earlier posts War with China

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