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AUKUS: One Step Closer Toward War with China


Brian Berletic
21st Century Wire

The announcement of “AUKUS,” the Australian-UK-US “defense alliance,” predictably overwhelmed headlines and commentary and not because the world was letting out a collective sigh of relief over assurances by AUKUS that peace and stability was finally coming to the Indo-Pacific region, but because of the exact opposite.

Despite claims that the alliance sought to underwrite security in the Indo-Pacific region and although no specific nation was mentioned as the ultimate target of AUKUS, neither the Western media nor China – the nation quite clearly being targeted – perceived it that way or reported on it in that manner.

The Guardian in its article, “Alliance with Australia and US a ‘downpayment on Global Britain’,” would explicitly state (emphasis added):

Britain’s post-Brexit foreign policy is taking shape, and the early moves are hardly very surprising: a tripartite defence alliance with the US and Australia – handily compressed to Aukus – clearly designed to send a message to Beijing.

Chinese state media, Global Times, made it abundantly clear that China understood AUKUS was aimed directly at it, with one early headline stating, “AUKUS another hostile signal to China, worsens Asia-Pacific security.”

As for the region AUKUS claims it exists to protect and promote security for, few voices spoke up positively in favor of it.

The South China Morning Post in a recent article reported that the Indonesian and Malaysian governments both feared the move would trigger an escalation and perhaps even an arms race. The article stated:

[Malaysian Prime Minister] Ismail Sabri told Morrison he was concerned AUKUS could provoke other powers to act more aggressively in the region.

The article also noted:

Indonesia earlier said it was “deeply concerned over the continuing arms race and power projection in the region”, and called on Australia to meet its nuclear non-proliferation obligations and to uphold the rule of law as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982, or UNCLOS.

Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

Veteran Malaysian politician Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was interviewed by The Australian Financial Review in an article titled, “‘You have escalated the threat’: Mahathir blasts Australia on subs.” The article would report:

“This agreement indicates you openly regard China as a possible enemy and that, if it comes to the crunch, you might even go to war. Just imagine what war would do to south-east Asia,” Dr Mahathir said.

Beijing, the West, and the region AUKUS claims it exists to protect all seem to agree, AUKUS’ formation was a provocation and will further undermine, not uphold peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. And while all of this is very clear, there is another aspect to the alliance’s announcement that is being severely underreported.

AUKUS is merely a political move made to reflect the collective military and economic preparations underway for a limited conflict with China.

Nuclear-Powered Submarines for Australia: At What Cost?

At the top of AUKUS’ agenda following its announcement were plans to provide Australia with nuclear-powered attack submarines. Australia currently operates 6 Collins-class diesel electric submarines delivered between the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. With the US and China operating nearly the same number of submarines (approximately 70 each) and with the UK possessing 11 more, it is perhaps hoped Australia’s submarine fleet might help maintain a balance or even perhaps provide an edge to the West in the Indo-Pacific region.

The deal also entails the use of Australia as a base for British nuclear-powered submarines which consist of Astute-class attack submarines as well as nuclear-armed Vanguard-class submarines, according to the UK Times. No doubt, this will be hailed in Westminster as an example of “Global Britain” flexing its military might internationally.

However, from a purely strategic point of view, the use of Australia as a base would most likely be confined to attack submarines armed with conventional weapons but could easily be used to support nuclear-armed submarines at a moment’s notice. Such prospects clearly demonstrate why other nations in the region see AUKUS as a provocation and escalation.

The aforementioned Guardian article also noted that Rolls Royce and BAE Systems would likely win contracts as part of this deal. Considering the 18 month period the Guardian reported would be used to plan out the details and the several years it takes for BAE Systems to build and commission nuclear-powered submarines, then Australia may not put these new submarines into service until the 2030’s.

But the submarine deal comes at a cost.

The new deal is likely to result in a $65.5 billion USD French-Australian submarine contract falling through. It will not be the first time Washington has undermined and dashed lucrative defense deals for Paris. In 2015 France found itself reimbursing Russia for two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships it failed to deliver after Paris was pressured by Washington to cancel the deal. This was amid another campaign of propaganda and encroachment – not on China – but instead on Russia amid instability and conflict in neighboring Ukraine.


Royal Navy Vanguard class submarine HMS Victorious departs HMNB Clyde (Image Source: UK MoD Photo)

France, an eager accomplice in Washington’s various wars of aggression since the turn of the century, has now found itself on the receiving end of American exceptionalism multiple times. France’s misfortunes today will most certainly be Australia’s tomorrow as the AUKUS alliance runs its course.

In terms of trade and economics, Australia has already begun paying its own price for its obedience to Washington.

Australia’s largest trade partner in 2019 was China. Australian exports to China outmatched all Australian exports to North America and Europe combined. Australia’s participation in a US-led propaganda campaign pressuring China across a range of fabricated accusations including the origin of COVID-19, western allegations of an alleged “Uyghur genocide” in China’s western Xinjiang region, and supposed “bullying” in the South China Sea, led to Chinese-Australian trade dropping off significantly, with ABC Australia itself claiming by as much as 40%.

While Australia boasts it has compensated for these losses by expanding into alternative markets, such effort could have been used to instead double Australian trade rather than merely recover from the politically-motivated, self-inflicted economic damage caused by its provocations and posturing toward China.

Australia’s role within AUKUS is only going to further ensure trade with China continues to drop off, hurting farmers, miners, and other key industries within Australia’s economy. The beneficiaries will be Western defense contractors, mainly in the US and UK – who are without coincidence also the sponsors of think-tanks and media conglomerates pushing the anti-China propaganda used to justify Australia’s growing row with Beijing.

What is Being Used to Justify AUKUS?

While AUKUS was announced without singling out any specific nation, the Western media was more than eager to cite China as the primary threat AUKUS was supposedly created to counter.

In a CNN segment featuring retired US Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton, when asked what had prompted the US, UK, and Australia to “reassert” defense ties and “push back” against Chinese “aggressions,” Colonel Leighton would cite the South China Sea, claiming:

What you have is an area that’s been claimed by China, by the  People’s Republic of China for really since they took over mainland China in the late 1940s. And what those claims are, are based on natural resources or perceived natural resources in those areas. So it’s between Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, of course, China and Taiwan. So that’s the first part of it.

So what we’re talking about here is making sure that what we call the sea lanes of communication are open. So, what does that mean? That means that the trade routes that we use on the open seas need to be protected and in the US, the Australian, and UK view, they need to be protected by our collective forces in order to make sure that no other navy can interfere with the trade routes as they exist right now. So, that means any oil, for example, it comes from the Middle East, any raw materials that come from Africa, things that China depends on a great deal…

Before Colonel Leighton could finish what was quickly becoming a paradoxical statement in which he was suggesting AUKUS was to protect China’s own shipping lanes from China, he was asked if China had been impeding trade along these supposedly threatened routes.

Colonel Leighton admitted, “Not yet.”

The ultimate irony of suggesting AUKUS would “protect” shipping lanes in the South China Sea is highlighted by the fact that the US and its allies are really the primary threat to international commerce around the globe. The US and its allies regularly impose unilateral sanctions on nations and through a combination of physical force and legal threats, seizing ships and their cargo, effectively strangling free trade over the open seas. Nations targeted by this this modern day global piracy include Venezuela, Iran, Cuba, and Syria. Undoubtedly, AUKUS is clearly poised to add China to that list.

Revealed by Colonel Leighton’s comments is an all but openly admitted fact that AUKUS and other alliances before it, are merely iterations of a long-standing US-led strategy of containment of China. AUKUS in particular is meant to threaten and possibly disrupt shipping lanes China above all other nations depends on, not “protect” them.

The US State Department’s Office of the Historian in a document published on its official website titled, “189. Draft Memorandum From Secretary of Defense McNamara to President Johnson,” dated 1965, stated (emphasis added):

The February decision to bomb North Vietnam and the July approval of Phase I deployments make sense only if they are in support of a long-run United States policy to contain Communist China. China—like Germany in 1917, like Germany in the West and Japan in the East in the late 30’s, and like the USSR in 1947—looms as a major power threatening to undercut our importance and effectiveness in the world and, more remotely but more menacingly, to organize all of Asia against us. The long-run US policy is based upon an instinctive understanding in our country that the peoples and resources of Asia could be effectively mobilized against us by China or by a Chinese coalition and that the potential weight of such a coalition could throw us on the defensive and threaten our security. This understanding of a straightforward security threat is interwoven with another perception—namely, that we have our view of the way the US should be moving and of the need for the majority of the rest of the world to be moving in the same direction if we are to achieve our national objective.

The 1965 memorandum reflects a similar narrative that has prevailed in one way or another for the next several decades with its most recent iteration taking the form of a US-led “international rules-based order” the US must preserve against “revisionist” states like Russia and China.

The same document would also note:

There are three fronts to a long-run effort to contain China (realizing that the USSR “contains” China on the north and northwest): (a) the Japan-Korea front; (b) the India-Pakistan front; and (c) the Southeast Asia front.

It is very obvious these three fronts identified in 1965 are still maintained by the US. The US currently has tens of thousands of US troops stationed along the Japan-Korea front with Washington citing the threat of North Korea as justification for the installation of THAAD missile defense systems clearly meant to defend US installations from a Chinese retaliation, not a North Korean attack.

Regarding the India-Pakistan front, the US has most recently included India in another attempted anti-China front – the so-called Quad Alliance. The US has also armed and backed separatist militants in Pakistan’s southwest region of Baluchistan. These militants have for years attacked Chinese-led infrastructure projects that form the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

This year alone there have been several high-profile, deadly attacks against Chinese engineers and even an assassination attempt targeting China’s ambassador to Pakistan in Baluchistan – all aimed at disrupting China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The Southeast Asian front today consists of an arc of instability created by US-backed anti-Chinese opposition groups trying to seize power in respective Southeast Asian states. Dubbed the “Milk Tea Alliance,” the common denominator besides their anti-China agenda is their US government funding funnelled through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and adjacent corporate-funded foundations including Open Society.

In addition to this arc of instability, the US has been busy cultivating tensions in the South China Sea where the US accuses China of “bullying” other nations by making “excessive” maritime claims.

To counter this “bullying,” the US regularly conducts “Freedom of Navigation Operations” (FNOPs) in which it sails US Navy warships through waters claimed by China.

The official US Navy website in a statement titled, “7th Fleet conducts Freedom of Navigation Operation” (July 12, 2021), for example, would claim:

The United States challenges excessive maritime claims around the world regardless of the identity of the claimant. The international law of the sea as reflected in the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention provides for certain rights and freedoms and other lawful uses of the sea to all nations.

Not mentioned is the fact that the US itself is not actually a signatory of the 1982 Law of the Sea of Conventions and is in fact one of only a few nations not to sign it.

The US Navy also makes another telling admission when it claimed:

“China, Taiwan, and Vietnam each claim sovereignty over the Paracel Islands.”

According to the US Navy’s own official website, it is not China “bullying” nations in the region over the South China Sea, but rather a series of overlapping claims.

Nations in the region have disputes not only with China, but also with each other as revealed in headlines like the Wall Street Journal’s 2016 article, “Indonesia Blows Up 23 Foreign Fishing Boats to Send a Message,” in which the Indonesian government destroyed captured Malaysian and Vietnamese fishing boats, or an article from Vietnamese news portal Binh Duong News, “Malaysian Navy seizes Vietnamese fishing boats,” or Bangkok Post’s article, “3 Malaysian trawlers seized near Satun.”

It is abundantly clear that the South China Sea hosts a multitude of overlapping claims and disputes which result in sometimes theatrical posturing – not just between China and other states in the region, but between these other claimants as well. These disputes never approach becoming an actual conflict and are almost always resolved bilaterally.

Similar disputes take place everywhere else in the world, including in Europe, where just this year the New York Times reported on the mobilization of British and French warships over contested fishing waters near Jersey island. Despite the theatrical mobilization of military vessels, this row too was resolved peacefully. Likewise, in their incessant bid to maintain tensions between Ukraine, Russia and Europe, the US and UK have been involved in a series of blatant provocations over the last few years in the Black Sea which temporarily disrupt sea lanes.

It is clear the US is inserting itself into otherwise ordinary and long-standing disputes in the South China Sea to justify America’s large and growing naval presence in the region and to recruit nations into belligerent alliances precisely like the Quad and AUKUS. The idea is to escalate ordinary disputes into a regional or global conflict to help advance US foreign policy and in this case, encircle and contain China.

The extensive propaganda campaign the US is engaged in to achieve this goal is underpinned by moves such as a tribunal it organized at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at the Hague, the Netherlands in 2016 – allegedly on behalf of the Philippines. It was American lawyer Paul Reichler and the Western law firm Foley Hoag – not Filipino lawyers – who led the effort.

The non-binding politically-motivated ruling was never capitalized on by the Philippines who opted instead for bilateral talks with Beijing, establishing a mechanism to ease tensions in the South China Sea and even cooperate together, according to the Philippines’ own Department of Foreign Affairs website.

Ironically, after the PCA’s 2016 ruling, not only did Beijing reject it, Taiwan did too. According to a 2016 New York Times article, Taiwan also then sent a patrol ship to the contested waters. Rarely mentioned is that Taiwan’s claims over the South China Sea are almost identical to mainland China’s.

An article from Taipei Times titled, “Tsai to avoid ‘U-shaped line’: source,” admits:

The U-shaped line — also known as the “11-dash line” — was featured in the “Location Map of the South China Sea Islands” drawn up by the Republic of China (ROC) government in 1947. After the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lost the Chinese Civil War and fled to Taiwan, the Chinese Communist Party changed it to a “nine-dash line.”

Washington’s silence over Taiwan’s identical claims amid a simultaneous propaganda campaign to depict China as the sole “bully” of the South China Sea punches further holes in AUKUS’ pretext for existence.

Taiwan, where the current US-backed ruling government in Taipei continues to inch toward independence – is in fact – another pressure point being used by Washington against Beijing. It should be remembered that Taiwan is recognized by virtually all nations (including the United States itself) as part of China under the “One China” policy.

To illustrate this, the US itself does not have an official embassy in Taipei. But while the US officially recognizes Taiwan’s status under international law, it has unofficially and consistently undermined it by supporting pro-independence political groups in Taiwan and incrementally building up Taiwan’s military vis-a-vis the mainland.

Together with the South China Sea issue, these two pressure points are clearly artificial, kept in motion by a constant investment in US-driven political pressure and propaganda as well as a steady stream of military provocations including the recent announcement of AUKUS and vows to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.

Toward War with China

These pressure points are cultivated specifically to pressure China, to isolate and contain the rising nation, and to grant the US an extension to what it itself calls its “primacy” over Asia. The resulting tensions are used by Washington to cobble together “alliances” to escalate tensions further and eventually provoke conflict.

As unlikely as that may seem, US policymakers have extensively worked out the details of such a conflict and have concluded it would benefit the US.

A 2016 RAND Corporation paper (PDF) commissioned by the US Army and titled, “War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable,” presents a compelling argument for the preservation of American hegemony through a limited conventional war confined to East Asia.

The paper notes:

We postulate that a war would be regional and conventional. It would be waged mainly by ships on and beneath the sea, by aircraft and missiles of many sorts, and in space (against satellites) and cyberspace (against computer systems). We assume that fighting would start and remain in East Asia, where potential Sino-U.S. flash points and nearly all Chinese forces are located.

It’s worth emphasizing that US planners admit that China’s forces are confined to Chinese territory. They also admit all “potential Sino-US flash points” are also located near the Chinese mainland, e.g. the South China Sea and Taiwan.

The paper notes that the time frame studied stretched from 2015 to 2025, representing a closing window of opportunity where the US and its allies could still potentially fight and benefit from a limited conflict with China. Beyond 2025, these chances diminish and eventually China will irreversibly surpass the US economically and militarily, with any conflict fought thereafter against China done so at the expense of the US.

The paper describes the obvious benefits of, and thus the motive for the US provoking a limited conflict with China. It states (emphasis added):

The prospect of a military standoff means that war could eventually be decided by nonmilitary factors. These should favor the United States now and in the future. Although war would harm both economies, damage to China’s could be catastrophic and lasting: on the order of a 25–35 percent reduction in Chinese gross domestic product (GDP) in a yearlong war, compared with a reduction in U.S. GDP on the order of 5–10 percent. Even a mild conflict, unless ended promptly, could weaken China’s economy. A long and severe war could ravage China’s economy, stall its hard-earned development, and cause widespread hardship and dislocation.

Such economic damage could in turn aggravate political turmoil and embolden separatists in China.

The US is clearly preparing the grounds for this conflict, cultivating the very “separatists” the paper notes the conflict would “embolden,” while attacking and attempting to block China’s BRI which is currently diversifying away from China’s dependency on vulnerable Asia-Pacific maritime trade routes.

Already mentioned were US-backed separatists in Baluchistan, Pakistan attacking CPEC. CPEC is designed to move hydrocarbons travelling from the Middle East to China overland from Gwadar Port in southwest Pakistan into China, circumventing the Malacca Strait and the South China Sea where AUKUS would seek to contain and constrict Chinese commerce during any potential conflict.

In addition to this, Washington’s and the western mainstream media’s continued obsession with China’s western region of Xinjiang also “coincidentally” overlaps a crucial juncture of China’s BRI.

A similar BRI project was created in Myanmar to move hydrocarbons across the Southeast Asian country into Kunming, China, circumventing the Malacca Strait. US-backed opposition groups in Myanmar have – this year – carried out attacks on security forces protecting the pipeline moving these hydrocarbons overland into China.

The Irrawaddy, a US NED-funded media platform focused on Myanmar, in an article titled, “Deadly Attack on Pipeline Station Spotlights China’s High Stakes in Myanmar,” helps illustrate the multitude of ways the US is directly and indirectly preparing the ground for conflict with China by preventing Beijing from resolving vulnerabilities the US seeks to exploit during such a conflict.

More directly, it was announced this year that the US plans to construct a network of missiles along the first island chain which includes Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

The US State Department’s Radio Free Asia in an article titled, “U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Proposes New Missile Capabilities to Deter China,” would report:

The assessment calls for “the fielding of an Integrated Joint Force with precision-strike networks” along the so-called first island chain — referring to missile strike capabilities — and integrated air missile defense in the second island chain, USNI News reported. The document also calls for “a distributed force posture that provides the ability to preserve stability, and if needed, dispense and sustain combat operations for extended periods.”

Clearly, the US creating rings of military installations around China, thousands of miles from America’s own shores, seeks precisely the opposite of maintaining stability and instead, is solely intended to help “dispense and sustain combat operations for extended periods,” as per plans drawn up within the pages of the 2016 RAND paper.

Washington’s economic strategy of “decoupling” from China could, in the context of a coming war the US is preparing with China, be interpreted instead as tying off a limb before amputation rather than any sort of serious effort to establish a healthy, sustainable, self-sufficient US economy.

AUKUS’ announcement is very clearly a political “capstone” of these combined military and economic preparations for a limited conflict the US seeks to provoke with China either in the South China Sea or over Taiwan, or any of the other many flash points the US is deliberately creating and pressuring China over.

The goal is not to militarily defeat China but to instead set it back economically by decades, creating the possible conditions for internal instability the US can exploit toward regime change.

The US, representing only 4% of the global population, yet presuming dominion over the entire planet as self-proclaimed leader of an “international rules-based order,” can only achieve and maintain primacy by artificially arresting development of nations around the globe, and knocking them down militarily when they overcome these artificial constraints.

While it would indeed be unprecedented for the US to provoke an armed conflict directly with a peer competitor like China, China’s otherwise inevitable surpassing of the US is also unprecedented, inviting unpredictable, dangerous, and likewise unprecedented methods by Washington to approach and attempt to delay or deny China’s rise.

The status quo all but guarantees China’s economy along with its military and political influence will irreversibly surpass the US’ within a decade. The closing window of opportunity the US has to prevent China’s as well as Asia’s rise and the unprecedented transfer of primacy from West to East is almost certainly the impetus behind the announcement of  “AUKUS” and all the ground preparations that preceded it.

Time will tell whether China, the rest of Asia, and indeed the rest of the world, will escape the perpetual conflict trap which the US continually lays, and whether multi-polarism will continue to emerge and become the dominant paradigm of geopolitics going forward, or if the US will manage to artificially maintain its unipolar order for decades to come – at the cost of unprecedented death and destruction in East Asia and possibly beyond.

***
Author Brian Berletic, formerly known under his pen name “Tony Cartalucci,” is Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher, writer and special contributor to 21st Century Wire. See more of his work at Tony’s archive. Over the last decade, his work has been published on a number of popular news and analysis websites, and also on the online magazine New Eastern Outlook”. Also, you can follow him on VK here.

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