By Denis Bright
The upsurge in international tensions favouring the containment of China has alarmed former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger. Henry Kissinger has recently participated in a virtual meeting organized by the Chinese Institute of Foreign Affairs (CPIFA) to mark the fiftieth anniversary of his epic trip in July 1971. This initiative paved the way for the normalization of relations with the Nixon Administration.
A video from The Economist covers Henry Kissinger’s recent take on the consequences of deteriorating relations between the US and China.
Not all the magic generated by US diplomatic relations with China some years after President Nixon’s visit has completely evaporated in the dangerous rhetoric from the Trump era. Local officials on the Taiwanese island of Kinmen just off the Chinese City of Xiamen insist on keeping tourist services operating to and from China although the Taiwanese government is now opposed to the construction of a six kilometre long suspension bridge across the divide. Bookings are still open for day trips from Xiamen to Kinmen Island.
According to Henry Kissinger, a new normalization in relations between the US and China is likely to come from the sheer necessity of working with the emergent Asian superpower which was first out of the block in its sustained recovery from a quarter of negative economic growth in March 2020:
Percentage Changes in Chinese Economic Growth
Regrettably, the normalization of relations with China is still politically hazardous venture for the Biden Administration. The far right populism of the Trump era has not fully subsided. Mid-term US congressional elections in November 2022 are far from an epoch away. The domestic challenges to an incoming US administration in its first mid-term political test were apparent under Eisenhower, Kennedy, Clinton and Barack Obama. Tensions with China might simmer until 2023. Even Richard Nixon waited until after the 1970 mid-term election before sending Henry Kissinger off to China. The Republicans retained control of both houses of congress despite substantial net gains by the Democratic Party in house seats.
Strategic initiatives by middle powers in the US Global Alliance could have disastrous consequences if they involve too much risk-taking to snuff out real opportunities for rapprochement in the future. Taking on China might be punching a little above our weight despite the sporting successes at a recent rugby event:
Historical Precedents in the Diplomatic Stakes
When Henry Kissinger visited China in July 1971, Australian perspectives about China were developed through the prism of our embassy in Taiwan. The Nixon Administration did not keep allies informed about Henry Kissinger’s mission to Beijing. The US-China Institute at the University of Southern California offers details of the history of Richard Nixon’s overtures to China which commenced in 1967 when he was just a candidate for president.
Opportunities were available for the normalization of relations between China and the world community in the early Cold War Period through events like the Bandung Conference (Indonesia) in 1955. Domestic tensions in the US and allied countries over the post-Korean war recession prevented the fulfilment of such expectations. This was a wasted opportunity for both China and the countries of South East Asia who were involved for a generation in containment of China.
Diverse Bandung Conference Participants
- Kingdom of Afghanistan
- Union of Burma
- Kingdom of Cambodia
- Dominion of Ceylon
- People’s Republic of China
- Republic of Egypt
- Ethiopian Empire
- Gold Coast
- Republic of India
- Republic of Indonesia
- Imperial State of Iran
- Kingdom of Iraq
- Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
- Kingdom of Laos
- Lebanese Republic
- Kingdom of Libya
- Kingdom of Nepal
- Dominion of Pakistan
- Republic of the Philippines
- Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
- Syrian Republic
- Sudan 2
- Kingdom of Thailand
- Republic of Turkey
- State of Vietnam (South)
- Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North)
- Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen
1 A pre-independent colonial Cyprus was represented by [the] eventual first president, Makarios III.
2 Pre-independence Anglo-Egyptian Sudan was represented by Chief Minister Ismail al-Azhari and used a provisional flag.
Ironically, it was the Country Party arm of the LNP Coalition in 1955 which was most receptive to the diversification of markets for rural products and mineral resources to countries like China and the predominantly non-aligned group of countries from the Middle East to South East Asia. This opportunism from the Country Party co-existed with support for a Taipei-based Australian embassy and the militarization of South East Asia as a bastion against the advance of communism. Some readers might be able to locate the brochure prepared for school students across Australia to support the war in Vietnam and share this link through the replies option to The AIMN articles.
Middle powers like Australia and France are acting irresponsibly if they stoke up international tensions by provocative manoeuvres on the high seas as well as tit for tat electronic warfare through running the gauntlet operations off Central Queensland and the peripheries of China as well as the latest episodes of cyber warfare.
France’s first submarine expedition to the South China Sea is probably motivated by the prospect of more arms exports to countries in the US Global Alliance such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In the short-term, it has the strategic zeal of testing Chinese electronic surveillance of adjacent seaways through the first underwater venture to the South China Sea which returned safely to Toulon after seven months at sea.
Within DFAT itself, there might be concerns about commercial losses from a deterioration in relations with China. It is surely in Australia’s commercial interests to cool down these tensions as trade and investment ties with China are a key factor in our sustainable prosperity. There are indeed some contradictory policies in relation to ties with China.
Australia retains substantial deposits in the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Relations between Australia and China were quite cordial at the AIIB’s Roundtable Discussions (Australia’s Alternate Governor’s Address to the AIIB’s Roundtable Discussion 2020):
“It is my pleasure to represent Australia at this year’s AIIB Annual Meeting as Australia’s Alternate Governor. We are obviously meeting at a time when the global economy faces unprecedented challenges arising from COVID-19, which has been spoken about. Now whilst the pandemic has affected all countries differently, the need to finance large-scale health responses amidst deteriorating macro-economic conditions has been a common challenge.
Australia commends the AIIB for joining the international community’s efforts to help finance the pandemic response. We particularly welcomed the Bank’s effective use of partnerships with other multilateral development banks to deliver much of this support. The AIIB’s COVID-19 Response Facility is an exceptional response to the extraordinary circumstances that the Bank and the world currently face. The longer the pandemic lasts, the more important it will be, for AIIB, to be clear about where it can best add value to the international community’s efforts to alleviate health and economic impacts, working within its own resource constraints and business model.”
France Balances Commercial and Strategic Priorities
With centre-right governments in charge across most of the thirty member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) states, neoconservative political and military leaders are acting in tandem on containment strategies towards China. President Macron’s government in France is strongly en marche with these global developments but French manoeuvres in the South China Sea are still risky ventures if they involve undersea stealth operations by ageing nuclear attack submarines. France has grand plans to re-equip its submarine fleet with four new generation vessels.
Latest challenges for the French ship-building initiatives include the construction of four new nuclear powered attack submarines for deployment between 2030 and far-off 2080. More export contracts would assist in defraying the costs of the long-term commitments.
The frankness of France’s commitment to the containment of China was covered in recent soft news from the 20h30 Report from Channel 2 in Paris on 11 July 2021.
A reporter and film crew from Channel 2 in Paris toured the Émeraude when it returned to the Port of Toulon in April 2021. This report offered superficial coverage of the submarine’s Exocet missiles and computer guidance systems. Full details of the epic voyage were still withheld for both the submarine and its Loire-class support vessel Seine. These details excluded places visited on both Indian Ocean crossings and even maneuvers associated with the visit to the Kwinana Naval Base near Perth.
French NavalNews did release an official video. Readers will need to be satisfied with the official version of events from Naval News editor Xavier Vasasseur with Captain Antoine Delaveau, Commanding Officer of the Blue Crew assigned to the Submarine Émeraude.
Details of the visit of the two French vessels to Perth on 11 November 2020 were also covered by Continental Defence in November 2020.
Historically, France’s small fleet of nuclear powered submarines has a tarnished safety record. The Émeraude has been in service since 1986. Ten crew members from its crew died in a naval exercise off Toulon in 1994.
The use of the ageing Émeraude for the mission to the South China Sea was indeed a risky venture. Even between allied submarines and commercial freighters, there have been accidental collisions in uncontested waters. The risks are increased by passive sonar operations.
The British submarine Vanguard and France’s Triomphant were damaged on the night of 3-4 February 2009 during undersea operations in the Atlantic without any substantial injuries to crew or a reported release of radioactive materials (BBC News 16 February 2009). A French Rubis nuclear submarine also collided with an oil tanker while surfacing off Toulon in 1993 (Journal of Commerce 1 September 1993).
There is a risk of similar incidents in stealth operations near China. Stripes.com (29 January 2021) notes the psychological stresses on Chinese crews who monitor manoeuvres in the name of that freedom of navigation imperative:
A fifth of sailors assigned to Chinese submarines patrolling the South China Sea have experienced some degree of mental health problems, according to a study published this month.
“This study demonstrates for the first time that soldiers and officers in the submarine force in the South China Sea are exposed to a number of mental health risks and are suffering from serious psychological problems,” Chinese researchers concluded in the study published Jan. 7 in the journal Military Medicine.
The study’s five authors are affiliated with the Institute of Military Health Management at Naval Medical University in Shanghai, China.
It assessed the “self-perceived” mental health of Chinese submariners, then compared those findings to “Chinese military male norms,” the study said.
Implications for the Forthcoming Australian Federal Elections
If the trendlines in the latest Newspoll can be maintained Labor can best coast towards the next federal election with a largely bipartisan stance on international relations issues. Missionary idealism over international relations issues cost Dr. Evatt the 1954 House of Representatives which followed the first visit of Queen Elizabeth to Australia and the planned fall-out from the Petrov affair. Both events combined to save the federal LNP from defeat with the assistance of that old gerrymander of regional seats.
Only Labor in government can sort out the current mess with China as the Biden Administration must first quell its own domestic political ghosts from the Trump era. Staying with the advice from Henry Kissinger to win elections in 2022, it is an imperative to the new generation of leaders across the US Global Alliance from Australia to France, Britain and the USA to be on guard against missionary populism of the left and far right variants.
Hopefully, leaders of both China and the USA are aware that a period of megaphone diplomacy may be necessary to resolve current problems. Hopefully, the ground-rules are better explained to countries like Australia given the history of diplomatic U-turns during the Nixon era to protect political leaders who want to be A Grade Players in global diplomacy with observer status at the recent G7 Forum in Cornwall.
Denis Bright (pictured) is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback from readers advances the cause of citizens’ journalism. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Replies Button.
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