One of my favourite quotations is from the late former Prime Minister of China under Mao, Chou en Lai. He was interviewed by French television in the 1970s and was asked for his views on the effects of the French Revolution. Chou replied “too soon to tell.”
That baffled his interviewer, but it points to an important difference between the European (of which Australia has been an historical part) and the Asian perspective.
China, along with Persia, of which I will have more to say, has a history and civilization extending back at least 4000 years. Both countries have experienced some difficult times in recent history. The nature of the contemporary challenges they face would be a topic in itself.
In China it is referred to as “the dark century.” It was actually a little longer, but essentially extended from active European involvement in the late 18th century through to the revolution of 1949.
That period included the British control of Hong Kong, which was only formally relinquished in 1997. Astonishingly, the handing back to China of its own territory was accompanied by conditions including a 50 year transition period during which Hong Kong was to retain certain special characteristics.
As is well known, with the defeat of the Chiang Kai Shek regime in 1949, the defeated Nationalists fled to what was then called Formosa and set up a separate government, the survival of which was guaranteed by the American military.
Equally astonishingly, the Formosa (later Taiwan) group retained China’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council as the representative of China until October 25 1971. Resolution 2758, expelling the Taiwanese representatives and installing the PRC as the legitimate representatives of China was passed by 76 votes to 35 against, with 17 abstentions.
That resolution specifically referred to the Representatives of the Chiang Kai Shek government as “unlawfully occupying” China’s seat at the United Nations and all its associated organisations.
Australia was one of the 35 countries to vote against the resolution along with the United States and with a group of other mainly African and South American nations. (I am ashamed to admit that New Zealand also voted against).
The position of the US vis-a-vis Taiwan has been ambivalent ever since. It maintains diplomatic contact with Taiwan and its military ships continually patrol the region, including what are properly regarded as Chinese territorial waters. Unsurprisingly, the US presence and its continued support for Taiwan remains a source of irritation to the Chinese government.
It is my view that Taiwan will be reunited with the mainland and that is likely to occur sooner rather than later.
Since the PRC came to power it has been involved in some border disputes, notably with Russia, Vietnam and India, although it would be wrong to characterize those disputes as wars. Certainly the disputes involved the exchange of gunfire, and low-level casualties were incurred.
The major military dispute occurred in the Korean War when the PRC reacted to the US led invasion of North Korea and allied troops advancing as far as the border between North Korea and China.
UN Security Council Resolution 84 of 7 July 1950 was passed by 7 votes in favour, 3 abstentions (Egypt, India and Yugoslavia) and one absentee (Soviet Union). There is a dispute among analysts as to whether that Soviet absenteeism was a tactical ploy or a tactical error.
The resolution authorized assistance to South Korea necessary to repel the invasion and to restore peace and security to the region. It did not authorise the invasion of the North, which the United States and its allies nonetheless undertook. The invasion continued as far as the Chinese border.
As ill-equipped as they were, the Chinese troops rapidly inflicted significant casualties upon the US led forces, driving them back below the 38th parallel in early 1951.
We now know that the US command sought permission to use atomic weapons against the superior Chinese troops who had defeated them so comprehensively. Truman refused, although it was a narrow victory for sanity. It was a fear that McArthur would nonetheless defy Truman that led to his sacking as commander of allied forces.
The ground war was essentially stalemated after the defeat of the US allied forces and their retreat below the North-South boundary in early 1951. The US continued to bomb the north however, where they enjoyed a high degree of aerial superiority.
The social infrastructure of the North was destroyed, together with a significant proportion of its food growing capacity. Estimates of total casualties vary wildly, but it seems at least 5 million people died, the vast majority in the north, either Koreans or their Chinese allies.
American casualties were (in round figures) 40,000 deaths and 100,000 other casualties. Australian casualties by comparison were 340 deaths and 1216 wounded out of a total military commitment of about 17,000 troops.
Michael Pembroke, in his excellent history, subtitles his book “Korea” as “Where the American Century Began”.
I would date American involvement in Korea as starting a little earlier, in the 1880s, and finishing in a little over a century from then. Bruce Cumings in his excellent book The Korean War: a History sets out the relevant history. It has been an exceptionally violent history in the intervening century.
It is important in my view to review modern history in terms of its reality rather than as it is portrayed in Western propaganda. Since 1945 the US has been continually at war. It has been involved in major military conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria among other places. It has yet to win a single war, notwithstanding initial military victories as in Afghanistan and Iraq.
More than 30 countries have been invaded by the United States, destroyed by external forces, or occupied and pillaged, and approximately 70 million people have died in the process. The whole sorry history is set out in the late William Blum’s seminal book Killing Hope 2nd edition 2005.
It is a level of carnage unprecedented in modern history. Australia has not been exempt. Quite apart from actual military engagement and fighting with consequential losses both for the populations invaded but also Australia’s own troops, it is impossible to point to a single discernible benefit to this country.
Rather, Australia has acquired the unenviable reputation of being a mere military appendage of the US, fighting not only in wars where it is impossible to point to a single substantial benefit to this country, but actually participating in a way that is contrary to Australia’s true national interests.
Australia currently participates in annual military exercises practising the blockage of the Straits of Malacca, through which 80% of China’s sea-born traffic passes. It is justified on the basis of protecting sea traffic against possible Chinese “aggression.”
This is in spite of the fact that neither the United States nor Australia can point to a single example since 1949 of the Chinese military interfering with or obstructing in any way civilian water born traffic.
That is more than can be said for Australia’s allies such as the U.S. and Israel. Just in the last few days a British warship captured an Iranian vessel it alleged was travelling to Syria. There is a word for such actions: it is called piracy.
When one looks at foreign military bases, China has one such military base in Djibouti, and unofficial bases in Tajikistan and Afghanistan. This is about the same number as Australia which has bases in Malaysia and the UAE.
The US has bases variously estimated at between 800 and 1000 around the world, including a number in countries that it has invaded and refuses to leave, such as Cuba, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is an illustrative example. The decision to invade Afghanistan was actually made by the US cabinet of George Bush in July 2001. This was when the Taliban government (whose wages for cabinet members the US was paying) refused to grant a licence for the transit of Caspian Basin oil to US companies. Instead they gave the contract to an Argentinian company named Bridas.
The ‘false flag’ incident of 11 September 2001 provided the ostensible reason for the invasion of Afghanistan. Almost nothing said in public at the time, by the US and Australian governments, about that invasion, were in fact true. The Australian and American publics were never told that the decision to invade Afghanistan was made more than two months before the ostensible reason.
Nearly 18 years later both countries are still there. The heroin production, almost completely destroyed by the Taliban in the parts of Afghanistan they controlled, is now bigger than ever. Essential chemicals for the conversion of opium to heroin are flown in on US planes and the refined product (heroin) is flown out on US planes to its major distribution centres in southern Europe (Kosovo), northern Europe (via Belgium) and the United States. It is the CIA’s largest source of off the books financing.
Afghanistan was needed, not only for its heroin production capacity, but also to replace the lost huge financial sources of the heroin trade of Thailand and Cambodia that had been so important during the Vietnam War.
This was all well documented by Alfred McCoy as long ago as 1972 in his seminal book The Politics of Heroin in South East Asia, (and several authors have provided a steady supply of updated material).
I particularly recommend Douglas Valentine The CIA As Organized Crime Clarity Press. Perhaps needless to say, such books are not discussed on ‘your ABC’ or similar outlets.
Apart from its incredible profitability, heroin has been used as a means of reducing the resistance of populations to foreign exploitation and control. At the turn of the 20th century for example, I in 7 Chinese adult males was addicted, an important factor in maintaining British superiority and control of an otherwise vastly greater population.
British control of the main heroin producing areas of India (Bengal and Bihar) through the British East India Company dates at least from the mid-18th century. It was a very lucrative monopoly.
Afghanistan of course plays other roles than just heroin sales as an important source of off the books financing for US clandestine operations.
Afghanistan has borders with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, China and Iran. None of these countries are US allies. Notwithstanding valiant efforts by the US and Australia to convert India to that role, it is increasingly clear that India sees a future as part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) being of greater benefit than succumbing to US temptations.
The SCO was founded in 2001, in part to counter US influence in the region. It currently has 8 member States, including China, India, Pakistan and Russia, 4 observer States including Afghanistan and Iran, and 6 dialogue nations, the most important of which is Turkey. I expect Iran to become a full member within the next 12 months.
The SCO in turn has important and growing links with two other regional organisations about which almost nothing is heard in the western media. They are the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) of which Russia is the most important member, and the North-South Transportation Corridor which links India to Russia via Iran, Afghanistan, and Azerbaijan and hence to Europe.
There is a significant overlap of membership between these three major organisations and their increasing independence from the western, i.e. US controlled economic and financial systems. The tempo of this has accelerated this year, partly as a response to the extraordinary and bizarre conduct of the United States. (That is a whole topic in its own right).
The role of Iran is particularly significant. It was an important part of the original Old Silk Roads, a crucially important link between east and west from the pre-Christian era (2nd century BC) to the 18th century of the modern era.
Both Russia and China have made important economic investments in Iran in recent years, and those investments are accelerating. The Americans recently staged their false flag attack on two civilian ships (Norwegian and Japanese) in the Persian Gulf, although I believe that Saudi forces carried out the actual attacks.
This was followed by the spy planes’ (both manned and unmanned) intrusion into Iranian air space, with the unmanned drone (US$120 billion) shot down by the Iranians. It was Russia and China that contacted Trump (after speaking to each other) and told him not to continue with his planned attack on Iran.
Forget the nonsense in our media about Trump’s alleged faux concern for 150 dead civilians, which would allegedly result from the US attack. Iran is today essentially an ally of both Russia and China and neither country was prepared to tolerate yet another regime change operation in Iran.
The Iranian people remember all too well the results of the last US intervention in 1953, which imposed a brutal dictatorship on their country that lasted until 1979.
The result of the SCO’s growing influence and economic power has seen a corresponding increase in US destabilization attempts in the region of the former USSR, especially where it includes countries on the borders of Russia and China.
Apart from Afghanistan, these attempts have met with little success, although it would be most unwise to expect the Americans to fold their tent and adopt new policies of peaceful and mutually beneficial co-existence.
What we are witnessing at the present time however, is a progressive decline in relative US power. This has been accompanied by a series of withdrawals by the US from international organisations. It did not begin with Trump although the process has accelerated under him.
For example, President George W. Bush withdrew the US from the nuclear weapons treaty in 2001. Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear arms control treaty with Russia in February 2019 was just the latest in a series of withdrawals from international organisations and the obligations attached thereto.
It was Bush’s withdrawal in 2001 that finally convinced Putin that the US was not going to voluntarily change its ways. Russia commenced a major upgrading and renewal of its military capacity.
Putin announced the results of that upgrading to the Russian parliament in April 2018. You can read the details of that on two excellent sites, Martyanov’s site and the one known as The Vineyard of the Saker.
The initial US reaction to Putin’s revelations followed the five classic responses to the death of someone close and dearly loved. The five stages outlined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
In the US case denial and anger were clearly evident. The bargaining was mostly internal, with the inevitable US reaction being the demand for more funds by the usual groups to add to its grossly inflated military budget. An opportunity for realistic bargaining has long since been lost.
One only has to look at the joint comprehensive plan of action (the JCPOA) signed in 2015 by the major powers including the US after exhaustive negotiations only to be abandoned by the US in 2018.
To quote Putin, one has to reluctantly conclude that the Americans “are not agreement capable.”
The US in my view is currently in the depression stage of Kubler-Ross’s continuum. Should they be foolish enough to actually attack or otherwise militarily damage allies of either China or Russia, they cannot hope to survive a military response by either nation. They know this and it is an unprecedented position for them to be in.
The attacks would not necessarily be on the US mainland. Much more vulnerable are the US bases in the greater Middle East region that would be immediately vulnerable in the event for example, of an American attack on Iran.
One of the major questions for the immediate future will be whether they recognise this new reality and adapt their behaviour, or whether the excesses of the past 70 years have bred an inability to rationally analyse the reality of their
There are some signs of an incipient acceptance of reality. Put to one side the absurd hyperbole and untruthfulness of the current US president. The regime change operation in Venezuela seems to have spluttered to a halt, although not before the Australian government embarrassed itself yet again by its premature support for the would be usurper.
The bluff and bluster over Iran has also been toned down in the face of unequivocal warnings from both Putin and Xi. India appears to have decided that its future lies in good relations with China and Russia and the multiple benefits that will accrue as a result.
This is a reality that does not appear to have penetrated Canberra, not the least of their detachments from modern geopolitical trends.
The absurd posturing over North Korea appears also to have been toned down. Trump even became the first sitting US President to cross the border into North Korea. Any hopes that the North will forgo its nuclear weapons is delusional. Kim Jong-Un is well aware that his nuclear weapons are the principal reason he has not been attacked.
If there are serious moves by the Americans to actually sign a treaty officially ending the Korean War that will be one measure of their sincerity. The best advice would still seem to be: don’t hold your breath waiting for sincere moves to improve relations.
I am not suggesting for one moment that the US will forgo the habits of the past century, but its capacity to cause damage in the area of the world of most significance to Australia appears to be waning.
As Hugh White among others has pointed out, Australia faces an historically unique position. Its overwhelming trade interests lie in Asia and particularly with China. In 2018 China accounted for nearly a quarter of Australia’s total trade. Japan is the second largest with 9.4% of total trade in 2018.
I strongly disagree with White’s conclusion that part of the solution for Australia is to significantly increase military expenditure.
The reality dictated by Australia’s geography, small population and overwhelming economic dependence on Asia is yet to be fully reflected in Australian politicians, their public statements or their behavior. That must change, not only because having good relations with one’s neighbours is practical common sense, but also a failure to do so will extract an inevitable price.
Australia has been given a number of clues. An example is that for the last two years the Chinese President has refused to meet with the Australian Prime Minister at the Group of 20 annual conferences.
There have been sudden and unexpected difficulties in approvals for the export of key items. Despite this, there are carrots to encourage a change in behaviour. Apart from the aforementioned trade figures, China remains the largest source of foreign students in our universities and the largest source of foreign tourists.
It is also the third largest source of foreign investment.
To loose these benefits would have an incredibly devastating effect. I am not persuaded that the Morrison government, or its Labor alternative, fully appreciates the potential danger.
At the recent G20 meeting Morrison gave every appearance of not understanding that the world has changed and will continue to change at an accelerating rate. Australia can choose to be part of that change and extract the benefits its resources and geographical position have endowed.
Alternatively, it can pretend that the switch from allegiance to Britain to allegiance to the US that dates from the fall of Singapore in 1941 is a recipe for prosperity that has no time limit.
In my view such an approach would be doomed to failure. We are living in an increasingly different world, one that ironically better reflects the long-term historical order than the geopolitical aberrations of the past 250 years.
The question and the challenge for Australia will be whether it recognises and grasps the new opportunities its location and resources have blessed it with, or whether it continues the path of the past several years on a middling neo-colonial power increasingly left behind by a world it cannot control.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.