The world may have been consumed by a pandemic for more than a year and a half, but imperialism takes no holidays. All through this time, there has been a developing arms race between the US and China, brinkmanship by both sides in the South China Seas, military exercises by China aimed at Taiwan as well numerous penetrations of Taiwanese air space by the Chinese air force. All this time there has been a series of secret negotiations of China’s rivals in the “Indo-Pacific” which culminated in the announcement of the AUKUS agreement between the US, the UK, and Australia last week.
The AUKUS agreement may have come as a bombshell (even to other Western allies) but Australia has been on a sharper collision course with China ever since the pandemic began, and there have been other deals it has made in preparation for this one. The strategic use of the term “Indo-Pacific” links all of them. It neatly also draws India and Japan into the network of anti-Chinese alliances that have recently been established. This started with the Australian Federal Government taking a stronger grip over foreign policy.
The Foreign Arrangements Scheme
Until recently Australian law allowed all states, territories, local councils, universities and even private companies and individuals to enter contracts with foreign governments and their entities without notifying the federal government. As of March 2021, the federal government must be notified before any deals are made or contracts are signed. This comes as a result of the Arrangements Scheme which was brought into force in December 2020.(1) The scheme means that the federal government can now veto any contract that an Australian state (or any other entity) has made with a foreign government or entity if the claim can be made that it goes against Australia’s foreign policy. Immediately the main deal vetoed by the government was Victoria’s 2018 Memorandum of Understanding with China to be part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which was laid out in more detail in 2019.(2) Foreign Minister Marise Paine says that the move was not intended to target China. However, not only were the other deals quashed quite obscure and decades-old (one being between Victoria’s Department of Education and Training and an Iranian government agency, the other a Memorandum of Understanding designed to encourage scientific cooperation between Syria’s Ministry of Higher Education and the Victorian Ministry of Tertiary Education and Training), but it is quite clear that this was one more step towards a closer alignment between the Australian state with that of the US. Others would soon follow.
Rising Tensions and Trade
The Foreign Arrangements Scheme is just one of the many indicators of rising tensions between China (Australia’s largest trading partner), Australia and each sides’ allies. Over almost the past two years tensions have been escalating and the relationship between the two countries has especially deteriorated since Australia supported the growing call for an international inquiry into China’s handling of the coronavirus. Both this belief that China is solely to blame for the pandemic and trade related tensions have helped fuel a rise in hate crime related violence and racism against people of East Asian descent, which has led to many international students leaving the country and warning others not to come to Australia when the borders reopen.(3)
The Chinese state has turned away shipments of some commodities, for example 96 percent of exports from the $300 million USD southern rock lobster industry previously went to China but after claims from authorities that a lobster shipment had tested positive for the heavy metal cadmium, the trade was effectively shut down.(4) While high tariffs have been placed on many other products – such as beef, barley and wine.
One commodity that has not been subject to these restrictions is that which Australia is the world’s largest producer of and is its biggest export to China: Iron ore. This has both meant that Australia’s GDP in 2020 ended up increasing despite the pandemic and the fortune of Australia’s richest person and largest landowner, mining magnate Gina Rinehart, has tripled (she is currently worth $31 Billion USD) throughout the past year and a half. With this said, demand from China for Australian iron ore could be slipping, imports by volume fell for four consecutive months (April-June). There are no real signs however that this decrease is due to the tense relations between the two countries and could instead be reflective of the state demanding companies to reduce carbon emissions, construction restrictions caused by new covid outbreaks in many Chinese provinces, and a slowdown in manufacturing.(5)
In June, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson struck a trade deal during a meeting in London – the UK’s first major trade deal since Brexit. The agreement is said to eliminate tariffs on Australian exports such as Hardy’s and Jacob’s Creek wines, confectionery, and swimwear, and make it easier for Australians to live and work in the UK. In return it scraps the requirement for Britons under the age of 35 to work for 88 days on farms during their stay in Australia.(6)
The G7 Summit, Military Alignments and AUKUS
The recent 47th G7 summit was hosted in Cornwall between the UK, the USA, Japan, Italy, Germany, and France, along with representatives from the European Union, Australia, South Korea, India, and South Africa in attendance. During the Summit, the G7 largely laid its focus on China and demanded freedoms and a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong, denounced human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and stated that a full investigation into the origins of the coronavirus was needed. On top of this, it also aimed to counter China’s growing influence by offering less advanced nations an infrastructure plan that may rival China’s BRI by supporting projects such as wind farms in Asia and railways in Africa.(7)
In November 2020 Scott Morrison and Japan’s prime minister Yoshihide Suga reached a broad in-principle agreement on a defence pact that allows each country’s forces to train on each other’s territory. The two countries are now in the closing stages of the agreement, which will be the first time in 60 years that Japan has approved a deal which permits foreign troops to operate on its soil.(8) In May of this year Japan’s defence minister Nobuo Kishi warned that the balance between Japan and China’s military has “leaned heavily towards China in recent years and is growing by the year” and stated that the country must boost its military at an increased pace in order to counter this.(9) In July Japan’s ambassador Shingo Yamagami called on the Australian government to consider joint military exercises in the East China Sea, stating that the shipping lane is of as much importance to Australia’s security and prosperity as the South China Sea. Australia and Japan have already been working together to monitor and prevent fuel transfers between ships which are bound for North Korea and banned under UN security council resolutions. These moves have been supported by the US with President Joe Biden having met with Suga in April, affirming toughened support of the U.S.-Japanese alliance to take on challenges posed by China and North Korea in order to secure their “shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific”.(10) Biden has just recently announced that at the end of September he will be hosting Morrison, Suga, and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a meeting at the White House on Climate Change, COVID-19 and China.(11)
On September 15th, as part of revamped efforts by the US under Biden to gather its allies against China, Biden, Morrison and Johnson signed the AUKUS pact, which not only involves Australia to now be building nuclear submarines at the Corp in Osborne, South Australia, but also entails enhancing military interoperability, new forms of meetings and engagements between defence and foreign ministers and officials, and deeper cooperation across cyber, applied AI, quantum technologies and undersea capabilities.(12) These new submarines are quieter, faster, and will allow the Australian military to deploy for longer periods of time, with the White House declaring that they will allow “us to sustain and to improve deterrence across the Indo-Pacific”. Morrison has insisted that Australia is not looking to build nuclear weapons (which will make the country the seventh in the world with nuclear submarines but the first of those which does not have nuclear weapons) and it is alleged that the entirety of the nuclear aspect of manufacturing will take place in the UK and US. Although Biden referenced France at the AUKUS meeting and ensure that they will remain a key partner in the Indo-Pacific region, France’s minister of foreign affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, has expressed feeling stabbed in the back and that trust has been betrayed by Australia in regards to the abrupt scrapping of the former $65 Billion USD contract with France for the Shortfin Barracuda (diesel-electric submarines), which was only confirmed several weeks ago after having been signed in 2016.(13) The full impact this kerfuffle could possibly have on NATO is yet to be determined, but the contradictions of the imperialist order are likely to deepen, as a comrade’s recent article explained has already been shown with Turkey.(14) Biden is currently pushing for a phone call with France’s President Emmanuel Macron in a bid to clear the air, but this AUKUS deal comes only weeks after the US’ hasty retreat from Kabul without warning its allies in Europe. It’s still “America First” when it comes to potential global conflict.
Both Canada and New Zealand’s Prime Ministers Justin Trudeau and Jacinda Ardern were visibly absent from the AUKUS meeting, with it unknown as to whether Canada was invited, but Trudeau declaring that “this is a deal for nuclear submarines, which Canada is not currently or anytime soon in the market for”.(15) Whereas Ardern has stated that New Zealand was not approached “nor would I expect us to be”, but that as per New Zealand’s nuclear free policy the new Australian submarines will be banned from entering New Zealand’s waters. However, Ardern also claimed that the new agreement “in no way changes our security and intelligence ties with these three countries, as well as Canada”.(16)
Australia has also been deepening its military ties with South Korea. Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Peter Dutton sat down in September with their South Korean counterparts and committed to enhance cyber, security and critical minerals cooperation, along with military exercises and more naval and air force training opportunities to commence and be made available from 2023. The meeting came as a result of North Korea admitting to having carried out a series of tests using long-range cruise missiles which are said to have the capacity to take out most of Japan.(17)
On the other side of the alignments, China, Russia and North Korea have been strengthening their ties with each other recently, with Chinese analysts trying to make the transparent claim that “ties among China, Russia and North Korea are totally different in nature from the US-Japan-South Korea alliance” and that they are simply cooperating to safeguard regional peace and stability.(18) Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and subsequent sanctions put into action by the west, collaboration between China and Russia has been accelerating – with expanded trade, high tech cooperation, and growing political support for one another. In June the two countries renewed the Sino-Russian Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation for a further five years while celebrating its 20th anniversary. The Chinese and Russian militaries have been regularly doing drills together since 2005, since then having expanded to also include joint naval exercises. As of 2018 they have expanded to larger scale exercises.(19) Most recently the two nations’ militaries conducted drills in Northwestern China in August and September under the banner of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which is a Eurasian security bloc claiming to have a focus on “counterterrorism”. In addition to China and Russia the SCO is composed of India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
What does all this mean for the working class?
It is evident from all that has been written above that the kaleidoscope of global imperialist alignments is moving particularly swiftly at present. The United States has ceased to regard China as principally a source of cheap manufactured goods and a convenient holder of US debt and is now openly focusing on its military potential, particularly in the Pacific. Biden is now focusing on re-assembling traditional US allies in a direct, concrete nuclear force aimed against China’s Pacific doorstep. The fact that this has been so hastily put together that long-standing allies like Canada and New Zealand have been kept in the dark and France has had its nose put out of joint, shows a complete lack of long-term strategic planning. Yet Australia, for all its trade interests with China, feels obliged to comply with the US war plan. In the process it is set to become a nuclear power (at least in the sense of having armed nuclear-powered vessels) but what does that mean for the majority of us who are simply getting on with our lives and earning a crust? The message this sends out is that serious imperialist war is once again on the horizon.
The capitalist system is at the end of a cycle of accumulation which only a massive devaluation of capital through generalised war can restart. The main strategy of the ruling class has been devaluing working class wages, but this is not enough to jumpstart the economy and they know this. Over the past 70 odd years, after the devastation of the second world war, the capitalist states have done all they can to avoid resorting to the ultimate devaluation of capital once more, but with a system in such deep crisis, increasing tensions, trade wars, and clear imperialist maneuvers, a third world war can all but be ruled out.
While world leaders may struggle to remember each other’s names (see: Biden forgetting Morrison’s name at the AUKUS meeting, instead calling him “that fella down under”), as communists we always remember where it is we stand when it comes to never supporting any side in these alignments, nor any other nation-state for that matter. This is the case both right at this moment and if there were to be an outbreak of generalised war. The only position we can take is to work towards the formation of a class party, to call for the self-organisation of the global working class and for imperialist war to be turned into a civil war, where workers go to war in “their own” countries against the ruling class and fight for the abolition of wage slavery and all it entails. This abolition and the bringing about of a new society which is based on human needs and fulfilment rather than on profits is the only hope we have of not only putting a permanent end to war, oppression and exploitation, but also the only chance we have at saving the planet and ourselves from extinction due to environmental catastrophe.
EK (Internationalist Communists Oceania)
Wednesday, 22 September 2021
This article is has also been published as part of the second issue of the journal 1919
(1) Foreign Arrangements Scheme
(2) What was in Victoria’s Belt and Road Deal with China
(3) ‘Don’t come this year or the next,’ Chinese students in Australia say, citing deteriorating environment for Asians amid pandemic
(4) The Collateral Damage of the Australia Trade War with China
(5) Australia’s Iron Ore Price Starts to Feel China Pressure https://www.news.com.au/finance/economy/australian-economy/australias-iron-ore-price-starts-to-feel-china-pressure/news-story/bc7798db98894fb5dc9a66c9803f168e
(7) G7 Chides China, Demands COVID Probe https://www.google.com/amp/s/7news.com.au/news/world/g7-chides-china-demands-covid-probe-c-3102409.amp
(8) Australia and Japan agree in principle to defence pact that will increase military ties
(9) Japan Must Speed Up Defense Says Minister
(10) US-Japan joint leaders statement
(11) Biden and leaders of Australia, India, and Japan to meet in person https://www.nwahomepage.com/news/politics/biden-leaders-of-australia-india-japan-to-meet-in-person/
(12) AUKUS pact born in secrecy
(13) France rebukes Australia after it ditches submarine deal
(14) The Silk Road and Some Other Imperialist Manoeuvres
(15) AUKUS defence deal Canada
(16) AUKUS submarines banned from NZ waters https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/sep/16/aukus-submarines-banned-as-pact-exposes-divide-between-new-zealand-and-western-allies
(17) Australia and South Korea pledge to deepen ties https://www.skynews.com.au/australia-news/defence-and-foreign-affairs/australia-south-korea-pledge-to-deepen-military-ties/video/1b2c1d9368daca523cccc4d28c2c07c8
(18) China-Russia-North Korea
(19) China and Russia Military Cooperation