The race to rule the Indo-Pacific by Rubin Rothler LLB, LLM

Somewhat comparable to Commodore Perry's mission that induced Japan to trade with the West, Nixon initiated an era of rapprochement between China and the U.S. that was highlighted by a trade agreement.

The analogy persists with regards to their respective subsequent embrace of commerce that resulted in rapid economic development. Japan reached an apex of domestic growth by the 1920's. With a growing population and need for natural resources, the island nation sought outward territorial expansion. A belligerent foreign policy ensued that culminated in the invasion of Manchuria. Japanese military planners were very much cognizant of the great disparity between the industrial might of Japan and the United States.

The Japanese Command thus calculated that only resolute defeat of the American Pacific Fleet and subjugation of its outlying possessions would guarantee that the Japanese Empire would not be surpassed by the U.S. At this time Great Britain was also a formidable presence in the region, from its Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysian colonies to its Subcontinental Dependency (now encompassing India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, and Sri Lanka). The British Commonwealth was politically, economically, and strategically more cohesive an association than it is now with the Anzac /Anzas contingent closely cemented to the British military, and also the British aligned Canadian forces had North Pacific access from British Columbia. The Army of India was a virtual subsidiary force of the Royal Army. Vestiges of this remain with the Anglo-Asian Gurkhas, and the Anglo-American (NSA/ GCHQ) "Five Eyes" RAINFALL Facility in Pine Gap, Australia (near Alice Springs) that is in league with ASIO and
Australian Military Intelligence.

In the early 20th century, France was also a significant player in the Pacific and SouthEast Asia with its colonial holdings of Indo China (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) still intact until the fall of Diem Ben Phu, concurrent with the Korean War. Saigon was "The Paris of the East'.

An orchestrated reconfiguration of these elements into a tentative strategic cooperation coalition, falling short of an alliance politically, but strategically functioning as one, is what is underway at present in its embryonic phase. This would range from the Indian Ocean American base in San Diego Garcia to defence cooperation with India (which has had recent armed clashes with China in the Himalayas from Tibet), to Austral-Asia, to Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan encircling China is the current posturing of the USA and its allies. This has in very low key terms even included certain intelligence cooperation with Vietnam, which also had a border war with China and is enraged at China's expansionism in the Gulf of Tonkin. There has even been secret diplomatic dialogue examining the possible future opening of the American built air and naval complex at Cameron Bay for limited American support operations, and American assistance in upgrading Vietnam war era air bases in Da Nang, Chu Lai, Bien Hoa, and Natrang. The former American super base in Long Binh, Vietnam has already been transformed into the massive Asia Pacific headquarters of the American High Tech conglomerate 'Intel' which among other functions is a major Pentagon Defence Contractor.

The strategic reality of Chinese adventurism in the Tonkin Gulf is compelling the Philippines to rethink its pressured closure of both the Subic Bay American naval base and shipyard, and the Clark Airbase. It is not likely that these bases will ever be American controlled again, but as with Cameron Bay, it is not unlikely that the local governments will eventually need to allow joint interest U.S. military operations out of these bases. China, through its 'Belt & Roads' initiative (as we shall note below) is attempting to oppose this with a counter encirclement of Chinese bases from Djibouti in the Horn of Africa to possible bases in Kampuchea, and now the Solomon Islands together with its client states in Myanmar, Laos, and North Korea and its violations of its SAR (Special Administrative Region) agreements for Hong Kong and Macau.

The ramifications of the Asia Pacific chess game also extend to the Middle East where both the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Aqaba provide navigable channels into the Indian Ocean. China is increasingly partnering with Iran despite Iran's Islamic Fundamentalism, while China is crushing Islamic nationalism with the merciless suppression of its Uiger population in Western China. Israel has always been the military tutor of Singapore, but now Israeli High Tech companies (many of them partially American owned) are exporting both computer hardware with military applications to India, and software for command & control systems - with Israeli High Tech contractors working in India's version of Silicon Valley in Bangalore. The common ground with Israel has been the radical Islamic threat from Pakistan (and Malaysia concerning Singapore), but the emerging reality is the threat to India from China on the Tibetan border, and from the new found friendship and strategic cooperation with weapons grade technology transfers from China to Iran.

Be these scenarios as they may be, the issue is we can identify an Asian Pacific and Indian Pacific recapitulation by contemporary China in the early decades of the 21st Century, that were evident in Japan in the early decades of the 20th century. Similarly, China is now approaching the extent of its internal development. This is reflected in its looming subprime property bubble, stagnating GDP and demographic structure with an increasingly aging population. Like Japan, China is now shifting focus to regional domination. Chinese actions have included encroachments of the economic zones of various coastlines in the South China Sea. But 'soft power' has also been employed. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an international infrastructure development plan adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 to invest in nearly 70 countries. The BRI forms a pivotal part of Xi's "Major Country Diplomacy" ambition, which demands that China realise a robust leadership position for global affairs in accordance with its rising stature. The enumerated aims are "to construct a unified large market and make full use of both international and domestic markets, through cultural exchange and integration, to enhance mutual understanding and trust of member nations, resulting in an innovative pattern of capital inflows, talent pools, and technology databases." The outstanding need for extended capital clarifies why many Asian leaders "gladly expressed their interest to join this new international financial institution focusing solely on 'real assets' and infrastructure-driven economic growth".

The initial surge has concentrated on infrastructure investment. The plan is based on the original "Silk Road" trade route that once connected China to Europe. Development of the Renminbi as a currency of international transactions, development of the infrastructures of Asian countries, strengthening diplomatic relations whilst reducing dependency on the US and creating new markets for Chinese products, exporting surplus industrial capacity, and integrating commodities-rich countries more closely into the Chinese economy are all objectives of the BRI according to the Dhaka Tribune. Moreover China has forged secret security pacts with strategically situated partners, such as the aforementioned Solomon Islands. This decisive positioning further projects Beijing's sphere of influence and goals for maritime supremacy in the Indo-Pacific arena.

Indeed, we are entering a critical time in geo-politics, where much of the future will be determined in the indo-pacific region. Specifically, North East Asia is the most dynamic economic area in the world. Commensurately, the world's attention is shifting focus towards inflective developments there. Chief amongst threats to peace in the locality is Beijing's determination to 'reunify' with Taiwan. In the 90's China was hoping that its accelerating economic might would organically gravitate Taiwan towards merging with the 'motherland'. But paradoxically, Taiwan benefited most from heavily investing in the Chinese economy as an outside power. They basically gained all the advantages conferred on Hong Kong while remaining a sovereign state. With its prospects for inevitable reunification dashed, Beijing reverted to her traditional modus operandi of periodically threatening to invade the 'renegade province'. However, post Ukraine the calculus has sharply altered. “Clearly the Chinese leadership is trying to look carefully about the lessons they should draw from Ukraine about their own ambitions in Taiwan,” CIA Director Bill Burns said this month. “I don’t think for a minute it’s eroded [President Xi Jinping’s] determination over time to gain control over Taiwan, but I think it’s something that’s affecting their calculation about how and when they go about doing that.” To be clear, Taiwan is not Ukraine.

However Ukraine serves as a model for resistance against a towering foe. Furthermore, Russian belligerence has reset global norms concerning the course of asymmetrical warfare. It's no coincidence that China has tacitly supported Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Both nations find themselves marginalized by the West. An additional factor not to be discounted is that China remains haunted by its humiliating defeat at the hands of Vietnam, its losses in Korea at the hands of MacArthur and Ridgeway, and the clobbering of its backed surrogate in Cambodia. It is the Ukraine however, that China is presently monitoring most carefully. As always, there is a doctrinaire predictability governing China; China will always adhere to the 'Art of War' philosophy of Sun Tzu where retreats are tactical deception, and it is always the long game - not the short one, that counts most.

Amongst the crucial differences between Ukraine and Taiwan is geography and topography. The People's army faces navigating a turbulent strait to launch a precarious amphibious landing, while Russia and Ukraine share a porous border. Logistically it would be a nightmare. A massive Armada of ships including amphibious landing vessels, armored hydrofoils, and helicopter carriers would have to be assembled, stacked high with enough provisions and equipment to field many divisions totalling a required force of more than a million troops. China moreover lacks the history of mass amphibious invasion experience that the American and British armies have had since Normandy and Anzio, and the US and Royal Marines have had since the 18th Century. China has never had an Iwo Jima, a Tarawa, or an Inchon. The Taiwanese would have ample foreknowledge of an impending invasion to mount their coastal defenses. Moreover this densely encumbered flotilla could only sail at a relative snail pace, making it exceedingly susceptible to attack by missiles, air strikes and torpedoes. For this obstacle to be overcome, a prerequisite would be for China to quickly gain air superiority.
Reversely, resupply becomes far more formidable for the island nation, a vulnerability that could be exploited by a Chinese naval blockade. In terms of lay of the land, Taiwan has been described as a natural air force carrier. Its few potential landing beaches are dwarfed by nearby mountain ranges that would likely make D-day comparably resemble a walk in the park.

Any scenario would be ultimately determined by the US wild card in this equation, what The Economist terms a “test of America’s military might and its diplomatic and political resolve”. It goes on to explain that if the US ultimately doesn't defend Taiwan, “China would overnight become the dominant power in Asia” and “America’s allies around the world would know that they could not count on it”, concluding, "Pax Americana would collapse". The Guardian says Washington would not tolerate such an outcome, particularly as “Biden pivots US foreign policy towards a focus on the Indo-Pacific as the main arena for 21st-century superpower competition”. Any potential invasion is constrained by time. The hourglass is ticking away on supremacy for the South China Sea. The US led AUKUS naval alliance that will furnish Australia nuclear submarines will dominate the regional shipping lanes, preventing Chinese efforts to blockade Taiwan as a necessary precursor to launching a successful invasion. By 2030 AUKUS will be 'full steam ahead', thwarting Beijing's aspirations. There are other matters to consider. Both Russia and China are on the brink of a demographic time bomb. Soon China will be preoccupied with addressing its resultant economic decline, just as Japan was in the 90's.

The status of Taiwan has of course been an ongoing issue for decades, since it was called Formosa. China has openly exhibited its intent to 'reunify' with the Island over the past 70 years since its founding. In view of China's non compliance with its autonomy accords in Hong Kong has fueled an independence movement in Taiwan. The conflict between Mao and Chiang Kai Shek has been redefined and yet rejuvenated. Given the almost insurmountable odds of victory in this endeavor, perhaps Taiwan is more meaningful to the Chinese Communist Party as a perpetual symbolic nemesis that ignites a sense of nationalism at home. It helps with its messaging that the US's principle objective is to contain China with a ring of allies spanning from Japan and South Korea to the Indian Ocean. Like Japan in the 1930's, China is attempting to shirk off the American led containment of its ambitions for regional supremacy in the Indo Pacific. However in terms of strategy for accomplishing this goal, China has placed an emphasis on 'soft power' through its belt and road initiative. It has mostly shown military restraint. But its moves to annex the South China Sea is always accompanied by the subtle threat of force.

One must also not forget however, that the Chinese Communist Party regime has already in the past 'wagged its proverbial dog' when the Cultural Revolution threatened the stability of the government , shaking the political survivability of the party and Mao and Cho En Lai reacted by staging a border shootout with the Soviet Union on the banks of the Armour River as a means of solidifying a divided nation in the face of a common foe.

The precedent for such options has already been long set.

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