April 6th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The NSW election and our incredible shrinking farming sector

SOCIETY The pervasive and pernicious online porn epidemic

CANBERRA OBSERVED Coffers are full but Treasurer will take spending cautiously

OPINION Judge treats Cardinal Pell to a spot of 'open justice'

NATIONAL AFFAIRS NSW Liberals re-election gives a boost to Morrison

ECONOMICS The Great Dragon uncoils all around the globe

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS President Donald Trump: an unlikely promise keeper Part 2

REFLECTION On the conviction of Cardinal Pell

FICTION Orange Years: The Japie Greyling Story

TERRORISM Lessons from Christchurch

ASIAN AFFAIRS Xi's imperious play prompts U.S. to repair Asian friendships

YPAT Getting with the program: one young person's story

MUSIC To market, to market, to sell a good song

CINEMA The LEGO Movie 2: Building a world

BOOK REVIEW A template for living alongside the world

BOOK REVIEW Catholic Maryland and early tolerance



THE BUDGET Take your tax cuts and be merry, for tomorrow ... is another day

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Xi's imperious play prompts U.S. to repair Asian friendships

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, April 6, 2019

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s aggressive foreign policy is an extension of Xi’s determination to make his mark as the most powerful People’s Republic of China (PRC) leader since Mao Zedong. Asian countries are strengthening ties with the other Pacific power, the United States, in a bid to revive the Pacific Rim partnership.

Look at a map of the Pacific Ocean and you will see that Hawaii is placed in the centre. Pearl Harbour is the major U.S. naval base in the Pacific. The name of the commercial harbour in Honolulu, derived from the Polynesian language, meaning “sheltered bay”. Honolulu is a major entrepot port for the Pacific region.

Military bases are the keystone of the 50th state’s economy, along with tourism.

When U.S. President Barack Obama – who was born in Hawaii – announced the “Pivot to Asia”, he was not taken entirely seriously. However, diplomacy takes time. Diplomacy was needed to rebuild relationships that had become frayed. As President Donald Trump discovered in his negotiations with North Korea, diplomacy is not about “doing a deal” as if you were selling a fridge. Dip­lomacy takes time.

The full story about why the talks between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un broke down has yet to emerge. From the North Korean point of view, Kim’s body language made it clear that he was bitterly disappointed. In view of China-U.S. relations, the PRC saw the talks as a step in ejecting the U.S. from Asia.

The PRC aims to enclose sections of the Asian landmass and oceans in much the same way that commons were enclosed in England during the 16th century. The construction of military facilities by the PRC in the South China Sea is one such exercise. The wilful flouting of the law of the sea demonstrates the contempt the PRC has for the rule of law, except for when it is in their interests. For small and medium powers, such as Australia, rule-governed behaviour is the best means we have of defending our interests.

Rodrigo Duterte took power as President of the Republic of the Philippines in 2016. Despite his colourful turn of phrase and apparent contempt for diplomatic niceties, the U.S. and the Philippines have continued to rebuild defence ties, which were fractured with the closure of the Subic Bay Naval Station, which was the U.S.’s largest overseas naval base. The U.S. would not agree to the extortionate rent demanded by Manila, and in 1992 closed the base.

Clark Air Base, which the U.S. Air Force vacated in 1991, is now used by the Philippine Air Force. In recent years, the U.S. Navy has been making ship visits and the U.S. and Philippines defence forces have been conducting joint exercises. The Government of the Philippines knows that it cannot protect its territory by itself. It needs U.S. assistance.

The PRC wants to break through the Pacific island chain, which stretches from Japan to Borneo. Unless it can penetrate the island chain, the PRC’s naval options are limited. The weakest point, from the PRC’s point of view, is Taiwan. The U.S. Seventh fleet has adopted a policy of transiting the Taiwan Strait every few months, to assert the right of free passage.

Taiwan is a glittering strategic prize. The PRC cannot simply walk in and take over the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan; it would be an extremely hard nut to crack. Taiwan, on the other hand, is expanding its diplomacy in the Asia region, by extending its New Southbound Policy.

It’s not that the ROC does not trust Trump – ROC President Tsai Ing-wen was one of the first foreign leaders to contact the new president – it is just that their diplomacy has been limited by an over-reliance on the U.S. One example is the Indigenous Submarine Project. Taiwan, with foreign assistance, will build a new submarine fleet as a counter to China.

The ROC is also upgrading its F-16 fighter jets with U.S. assistance. Taiwan also has strong ties with other Asian nations, such as Singapore, which holds military exercises in Taiwan.

Vietnam and the United States are developing military cooperation. The U.S. Seventh Fleet has been using Cam Rahn for ship visits. Cam Rahn Bay was a major military port for the U.S. Navy and merchant ships during the Vietnam War. Vietnam’s interests are obvious – China is an ancient foe and it is building ties with Cambodia, another hereditary enemy to Vietnam.

Deng Xiaoping ordered the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to teach the Vietnamese a lesson after Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979. But it was the battle-hardened Vietnamese People’s Army who gave the peasant soldiers of the PLA a bloody nose, not the reverse, as Deng had intended.

The Vietnamese walk a fine line bet­ween the PRC and the U.S. “We need the Americans; but, in 500 years, China will still be there. What about the U.S.?”

With Cambodia slipping back into dictatorship, Laos is coming into play. Laos was once the poorest country in Southeast Asia, but has been growing steadily on the back of electricity exports, mining and construction. Agriculture and tourism are both important contributors to the economy.

Laos is building a rail line to the Chinese border. Relations with Vietnam remain ambivalent. Laos and Thailand have strong tries based on a shared history and language.

It is obvious that unless something very unusual happens, Xi Jinping will be PRC president for a very long time, perhaps for life. According to an ancient Sanskrit text on statecraft, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. This forms the basis for a coalition to preserve liberty in Asia.

The PRC’s only formal ally is North Korea, although it can manipulate other states through “sharp power”. As US Founding Father Benjamin Franklin wrote: “We must, indeed, hang together, or most assuredly we shall hang separately.”

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