Biden has been hotting up the New Cold War with China and Britain is proving a willing ally

Jenny Clegg

Since the end of July, Global Britain has been busy with its Queen Elizabeth Carrier Strike Group (CSG21) joining six other naval forces – from the US, Japan, Australia and India – for more or less continual joint military exercises over the next three months In the South and East China Seas. These exercises will also involve regional powers – South Korea, Singapore and others – and have already included complicated ‘inter-operability’ manoeuvres with the US Carl Vincent carrier group and various F-35 fighter jets.

US withdrawal from Afghanistan is not the end of US warmongering.  On the contrary, Biden has been hotting up the New Cold War with China and the South China Sea is now seething with warships and fighter jets.

Britain’s return ’East of Suez’ sees the CSG21 entering a region with its own tensions arising from unresolved issues from WW2 as well as persisting Cold War divisions.  Despite the inclusion of Article 9 – the ‘no war’ clause – in its constitution in 1947, the fact that Japan has never fully faced up to the brutalities of its WW2 imperialist occupations creates problems in its relations with its neighbours, China, as well as both Koreas.  At the same time, the Cold War remains in the division of the Korean nation – North from South – as well as the separation of Taiwan from China.

For the last 70 years, these rifts and divisions have been set fast by the ‘hub and spokes’ pattern of US bilateral military links, with Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines, and alliances with South Korea and Japan.

At the end of the Cold War however, a thaw began as South Korea and China reached out to each other whilst ASEAN opened its membership to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.  But the US only tightened its grip to isolate China and North Korea, at the same time seeking to reintegrate its key ally, Japan, as a military power into the region.

Meanwhile the US stance of so-called ‘strategic patience’ towards North Korea has prevented any advance on denuclearisation and peace negotiations. Instead, the US maintains 28,000 troops in South Korea, installing high altitude missile defence systems to expose China and North Korea more to its nuclear threat.  Meanwhile, in the South China Sea, where China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia are all in dispute over claims to maritime territory, US ‘freedom of navigation’ exercises have stoked tensions.  China and ASEAN however have been working on a Code of Conduct to effectively manage the disputes.

The CSG21 expedition is part and parcel of a new phase of militarisation, with Biden increasing naval incursions, including provocations in the Taiwan Strait, and with daily surveillance of the Chinese coast.  Seeking to add new vigour to the Indo-Pacific ‘Quad’ alliance, he aims to draw Australia and Japan together with India into an anti-China alliance.

With its new Indo-Pacific tilt, Britain is evidently seeking to insinuate itself into the arrangements, paving the way for other NATO powers and regional Commonwealth members to throw in their lot behind the US to maintain imperialist dominance over the Pacific.  At the same time the CSG21 expedition is an opportunity for Britain not only to share its military skills but also for its companies, BAE systems in particular, to promote the carriers’ combat capabilities and to sell the technologies.

The first duty of the CSG21 in the region was an exercise with Singapore’s navy, conducted as part of a series to mark the 50th anniversary of the Five Power Defence Arrangements in defiance of progress on the Code of Conduct. The network, which includes Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand, will hold further exercises with the British Strike Group in October before it finally leaves on its return journey.

The arrival of the British ‘armada’ in its next destination, South Korea, was also to put President Moon Jae-in’s peace-oriented policy toward North Korea at risk.  Moon, voted into power amidst a ‘candlelight revolution’ which ousted the former corrupt regime, has so far been resistant to Biden’s anti-China campaign. North Korea slammed the carrier group’s deployment as a provocation that could inflame an already ‘tense situation’ as Britain’s appearance effectively gave a boost to South Korea’s right-wing opposition which is challenging Moon’s party in next year’s election.

The CSG21 has now arrived in Japan ready to build a military partnership through a programme of bilateral maritime and air exercises with Japan’s ‘Self Defence’ Forces.  There is a history here – the Anglo-Japanese alliance from 1902 to 1923 paved the way for Japan’s transformation into the particularly brutal expansionist imperialist it became. Today Britain is again providing cover for Japan’s remilitarisation, giving protection to those ultra-nationalists who continue to inhabit Japan’s elites, whilst essentially obstructing Chinese and Korean movements for ‘comfort women’ reparations.

The US is intent on lining up all forces possible for an eventual AirSea battle to annihilate China’s major cities at a stroke, and Britain is proving willing, actively promoting militarisation and destabIlisation, provoking controversy, endorsing regional warmongers, and deliberately undermining existing conflict resolution efforts to heal the past and define a peaceful regional space.

The government’s announcement that it will be permanently deploying two naval vessels in or near Japan is of geopolitical significance beyond the size, establishing a footing for further interference.

As the dangers of war increase, peace activists around the region are stepping up with calls in Korea for a peace treaty to end the 70-year war, in Japan in opposition to the abandonment of Article 9, and in South East Asia for the demilitarisation of the South China Sea. It is time for the anti-war movement in Britain to start building the links.

16 Sep 2021 by Jenny Clegg

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