Indo Pacific Diplomatic Fiasco Of The Year – OpEd


The news that Biden is proceeding straight back to Washington following the G7 meeting in Tokyo raises questions not only about his old age, and physical and mental weaknesses. In the biggest Indo Pacific diplomatic fiasco of the year, it also raises questions whether nations acting as American deputy sheriffs can grow backbones to support free and independent foreign policies dedicated to genuine peace and stability for the Asia Pacific region.

The initial plan was for the US President to continue from Tokyo to Port Moresby to meet with leaders from the Pacific islands with Prime Minister Modi in tow; and then to go on to Australia for a QUAD meeting – the latest in Anglo American attempts to assert dominance and to tell Asians what is really best in their own part of the world and interests.  

Both Papua New Guinea and Australian hosts had waxed lyrical about the visit by Biden. PNG Prime Minister James Marape had described it as “a historic first’, and  ‘going forward’ futuristic meeting of global superpowers, in the biggest country in the Pacific”. 

Missing from mention in his Facebook posting was the fact that China, though a superpower in its own way, was not invited but was to be the main target of concern for the US and India in the meeting.

Clearly the PNG meeting for Biden and Modi had China as the enemy in mind  to be contained by new military, trade and diplomatic agreements struck with the 14 Pacific island leaders gathered there. The US carrot dangled to the small islands, and possibly India too, was billions in foreign aid, though mainly for defence procurement of US military hardware and software. A mini carrot was already assured as the small change travel costs of the island leaders was to be provided by India.

As for Australia, Prime Minister  Albanese had plans for Biden to address a joint session of the Australian Parliament.  Biden’s last minute announcement that he was cutting his Asia trip short prompted an outpouring of negative sentiment from left, right and center wings of the Australian political divide.

From the center, former foreign minister Bob Carr said it showed that “Australians have been enormously gullible and optimistic about our American partner”. “Act like a client state, get treated like one.”

From John Menadue,”Will the QUAD go the same way as SEATO and just become irrelevant?”: “President Biden sends an odd message in being unable to attend the QUAD meeting in Sydney. But at least there will be no opportunity to announce new US bases to attack China from Australia.”

From the right, The Australian columnist Peter Jennings linked the decision to what he regards as the Albanese government’s lacklustre defence funding. “That type of complacency garners no presidential visits when other priorities are pressing.” 

The right wing apparently thinks that the A$360 billion for the AUKUS submarines is not enough for Aussie taxpayers to cough out as a US client state!

“We even declared a national public holiday for Biden’s historic visit only to be thrown under the bus by the US,” wrote Martyn Namorong, a PNG blogger and political activist. “The US keeps shooting itself in the foot as it stumbles to maintain its grip in the region.”

“It will be seen in the region as a self-inflicted wound caused by political polarisation in Washington that does not reflect well on America’s reliability as a partner,” said Daniel Russel, a former US assistant secretary of state for east Asian and Pacific affairs. 

What the US-Australia-QUAD-Pacific Island Diplomacy is About  

Clearly, this current round of diplomacy is not aimed at peace, stability  and security. Nor is it intended to assist the island nations affected by climate change, environmental problems, employment, infrastructure and services needs, and other domestic priorities.  

It is intended to reinforce the military encirclement of China. This objective to further strengthen the existing noose of over 100 US military bases around China is being complemented with economic measures aimed at curbing China’s relations and links with the island countries and other countries in Asia.  

Can the Pacific islands resist this new cold war being brought into their neighbourhood? An astute Pacific islander NGO leader has warned: 

In any US-instigated war with China, all bets are off for all parties …. Island leaders and their people must wake up to the reality of intended and unintended consequences that will not just imperil their security but is also likely to eviscerate their present life ….

In the calculus of the US and its allies …the islands and islanders are dispensable. A nuclear war with China engineered by the US and supported by supine nations like Australia, Japan, South Korea, India, and the Philippines will have horrific consequences for the Pacific islands.

This huge matter of war and peace is not a time for island leaders to be thinking of making friends or creating enemies. This is a time to do some brutal thinking about protecting the vital life and death interests of island states and their people.

Being led by the nose by warmed-over former colonies like Australia and India to fight a country thousands of miles away is neither smart diplomacy nor smart foreign policy.

NOTE: James Anthony, Are Pacific nations setting themselves up as US ‘pawn sacrifices’? May 10, 2023, Pearls and Irritation

ASEAN Foreign Policy Positioning

Pacific island nations would do well to learn from ASEAN nations which, despite various longstanding issues with China in the South China Sea, have – except for the possible exception of the new Philippines government under Marcos – continue to refuse to become sacrificial pawns in the US/Australia chessboard game. 

ASEAN member states in 1971 signed a declaration on the establishment of a zone of peace, freedom and neutrality (ZOPFAN) for the region. This has been supplemented in 1991 by the Bangkok Treaty with its commitment to preserve the Southeast Asian region as a region free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.  

ASEAN’s refusal to be drawn into US and Australian plans to cripple China through new strategies of military and economic coercion can serve as a model for Pacific replication. 

Lim Teck Ghee

Lim Teck Ghee PhD is a Malaysian economic historian, policy analyst and public intellectual whose career has straddled academia, civil society organisations and international development agencies. He has a regular column, Another Take, in The Sun, a Malaysian daily; and is author of Challenging the Status Quo in Malaysia.

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