Sabtu, 31 Juli 2021

Australia’s high iron ore price is masking reality of China export drop -

As one assesses the current relationship between Canberra and Beijing, to say that relations have deteriorated since the pandemic began would be a gross understatement.

The once tense but relatively amicable relations between Canberra and Beijing have been replaced by punitive trade actions and increasingly aggressive rhetoric coming out of China.

Despite trade between Australia and China looking quite healthy on paper, in reality the high price of iron ore is masking an almost 40 per cent drop in non-iron ore exports to China.

Added to this, and perhaps the most concerning and blatant change in Australia’s relationship with Beijing, has been the increasingly aggressive rhetoric coming from Chinese state media.

In May, the Global Times published an editorial in which Australia was threatened with retaliatory ballistic missile strikes if Canberra became involved in a potential armed conflict over Taiwan.

As the winds of geopolitical change continue to blow throughout the Indo-Pacific, the landscape of the region is rapidly evolving – and not only for Australia.

Divine wind blowing into Tokyo

In the most recent Japanese government defence whitepaper released in July, Tokyo outlined how ensuring the continuation of the current status quo on the issue of Taiwan was key to its interests and those of the regional stability.

In an English language translation of the document, the Japanese Defence Ministry stated:

“The stability of the situation around Taiwan is important, not only for the security of our country, but for the stability of the international community,

“Our country must pay close attention to this, with an even greater sense of vigilance.”

This marked the first time in the defence whitepaper’s history that Taiwan was directly linked to the security of Japan.

The document itself illustrated how swiftly and significantly the positioning of the Japanese government had evolved, even in the past 12 months.

On the front cover of last year’s whitepaper was a serene piece of artwork depicting Mount Fuji on a sedate pink background. This year the serenity was replaced by a black and white depiction of a fully armoured samurai warrior galloping into battle on horseback.

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In late June, the Japanese State Defence Minister Yasuhide Nakayama was even more forward in making the case for Taiwan’s protection.

In an address to the Hudson Institute think tank, Mr Nakayama said: “Democratic countries have to protect each other,” adding that he had in the past referred to Taiwan as a “red line”.

“So we have to protect Taiwan as a democratic country,” Mr Nakayama said.

Given the proximity of the Japanese island prefecture of Okinawa, Mr Nakayama highlighted that if anything happened to Taiwan, it would impact Japan.

“We are not friends of Taiwan, we are brothers,” Mr Nakayama said.

In early July, Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso hardened Tokyo’s stance on Taiwan even further.

In a statement Mr Aso said: “If a major problem occurred in Taiwan, it would not be going too far to say that it could be an existential threat [for Japan].

“In such a case, Japan and the United States will have to work together to defend Taiwan.” He added: “We need to consider seriously that Okinawa could be next.”

As the third largest economy in the world and arguably in possession of the third most powerful naval force on the high seas, the impact of Japan’s shift towards publicly supporting Taiwan cannot be overstated.

Taiwan – the key to the western Pacific

For both China and the alliance of the US and Japan, Taiwan is the reddest of red lines. In Beijing, the island is considered an integral part of the motherland and its reclamation is apparently President Xi Jinping’s “most cherished objective”.

In Washington and Tokyo, the current status quo on Taiwan is vital to their respective strategic and diplomatic interests.

In the words of Stanford University historian and author Niall Ferguson: “Yet losing – or not even fighting for – Taiwan would be seen all over Asia as the end of American predominance in the region we now call the Indo-Pacific.”

If the US was run out of the western Pacific, whether by force or by choice, it would be a seismic shift in the balance of power.

Key US bases currently protected by sheer distance such as Guam and Tinian would find themselves no longer safe under the new order.

Today, bases in Tinian and Guam are playing host to more than two dozen F-22 Raptor fighter aircraft of the US Air Force. The largest ever deployment of the Raptors to the Pacific Air Forces area of operation and is considered by analysts to be a strong message to Beijing.

For Japan, the loss of American protection could drive a movement to acquire nuclear weapons as a deterrent against China.

According to nuclear expert Steve Fetter, who served in Barack Obama’s White House for five years, given Japan’s “technological and scientific expertise” the government could probably build a bomb “within a matter of months”.

Lines in the sand

As tensions continue to flare and the powers on both sides draw their respective lines in the sand, it’s clear their goals are mutually exclusive.

The US, Japan and Australia have thrown their support behind a continuation of the status quo. But for Beijing and President Xi Jinping in particular, the reunification of Taiwan under the flag of the mainland is not negotiable.

If tensions do erupt into open conflict, it’s likely the Australian Defence Force will find itself side-by-side with those of the US, as they have for decades since World War II.

As the world attempts to come to grips with a very different landscape in the wake of the pandemic, it’s uncertain how things will unfold from here.

But if events continue on their current course, it seems that tensions between the superpowers may continue to rise in the coming months and years.

Tarric Brooker is a freelance journalist and social commentator | @AvidCommentator

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2021-07-31 21:29:00Z

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