On Saturday January 21, Britain’s Stop the War Coalition organised its first-ever trade union conference.
Speakers included former Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn MP; President of the RMT rail workers union Alex Gordon; Deputy President of the PCS civil service union Martin Cavanagh; Alex Kenny from the National Education Union; Liz Wheatley of public service union Unison; Ricardo de la Torre of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU); Daniel Zahedi of the junior doctors section of the British Medical Association (BMA); striking ambulance worker George Solomou; José Nivoi from the Autonomous Collective of Dockworkers in Genoa, Italy, who have repeatedly prevented arms shipments from being sent to conflict zones in the Middle East; Deputy President of Stop the War Andrew Murray; Stop the War Convenor Lindsey German; and veteran anti-war campaigner Salma Yaqoob.
China specialist Dr Jenny Clegg, who is a member of the Friends of Socialist China advisory group, introduced and led a well-attended session on the AUKUS pact between Britain, Australia and the United States, and on the ‘coming war on China’. She was joined on the panel by Dr. Kate Hudson, General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), and Warren Smith of the Australian Maritime Union.
We reproduce Jenny’s opening remarks below, which present an admirable and concise summary of the regional situation. Their cogency and urgency are only underlined by the subsequent visit of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to Japan and South Korea.
The Ukraine war, Russia, and NATO, have been demanding the attention of the anti-war movement, but there is also a whole other dimension to Global Britain that is unfolding in the Asia Pacific.
Some might say that the US and NATO want to weaken Russia before moving on to China in the future – in fact war preparations are accelerating right now in the East.
Progress on AUKUS
The announcement of AUKUS in September 2021 was a surprise, made with no democratic debate. It came as the new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier was engaging in multiple joint military exercises in the South China Sea – flying the flag for Johnson’s Global Britain, demonstrating the new Indo Pacific tilt, but the F35 fighter jets it carried actually belonged to the USAF.
The key feature of the AUKUS pact was seen to be the US and UK agreement to assist Australia in acquiring nuclear powered submarines. BAE systems declared itself ready to support production. However, over the last year, as the US and UK have tried to wangle their way around the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) without apparent success, the deal has struggled and it is not certain that the US and UK can take on the building work given their own nuclear submarines programme commitments.
However, AUKUS is more than just the submarines: it is about Australian militarisation, about advancing military technologies and military industrial cooperation. BAE systems, Rolls Royce and MBDA have long had subsidiaries in Australia helping to supply its armed forces.
Reshaping the regional security architecture
AUKUS is just the tip of the iceberg in transforming the security architecture of the Asia Pacific.
This currently consists of US bilateral alliances with Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines. Together with US military links with Singapore, these form a ‘hub and spokes’ pattern of regional control. In recent years, with growing links between Japan, South Korea, China and the 10 member states of ASEAN, the favoured approach for regional affairs has been to ‘take ASEAN as the centre’. In this respect, AUKUS has been like a white Anglo-Saxon cuckoo thrust into the nest.
The impact of the Ukraine war has unleashed a new militarisation in Europe but also in East Asia – in Australia and in Japan, which has committed to doubling its military budget to make it the 3rd or 4th largest military power in the world.
And whilst NATO has strengthened its grip in Europe it has also been building its links in Asia.
US strategy under Biden now is to multi-lateralise the regional alliance structure – through AUKUS and also the Quad – the US, Japan, India and Australia. Japan and Australia along with South Korea were invited to attend the NATO summit last June at which commitments were made to extend maritime and cyber security operations to contain the ‘systemic threat’ from China.
Whilst NATO’s relations with Australia and Japan in particular are strengthening, Japan and South Korea are being drawn towards AUKUS through a ‘Partners in the Blue Pacific’ project aiming to cover the Pacific Islands. And whilst the Ukraine war has been raging, military exercises in the Pacific have increased, generally involving Japan. For example, UK and Japanese forces recently took part in a joint operation simulating the retaking of an island under enemy control. I should point out the Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea are a particular hot spot between Japan and the People’s Republic of China and are also claimed by Taiwan. Nor should we forget Russia lying to the north of Japan and the ongoing dispute over the Kuril island chain. Just a couple of weeks ago, Rishi Sunak and his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida, signed a new agreement on the exchange of forces to regularise such ‘island defence’ exercises.
The China question
The New Cold War warmongers continually seek to link China into Russia’s aggression. It is said for example:
- There should be no compromise with Russia because China is watching;
- Russia’s invasion of Ukraine increases the likelihood that China will “invade” Taiwan (as if, given Taiwan is recognised by the UN as being a part of China, a country can invade itself);
- What we’re learning from Ukraine is that the best way to preserve peace is to prepare for war;
- We should not make the same mistakes in failing to arm Ukraine in advance; we must support Taiwan now.
US warmongers are reaching fever pitch predicting China will ‘invade’ Taiwan within the next 5 or even 2 years, demanding that Biden send more arms to Taiwan and commit to the island’s defence. Doing either would be disastrous, breaking longstanding agreements with China on One China.
US House Speaker Pelosi took off to Taiwan in August; China reacted with more extensive military exercises to assert its sovereign rights; Liz Truss, then foreign minister, hauled the Chinese ambassador in to denounce supposed “Chinese aggression”.
However, after Biden came away from his meeting with Xi at the G20 summit saying he thought China had no immediate plans ‘to invade’ Taiwan, things have cooled slightly though the war drums keep beating.
It’s all about the economy
Certainly the powers that be in the US are in dreaded fear of China surpassing the US in economic size and are seeking whatever means to constrain its further growth. But the point is also that East Asia as a whole is predicted to overtake Europe as the heart of the world economy by 2030. South East Asia with a population of 700 million has huge growth potential; Japan and South Korea are already rich and together with China have the technologies needed to drive this future growth. So facing marginalisation, the US and UK are taking the path of increased arms and military equipment sales – and stoking tensions is good for business.
UK and Japan
The UK has just signed a major deal with Japan and Italy to build the next generation fighter jets equipped with hypersonic weapons. The UK is committing £2bn to this, promising high quality skilled jobs, opportunities for hundreds of companies and increased tax revenues. Pricewaterhouse Coopers estimates 21,000 jobs contributing £26bn to the economy by 2050.
The UK has chosen to follow the US in linking future prosperity to security, to arms production and exports. This is the challenge we now face in the anti-war movement: when we call for welfare not warfare, the supporters of increasing military spending call for ‘creating jobs to save lives’, earning tax revenue to support the public services.
But the bigger question here is what kind of nation we are and what kind of a role we want to play in the world. Our current militarisation is building capacity decades ahead: with Trident renewal we will remain a nuclear weapons state until 2060 or beyond.
The militarisation of East Asia clearly risks a destabilisation that could kill the goose that is laying the golden egg of the future. The US is endeavouring to push China into a massive arms race.
Peace in the Asia Pacific has been secured up to now by the US’ One China policy, but also by Article 9 of Japan’s constitution – the peace clause – whereby Japan renounces war and the use of force as a means of settling disputes. But now with the fighter jet deal, the UK is actively helping Japan to break the restraining clause.
Just as the notion of Global Britain rekindles the colonial mindset, so the UK’s new quasi alliance with Japan will likely hatch some nasty rightwing forces in that country, an aggressor of WW2.
But this is all on the wrong side of history – indeed all the while the Ukraine war continues, the world is becoming more multipolar – South East Asia along with Africa and Latin America want to see the war ended and do not want to have to choose between China and the US.
Will Japan join AUKUS? It seems there are less and less impediments to this with Japan strengthening military links with all three members. Will AUKUS – the Asian NATO – join up with NATO to form a new global alliance?
The US and NATO paved the way to the current Ukraine war through broken agreements and provocations – now the US is seeking to do to China what it did to Russia. With our government increasingly complicit, this has to become a key issue for the anti-war movement.