Acting, in effect, as a spearhead of the escalating US confrontation with China, the Australian government on Monday announced three provocative intensifications of military partnerships unmistakably aimed against Beijing.
The first was to accept an Indian government invitation to participate in November’s annual Malabar naval exercise off India’s eastern coast, joining the US and Japan. This signals the stepping up of the “Quadrilateral” alliance between the four countries.
The second announcement, made from Tokyo, was a commitment to negotiate a new agreement with Japan allowing that country’s military to “protect Australian Defence Force assets” if they come under threat.
Thirdly, Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and her Japanese counterpart, Kishi Nobuo, also revealed in Tokyo that vessels from the two countries had joined US warships in sailing through the South China Sea, potentially close to Chinese-held islets.
Taken together, these moves mark further preparations for a US-instigated war against China.
None of the announcements explicitly named China as the target, but they flowed from a meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between the US, India, Japan and Australia, held in Tokyo on October 6. There US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo again demonised Beijing, falsely blaming it for the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Pompeo declared that “Quad” collaboration was more critical than ever to protect against Beijing’s “exploitation, corruption, and coercion.” He named the South China Sea, along with “the East China Sea, the Mekong, the Himalayas, the Taiwan Straits” as “just a few examples” of China’s alleged aggression.
The truth is that the Trump administration has deliberately inflamed these flashpoints, including by recently encouraging the right-wing Indian government to take an aggressive stance in its volatile border clashes with China. This has taken to a new level the anti-China “pivot to Asia” conducted by the Obama White House.
Pompeo’s push in Tokyo was part of a US drive for the transformation of the “Quad” into a formal military alliance. Monday’s announcements are an immediate step in that direction.
Announcing the Malabar invitation, Australia’s Reynolds declared: “High-end military exercises like MALABAR are key to enhancing Australia’s maritime capabilities, building interoperability with our close partners, and demonstrating our collective resolve to support an open and prosperous Indo-Pacific.”
Echoing Pompeo, Reynolds said the Malabar exercise “also showcases the deep trust between four major Indo-Pacific democracies and their shared will to work together on common security interests.”
How closely these developments relate to war preparations was underscored by the Tokyo announcements.
Kishi and Reynolds said they had instructed their officials to “commence necessary coordination to create a framework to protect Australian Defence Force assets by the SDF [Japan’s military “Self-Defence Forces”] personnel.”
This raises the scenario of Japanese forces backing Australia’s military in the face of supposed threats from China.
Kishi and Reynolds said the arrangement would be covered by “Article 95-2 of the SDF Law (Provision for the protection of weapons and other equipment of the units of the U.S. Armed Forces and armed forces of other foreign countries).”
This SDF law, enacted by the Japanese government in 2015 in the face of widespread popular opposition, allows the Japanese military to conduct armed warfare internationally for the first time since World War II, by providing support to allies engaged in combat.
Kishi and Reynolds further stated: “In this context, we would like to announce that vessels of Japan and Australia, together with the United States are going to sail in the South China Sea to conduct a trilateral exercise starting from this evening till early tomorrow morning, Japan time.”
As yet, it is not known whether this operation included entering territorial waters claimed by China, as US warships have done increasingly.
While not naming China, the two defence ministers issued a series of incendiary allegations against Beijing, any one of which could provide the pretext for US-led military action. They declared “strong opposition to any destabilising or coercive unilateral actions” in the region, as well as to “militarisation of disputed features” and “efforts to disrupt other countries’ resource exploitation activities.”