Sunday 28th of February 2021

no more secrets between friends and enemies...

no secret

As what seemed an unending turnover of senior staff in the White House, and open warfare with agency heads continued unabated, it was hard to believe that was possible, let alone happening.

Now, the turmoil — at least in the White House itself — is set to stop with the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President on Thursday morning Australian time.

The shock of the last few weeks' events and the sitting US President's role in them, culminating in the US Capitol Building being besieged by an angry mob, still frames almost everything written about America just now.

And the focus over the next week will be on the continuing brawl about impeachment, and what Biden's stimulus package might mean for the US and global economy.

An extremely unusual declassification 

But for Australia, the question of where the new administration picks up on foreign policy, particularly the Indo-Pacific, will be crucial.

That's what made this week's extremely unusual declassification of the Indo-Pacific strategy of the Trump administration, formalised in early 2018, so interesting.

The document was previously classified "secret" and "not for foreign nationals". It was officially declassified last week — 30 years earlier than would normally be the case.

The ABC's 7.30 program got early access to the document in what was clearly a strategy by White House officials to make sure the message in the document — which, frankly, might get overlooked in an otherwise occupied Washington — got out to US allies in the region.


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crossing red lines...

Last year, the US State Department published a blueprint for a decades-long struggle against China that included reorienting US society, education and culture toward that goal. Now, a formerly secret document shows plans for undermining Chinese society from the inside at the same time.

A key secret strategy document recently declassified by the Trump administration has revealed the private thinking of the National Security Council about the US approach to maintaining dominance in the Indo-Pacific region. Interestingly, the document clearly states it should not be declassified before December 31, 2042, and it contains only minor redactions.

Titled the “US Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific,” the February 2018 document by the National Security Council is distinctly different from the June 2019 Indo-Pacific Strategy Report, which was released publicly by the Pentagon.

In a statement issued with the declassified document, the outgoing White House national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, noted that it has “provided overarching strategic guidance for implementing the 2017 National Security Strategy within the world’s most populous and economically dynamic region.”

A comparison of the private framework, created just weeks after the National Security Strategy, and the public report published a year and a half later, shows inconsistencies between publicly stated and privately acknowledged priorities by the Trump administration.

Russia: Malign Actor or Marginal Player?

Both documents prioritize China as the primary threat to US hegemony in the region, with the framework noting that “China will circumvent international rules and norms to gain an advantage.”

But while the public strategy report lists Russia as a “revitalized malign actor” that “seeks to advance Moscow's strategic interests while undermining US leadership and the rules-based international order,” in private, NSC members are telling each other that “Russia will remain a marginal player relative to the United States, China, and India,” according to the framework document.

Indeed, the framework lists just three regional national security challenges for the US:

  • How to maintain US strategic primacy in the Indo-Pacific region and promote a liberal economic order while preventing China from establishing new, illiberal spheres of influence, and cultivating areas of cooperation to promote regional peace and prosperity?
  • How to ensure North Korea does not threaten the United States and its allies, accounting for both the acute present danger and the potential for future changes in the level and type of the threat posed by North Korea?
  • How to advance US global economic leadership while promoting fair and reciprocal trade?
Given the frankness of the declassified framework, the few omissions are conspicuous. 

For example, under the section outlining the objective to “strengthen the capabilities and will of Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Australia to contribute to the end states of this strategy,” the first action on the list is redacted. Further redactions appear in the Actions section, under the objective of “acclerat[ing] India’s rise” and under the section on “strengthening the capacity of emerging partners in South Asia.”

Defending South China Sea and Taiwan

In the framework’s largest section, on countering China, much of the expected posturing against Chinese military capabilities seen elsewhere is laid out, including an ambitious goal to deny China its “sustained air and sea dominance inside the ‘first island chain’ in a conflict; defending the first-island-chain nations, including Taiwan;” and dominating all domains outside the first island chain.” The final part of that bullet point is redacted.



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It’s dangerous for Australia to be so dependent on the United StatesBy COLIN MACKERRAS | On 15 January 2021

On 6 January 2021, the same day as President Donald Trump crossed the red line into incitement of insurrection in Washington through the assault on the Capitol, his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also crossed a line in provocations against China.

He issued a strong statement condemning China for the mass arrests in Hong Kong and threatened sanctions against any individual or entity involved in the attack on the Hong Kong people. Where he crossed the line was by adding “I am pleased to announce the upcoming visit of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft to Taiwan, a reliable partner and vibrant democracy that has flourished despite CCP efforts to undermine its great success. Taiwan shows what a free China could achieve.” Three days later he added further fuel to the fire by declaring the self-imposed restrictions on US diplomats, service members, and other officials’ interactions with Taiwanese counterparts as “null and void”.

Fortunately, Craft’s visit was later cancelled, due to the forthcoming Biden transition. Mike Pompeo was also intending to visit Europe but also made a last-minute cancellation, ostensibly due to the change in president, but in fact, several major Europeans he had intended to visit indicated he was not welcome.

Though obviously relieved at the cancellation of a visit to Taiwan by so senior an official as the representative to the United Nations, China had made no attempt to disguise its displeasure over increased relations with Taiwan. Considering how much Taiwan matters to the Beijing leaders, and how provocative Pompeo has been in his behaviour towards the People’s Republic of China in the last few months, it is difficult to imagine anything he could do more likely to anger the PRC in his last days as secretary of state. Maybe he is just preparing the ground for a tilt at the presidency himself in 2024.

And then on 12 January, a secret strategic Trump Administration document from 2018 was released prematurely about the Indo-Pacific. Its content was to note emerging convergence with a range of countries, including India, Japan, Australia, South Korea and others, but the list also includes Taiwan. Not surprisingly, the enemy is set up as China. Probably the reason for the premature release was to try and tie the hands of the incoming Biden Administration.

The mainstream media have warned that China would use the chaos in Washington to provoke an attack on Taiwan. It seems to me, however, that precisely the opposite is happening. It is Washington that’s doing the provoking, with Pompeo apparently doing as much damage to relations with China as he can on his way out the door. He seems to enjoy poking Beijing in the eye, an action I think should be condemned in the strongest possible terms, especially considering the “century of humiliation” that was hopefully firmly in the past. Meanwhile, China is acting with restraint so remarkable that it’s difficult to know how long it can last. If he has any sense at all Biden will renounce Pompeo’s latest provocations.

On 10 January Marise Payne and the foreign ministers of the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, but not New Zealand, issued a statement that they wanted to “underscore our serious concern at the mass arrests of 55 politicians and activists in Hong Kong for subversion under the National Security Law.” Fortunately, this joint statement avoided mentioning Taiwan. This is a line that even loyal allies are so far unwilling to cross. If ever there was an issue that Australia and others should keep right out of, it is Taiwan. It is true that for China this is an issue of top importance, whereas the West and especially the United States do not really care about it. But I would argue that, since the international community, including the United States, still recognizes Taiwan as a province of China, to change that now would be unprecedented treachery and folly, and a huge and unwarranted insult to China, which could easily lead to war.

As for Hong Kong, China immediately demanded Washington respect its judicial sovereignty. One can imagine how scornful the United States or Australia would be at Chinese intervention in our law systems. In a news conference on 7 July spokesperson Hua Chunying noted a big irony. She noted that in July 2019 there were riots in Hong Kong, with violent protestors breaking into the Legislative Council, ransacking the main chamber, smashing facilities, and throwing toxic liquid and powder at police officers. Powerful Westerners had described the scene as “a beautiful sight” and the rioters as “democratic heroes”: “The American people stand with them.” But when the same thing happens in Washington, she said, the protestors were “rioters”, “extremists” and “thugs” carrying out “an assault on democracy”.

In an opinion piece in The Australian (11 January), right-wing analyst Alan Dupont dismissed the distinction Hua had raised: “This is spurious”, he wrote. “There is no moral equivalence between a society that defends its democratic institutions and one that subjugates its people to the dictates of an autocrat.” Actually, I think there is a moral equivalence. Both sets of protestors were unjustifiably trying to damage legitimate legislatures. What makes the difference is the eyes of the beholder.

The coalition of groupings coming out in support of Trump during the last few days of his presidency is very striking. Here’s a very incomplete list.

In Australia, they include anti-China hawks such as Queensland Liberal Member for Dawson George Christensen and New South Wales Liberal Member for Hughes Craig Kelly. Several Chinese groups hostile to the CCP have expressed ongoing support for Trump, such as the government in Taiwan, Hong Kong former and current protestors and even some dissidents who marched against the authorities in Beijing in 1989.

The sooner we are rid of Trump and his Secretary of State Pompeo, the better. This Administration has done more damage to both American and Australian relations with China than any since the 1960s. There’s no need for me to contribute here to the speculation about what incoming President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will be like. But they’d have to be better than Trump and Pompeo.

The Washington insurrection reveals a faltering American society in which serious divisions, violence and racial, class and other inequalities appear to be worsening. What follows about Australia-China relations is that we should downgrade our security relations with the United States. It is not a country appropriate for us to deal with on such a level.



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the sabotage of the silk roads has begun...

self-congrats for a very bad job...


Pompeo congratulates himself on ending "decades of appeasement" between Beijing and Washington


Four days before leaving his post as US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo fired red bullets against Beijing in a series of inflammatory tweets. An initiative that follows recent outings against Cuba and Iran. Ahead of Joe Biden's inauguration scheduled for January 20, the 70th Secretary of State of the United States, Mike Pompeo, is preparing in his own way for the departure of the Trump administration by increasing his outings on the international scene.

On January 16, the head of American diplomacy, for example, published more than a dozen inflammatory tweets for the attention of the Chinese Communist Party. "The Chinese Communist Party is a threat," he wrote in a first publication which announced the color, before adding: "For 50 years America has knelt before China. But not under the Trump administration. ”

Barely 30 minutes later, the head of the State Department congratulated himself on having succeeded in “putting an end to decades of appeasement” between Beijing and Washington. "We can no longer ignore the political and ideological differences between the United States and the People's Republic of China, between freedom and tyranny," he said.

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threats through a red and blue lens...

The election of Donald Trump in 2016 sent shockwaves beyond America’s borders, part of a perceived nationalist-populist trend from Brexit to Eastern Europe to Asia. One thing that made Trump’s win unique was his intense criticism of China, a contrast with the more accommodationist attitudes that previous administrations had held. Trump also called for improving American relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Critical of the president’s attitudes towards China, prominent Democrats have urged a more aggressive approach towards Russia over the past four years.

Post-1945, the foreign policy establishments in both parties generally agreed on the national security challenges the United States faced after World War II: namely, the threat posed by the nuclear-armed Soviet Union that supported socialist anti-American proxies around the world. From Truman to Reagan, both parties’ presidents backed policies designed to contain and erode Soviet influence. Post-9/11, the increasing polarization and identity-driven nature of American politics has spilled over into the national security arena. Now neither conservatives nor liberals can agree on where the threats to U.S. security originate. Instead, how Washington views power competition is becoming an extension of the long-running culture war.

This national security polarization has been building for several years. During the 2016 election, for example, Trump emphasized China and “radical Islamic terrorism” when discussing foreign policy problems, while downplaying threats from Russia. In comparison, the 2016 Democratic candidates steered relatively clear of any discussion involving terrorism and the Muslim world.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic, with its origins in the People’s Republic of China, has only served to inflame the strategic communications divide between Republicans and Democrats. During his reelection campaign, Trump sought to make the challenging political environment caused by the interlinked social, health, and economic problems the pandemic wrought about China above all else. White House briefings have repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” and the “Wuhan Virus. At his first post-pandemic rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Trump even referred to it as the “Kung Flu.”

Ideological changes within the Republican Party caused by Trump’s style of conservatism have made a more aggressive stance towards Beijing possible. Aside from focusing on American nationalism and identity, Trump ran as a critic of corporate America. During his presidential campaign, he specifically called out the close relationships American companies enjoyed with China. In particular, Trump’s close allies have maintained their criticism of business interests for benefiting Beijing. The anti-China sentiment is a symptom of the party’s shift away from the limited government, laissez-faire form of conservatism that tolerated China as a destination for American investment and cheap labor.

A Republican president’s fixation on China has caused a change in how the Republican activist base views national security. From the Bush presidency through the Obama administration, Republican base voters viewed Islamist terrorism as a significant threat to the United States. Increasingly, the Republican base and the conservative movement’s infrastructure view China as the biggest challenge to American power. China’s new concern also plays to the traditional fear of statism, socialism, and atheism, under which today’s GOP views Beijing as a threat due to its varied embrace of all three traits.

Naturally, Trump’s rhetoric on U.S.-China relations, combined with the GOP’s support for a more provocative stance towards China, has provoked a hostile response from Democrats. The party has cemented its position that Trump is stoking racial hostility towards Asian Americans in general and the Chinese in particular, while also being critical of Trump’s handling of Beijing.

The liberal criticisms of Trump’s China policy conceal their own schizophrenic position on China. The party finds itself caught between confronting China over its authoritarianism, human rights, and trade abuses versus condemning Trump for his nationalist-populist response to Beijing. Progressive internationalists see Trump’s policies as weakening Washington’s hand by retrenching away from international organizations and alliances. Left-leaning foreign affairs watchers also see Trump driving Washington and Beijing towards a new cold war.

The Democratic Party is experiencing ideological schisms. Its neoliberal, center-left wing, is still very much in control, as was evident with Biden’s victory in the Democratic presidential primaries. Like moderate Republicans, neoliberal Democrats view China as part of the international order and a significant economic player. Still, the establishment within the party finds its position challenged. Accelerated by Trump’s shock 2016 win, the Democratic Party’s left wing has seen its political viability increase with calls for a focus on social justice issues.

The liberal internationalist wings and the new progressive-socialist fusion find common ground on Trump’s foreign policy. Both see Trump embracing a racist, unilateralist stance that risks war with China. However, Democratic foreign policy hands advocate for the same hardline approach when it comes to Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which they see as bearing responsibility for Trump’s shock 2016 victory through election interference.

Progressives are disturbed by Moscow’s Orthodox Christianity, conservative authoritarianism, and deference to an oligarchical class. Democratic activists also view Russia as a primary threat because Moscow supports European right-wing parties like the French Front National, Hungarian Fidesz, and the Austrian Freedom Party, all of which run counter to the modern American left’s values. The Chinese government also disdains values like tolerance, free speech, and minorities’ inclusion in national conversations.

The left views both Trump and Putin as leaders representing an autocratic tendency, linked together by a joint embrace of nationalism and populism. Trump’s critics are also disturbed by the president’s attitudes towards European allies, seeing criticism of NATO as a way of finding common ground with the Russian president, who considers the organization to be a threat. All of these factors have now culminated in the Democratic-controlled House’s attempt to impeach President Trump over his alleged mishandling of American aid to Ukraine as a result of quid pro quo.

President-elect Biden will enter the White House with a poor relationship with Moscow due to Democratic rhetoric since Hillary Clinton’s 2016 defeat, and more of the same will only cause Russia to double down on its disruptive actions. Moscow previously pursued a similar course in response to President John F. Kennedy’s positioning of missiles in Italy and Turkey. Likewise, the Bush administration’s post-9/11 muscle flex caused Moscow to view Washington as pursuing an expansionist agenda. So far, Biden’s picks for important national security posts such as secretary of defense, national security adviser, and the CIA, show a tendency towards toughness on Russia.

Meanwhile, President Trump has doubled down on attacking China in the aftermath of the election. During the campaign, Trump alleged that China wanted him to lose to Biden so Beijing would have someone more comfortable to work with. While echoing his Democratic detractors, Trump has alluded to close links between Chinese interests and the Biden camp. All of this will put the Biden administration in an even more difficult position with regard to relations with China. Any potential demonstration of flexibility towards Beijing could lead to Republican charges of Biden being soft on China.

Then again, perhaps the red-blue divergence only exists in messaging designed to appeal to each party’s respective base. During the election season, Biden’s campaign released several policy proposals to counter Chinese influence through mechanisms like multilateral engagement, emphasis on liberal democratic values, and the movement of supply chains back to the United States. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi oppose any softened view towards Beijing. The progressive movement also remains highly critical of Chinese human rights, environmental, and trade policies.

Despite Democratic claims to the contrary, President Trump has taken steps to punish Moscow for its near-abroad actions. The Trump administration has implemented sanctions against individuals tied to Putin’s government. Simultaneously, the White House under Trump has removed the United States from bilateral agreements with Russia, such as the Open Skies treaty and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Washington has also taken military action against Bashar al-Assad and Russian entities in Syria. The outgoing administration has pushed domestic fossil fuel development instead of environmental interests, which hurts Russia’s commodity-based economy.

However, the danger to U.S. foreign policymaking and how both parties view great power competition is evident. Washington increasingly sees threats through a red and blue lens; the broader American culture wars inflamed by hyperpolarization have reached our national security debates. Unlike during the Cold War, when there was a universal understanding of the challenges the U.S. faced, there is far less agreement on what those challenges are today and how to deal with them.



Kevin Brown has previously written for The American ConservativeThe Diplomat, and the National Interest. Follow him on Twitter @KevinBrown778.




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