Ralph Maraj___Use

political analysts Ralph Maraj 

Last Tuesday, China’s President Xi Jinping had a telephone conversation with this country’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on Covid-19 and other issues.

International reports said President Xi “expressed appreciation for Trinidad and Tobago’s support to China’s legitimate positions over issues related to Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan”.

Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne refuted this, saying “Trinidad and Tobago’s policy of non-interference was conveyed and reaffirmed” at the meeting. Interesting. It is happening simultaneously with intensification of a new Cold War between China and the United States.

US President Joe Biden says China will pay a price for its human rights abuses against Muslim minorities in its far western region of Xinjiang; that while Beijing is “trying to gain the confidence of other countries”, the US will work with the international community to get Beijing to protect human rights.

Competition between the US and China has been brewing for some time. Barack Obama had completed the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a “mega-regional accord” with a combined GDP of US$27 trillion, involving 12 Pacific Rim countries to counter China’s increasing influence in Asia. Unbelievably, with his “America First” foolishness, Donald Trump walked away from this! Seizing the opportunity, China immediately pushed for its Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), started in 2012 with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to check growing US influence in the Asia-Pacific. RCEP was expanded to include other nations of the region and was signed two months ago, creating one of the largest free trade deals in history.

But notwithstanding his TPP faux pas, Trump did try to check China. He was confrontational over tariffs, the US trade deficit, Chinese stealing intellectual property, dominance in science and technology and the deliberate weakening of China’s currency against the US dollar. He also extended hard power in Asia, deploying US military muscle against Beijing’s in the South China Sea to maintain “freedom of navigation” patrols in both the Sea and the Taiwan Strait. Trump’s approach was eventually adopted by his political opponents in the US. Democrats began calling “for a tougher line toward Beijing”. Public opinion also turned. Nine out of ten Americans now hold an unfavourable view of China. The New Cold War had arrived.

It is being continued under Biden who justifiably sees China as his biggest foreign policy challenge. In November last year, I said the new president would need to repair US alliances damaged or neglected by Donald Trump, and suggested he strengthen the Quad, an alliance involving the US, Australia, Japan and India whose navies have already conducted exercises in the Bay of Bengal and the Northern Arabian Sea to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific. But the Quad has so far been a somewhat loose arrangement, meeting just three times at foreign ministers-level only.

Now Biden has elevated the partnership to meetings of leaders. Two Fridays ago, in his first international engagement, he participated in the first-ever Quad summit, suggested by Washington, with prime ministers Narendra Modi of India, Yoshihide Suga of Japan and Scott Morrison of Australia. Biden’s decision to raise the Quad’s political clout demonstrates “the high priority he gives to responding to China’s challenge” says Hugh White, professor of strategic studies. It could also help shape new geostrategic alliances. “This was the fastest play on the board and they did it big,” said Michael Green, former Asia adviser to George W Bush. “It shows the limits of Beijing’s influence.”

Strategically, the summit’s agenda included the pandemic. One billion doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be provided to nations of the south-east Asian region now facing vaccine shortages. The US and Japan will finance the project, India will produce the vaccines and Australia will lead the distribution. As expected, China condemned the formation of “closed small circles”, and accused “certain countries” of sowing “discord among regional countries to disrupt their relations with China”.

The meeting also focused on free and open access to the Indo Pacific where China’s aggression is of great concern, particularly its militarisation of the South China Sea, its erosion of democracy in Hong Kong, its threat to Taiwan and its claim over the Senkaku Islands, administered by Japan since the 19th century. “It is a big day for American diplomacy; a big deal for the President,” says US national Security adviser Jake Sullivan. The summit is also very important for Narendra Modi. Biden obviously recognises the US needs India to create an effective balance of power against China.

Beijing was further aggravated after the summit by US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin saying his upcoming trip to Japan, South Korea and India was aimed at “building credible deterrence against China”. In response, ahead of the visit, Beijing conducted naval exercises with warships in the Yellow Sea, East China Sea and South China Sea. Things are escalating. Last week, the first high-level meeting between Washington and Beijing since Biden took office produced little more than officials engaging in a fiery war of words and hurling accusations at one another.

The new Cold War is on. All countries, take note.

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Whatever Miss T&T said is past tense. One cannot retract the spoken word. Hence the need…