China

Keeping an Eye on the Sheriff: New US Ambassador to Australia

Filed in: Geopolitics  Author: Brendan R Hay

Back in October 2003, former US President George W Bush caused something of a stir in Australia and East Asia after he described then-Prime Minister John Howard’s government as America’s “sheriff” for the region. Bush was asked whether Washington viewed the capital, Canberra, as the region’s deputy sheriff.

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US Amassador to Australia Arthur Culvahouse. Photo: AP

This was a reference to similar comments made by Mr Howard three years ago. At that time, his words generated a huge row across the region. Mr Bush, apparently unaware of the sensitivity of the subject in the region, said: “We don’t see [Australia] as a deputy sheriff; we see it as a sheriff. There is nothing ‘deputy’ about this relationship.”

A government spokesman at the time said that while Australia enjoyed a good long-term relationship with the US, it could not be described as a sheriff.

“Sometimes there are some nuances in the language that get a little bit lost,” Liberal MP Fran Bailey said in 2003. “The American concept of a sheriff is a peacekeeper. We don’t actually use the term sheriff, but we do act as a peacekeeper.”

Fast forward to 2019 and Australia’s role in the East Asian/South Pacific region is increasingly coming under the international spotlight as the Trump Admninistration shoehorns a Reagan-era Republican lawyer into the role of US Ambassador to Australia.

Arthur Culvahouse Jr. wasted no time at his new diplomatic post to begin strong-arming Canberra into adopting Washington’s confrontational policy regarding Beijing.

A Reuters article published by the South China Morning Post in March 2019 points out that:

China is using “payday loan diplomacy” to exert influence in the Pacific, the new US ambassador to Australia said on Wednesday, in comments that threaten to inflame regional tensions.

The United States and its regional allies have been battling China for greater influence in the Pacific – a region that has votes at international forums like the United Nations and controls vast swathes of a resource-rich ocean.

The geopolitical competition has seen both sides increase foreign aid to the region in recent months, which the West says is needed to prevent the Pacific falling into financial distress and becoming susceptible to diplomatic pressure from Beijing.

The arrival of Culvahouse, the first US ambassador to Australia in more than two years, comes at time of bilateral tensions between Canberra and Beijing.

In 2017, then Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull accused China of meddling in domestic affairs. In 2018, Canberra banned companies linked to foreign governments from investing in its nascent 5G network, effectively blocking China’s Huawei.

The timing of the arrival of the new ambassador is a clear move to signal the US interests in Australia’s diplomatic postion in the region. It would appear to be a diplomatic mission with a specific geopolitical intent. The American people for whom Ambassador Culvahouse is supposed to be a representative, should be perplexed over his obsession with China rather than fulfilling his duties of representing the United States in Australia itself.

As the United States has done with many other allies, it has successfully turned Australia into a Washington proxy for its own confrontation with China. Washington risks dragging Australia down an usuccessful diplomatic path with it, when Australia could instead be bilaterally resolving issues with China and building constructive relations throughout Asia-Pacific, all while redefining for itself a more positive role in the region, breaking free from its historical role as an extension of Anglo-American hegemony.

Geography 101: China is Located in Asia, the United States is Not 

Interestingly enough, Reuters failed to notice that China is actually located in Asia-Pacific, while the United States is not.

Just as the US is expected to exert a certain amount of influence in North America where it is actually located, it is not unreasonable to expect China to do likewise in Asia. That US foreign policy seems formed around the notion that the US, not China, should hold primacy in Asia is both counterintuitive and fundamentally flawed.

Such a policy reflects a basic but intentional lapse in geographical awareness widespread across Western media and political circles representing the remnants of European-American imperialism of the 19th-20th centuries. It suggests that Asians lack agency to decide for themselves how “votes at international forums like the United Nations” and “vast swathes of a resource-rich ocean” should be used and that the United States should decide for them instead.

The US currently does this by attempting to surround China with client states and infecting nations across Asia with US government-funded nongovernmental organisations (NGOs). These NGOs impose upon the region US-style institutions that reflect US interests through a process the US itself calls “soft power.”

Examples of this can be seen in Myanmar where US-funded NGOs have managed to bring existing ethnic tensions toward the brink of war, in Thailand where US-backed political forces are attempting to displace the military and constitutional monarchy and roll back recent progress made between Bangkok and Beijing and in Cambodia where the entire opposition is virtually run out of Washington D.C.

The more obvious results of this US “soft power” in action are ongoing “colour revolutions,” but a more subtle attempt to overwrite Asian culture and institutions with US ideas and institutions is also constantly attempting to take root. It is the latest evolutionary step taken by centuries of European and now American imperialism and it is the tool of choice used by the special interests of today benefiting from this imperialism.

Ambassador Culvahouse’s rhetoric and the accompanying talking points touched on by Reuters brings all of this into focus, with the US openly accusing China of usurping American primacy in Asia, and admitting it is investing across the region to regain it.

Who is Ambassador Culvahouse? 

Ambassador Culvahouse had previously served President Ronald Reagan’s administration between 1987 and 1989. He has also been involved in multiple committees within the Republican Party, Australia’s ABC would report.

Ambassador Culvahouse is also listed as a Brookings Institution trustee, which may help explain why in his capacity as US Ambassador to Australia he is openly pursuing policy that serves neither the American nor Australian people but rather the corporate sponsors who control both Brookings’ activities and those of Washington.

He is also a former chairman of O’Melveny & Myers (OMM), a massive international law firm whose clients include equally massive corporations seeking to protect their existing monopolies and to find footing in emerging markets, including in China. Former OMM chairman and now Ambassador Culvahouse stepping into the middle of Australia’s bout with China over 5G and Huawei and OMM’s own role in cases specifically involving Huawei (e.g.), in turn represents equally massive conflicts of interest.

Ambassador Culvahouse is another stark example of “revolving door” politics in which representatives of special interests move in and out of government positions appointed to regulate and hold accountable these very interests.

The entire process that Ambassador Culvahouse represents is the modern manifestation of European-American imperialism, representing the modern equivalence of an elite minority, their greed and the mechanisms instituted to satisfy it, merely dressed up as representative governance serving the majority.

But just like every other empire in history, American hegemony rose on a global scale before beginning to fade. The vector sum of Chinese-Australian economic ties, despite recent setbacks (some might call sabotage), is positive, as noted by the Parliament of Australia itself. As China continues to grow economically, politically and even militarily within the region and upon the global stage, the US will have no choice but to concede its longstanding primacy in Asia-Pacific, a process already well underway.

Without an entirely new, innovative and constructive American foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region, Ambassador Culvahouse and his rhetoric serve only to delay the continued, inevitable decline of American power and in the process, increase resentment not only from Beijing, but resentment from all the partner-proxies including Australia the US is using in the process.

The South China Sea: Complicating Sino-Australian relations

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (L) talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi after their joint news conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, China, February 17, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (L) talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi after their joint news conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, China, February 17, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Recently, some of the gloss has come off the charmed relationship between the countries of Australia and China, which have enjoyed the have a long history of mutually beneficial economic cooperation. The spanner in the works has become the increasing confrontation between China and other Asia-Pacific alliances for control over the South China Sea.

International media coverage of the construction of Chinese military bases and the stationing of ground-to-air missiles systems on the Paracel and Spratly Islands was particularly disturbing to Australian authorities. Addressing all countries involved in the conflict, Australia called for the termination of the militarization of the South China Sea, in which it sees a threat to the security of the region, as well as the cessation of economic development due to the possible restrictions for sea and air traffic. Australia has also demanded that China cease the construction of artificial islands, and has also formally expressed its support to the Philippines, which appealed to the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague over the legality of China’s maritime claims.

Over the past five years, bilateral trade volume has grown by about fifty percent, prior to the commencement of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement which took place in June 2015. As both nations continue to make their respective mutual investments, we see that Australian companies are now widely represented on the Chinese market, and in addition student exchange and tourism programs are developing and gaining market traction. In a speech in October 2015, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull looked forward to a “golden age” of Australian-Chinese relations.

However, in a February 2016 official visit to China by Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, discussions with Chinese authorities focused on the developing situation in the South China Sea. Foreign Minister Bishop brought up Xi Jinping’s statement from the previous year, recalling that China did not want to militarize the area of the challenged islands. Australian media reports also detailed Chinese denials by Ministry of Defense in Taiwan that a missile defense system was stationed on one of the Spratly Islands. However, on February 17 2016, at the joint press conference with his Australian counterpart, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi re-stated the state’s right to self-defense and that the construction of the military infrastructure on the islands was entirely legal.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei also made a number of statements in which he urged Australian leadership to make an objective and unbiased assessment of the events in the region to fully understand the situation and avoid making rash statements. He also said that the islands in the South China Sea are primordial Chinese territory in which China has a right to station defensive targets, that it has been doing so for the last decade and that it does not constitute a ‘militarization’ of the region, nor does it harm the free sea and air transportation in the region.

Despite these differences, the development of bilateral economic relations continues. During Foreign Minister Bishop’s visit to China, an agreement was reached on expanding military cooperation between Australia and China. Commenting during the visit of his Australian colleague, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, said that the two countries had reached agreement on a “comprehensive strategic partnership”. Yi also mentioned agriculture, education, tourism, energy, and the strengthening of maritime traffic between the countries among the most promising areas of the Australian-Chinese cooperation. The latter was to be given special attention as it implies Australia’s involvement in the ‘New Silk Road’, the most important international trade project for Chinese authorities currently.

One of Foreign Minister Bishop’s claims in mid-February was that China and Australia had long been successfully cooperating in the spheres of trade and security, and that the two countries indeed plan to run joint military exercises in the near future. However, just a week later the Australian Government leadership made statements to which China reacted negatively. On February 25 Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stated that Australia was planning to significantly increase its military budget and to strengthen the combat capabilities of the Navy to protect its interests in the Asia-Pacific region. This was seen by many as due to the increase in military power of China and its expansion in the South China Sea. In addition, Turnbull expressed support from the part of Australia to the military presence of US in the Asia-Pacific that Australian Prime Minister called “the most important strategic partner of Australia.” According to him, the US military maintains stability in the region. It is difficult to say how much current stability in the region depends on the United States, whose influence there is weakening with each year. However, the Australian leadership clearly designated its position. Perhaps, Australia wants to reinforce its own armed forces because of this weakening of the US presence. Also, Canberra has again negatively reacted to the Chinese actions in the South China Sea.

At the same time, Marise Payne, Australian Minister for Defense, said that Australia plans on military cooperation with China, which Julie Bishop talked about; however, on some issues related to security in the Asia-Pacific region, the views of countries may not coincide, and Australia will increase its presence in the region. Beijing criticized Canberra’s plans to reinforce its military capabilities. Besides, Australia has recently expressed a desire to participate in future naval exercise ‘Malabar’, which has been carried out by the United States and India since Year 1992, and in which Japan took part in Year 2015. These exercises have caused repeated protests from the part of the Chinese government.

In response, a statement of the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed the hope that Canberra would change its position and reconsider its views on the Chinese policy.

It could be said that the Australian-Chinese strategic relations are indeed headed for rough waters. Both countries are strong players in the Asia-Pacific region and have their own interests. However, in order to maximize the furtherance of its own interests, Australia continues to try and maintain constructive relations both with the United States and with China, despite their competition for influence in the region. Australia is also one of the founders of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank launched by the Chinese initiative to finance the ‘New Silk Road’ project, so we may assume that, in spite of the current differences, both Australia and China are unlikely to seek any form of diplomatic complication in the South China Seas.

The UN’s MH-17 tribunal and international anti-Russian policy

This week Russia’s vetoing of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) draft resolution proposing an international tribunal  dealing with the Malaysia Airlines MH17 shootdown over Ukraine in 2014 saw widespread condemnation across the West. The anti-Russian rhetoric that we see chiefly coming from the US, Europe and Australia is in keeping with the foreign policies employed to further their own agendas with Russia.

Russia exercised its veto at the Security Council session in New York during a vote on Wednesday, while 11 other members backed the draft resolution. Angola, China and Venezuela abstained.

Russia exercised its veto at the Security Council session in New York during a vote on Wednesday, while 11 other members backed the draft resolution. Angola, China and Venezuela abstained.

While Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called the Russian veto “an affront to the memory of the 298 victims of MH17 and their families and friends,” and has vowed to pursue “an alternative prosecution mechanism” with Malaysia, the Netherlands, Ukraine and Belgium, but stopped short of elaborating in similarly emotive language Samantha Power, neo-conservative war hawk and US ambassador to the UN said that, “Russia has callously disregarded the public outcry in the grieving nations.”  This alludes to the fact that what had been proposed in the UNSC was a contrived tribunal to prosecute who was already seen as the criminal defendants, a move also likely prejudice the outcome of the as-yet unfinished air crash investigation.

Since the disaster occurred in July 2014, politicians and mainstream media alike in the US and Australia have dramatically and recklessly accused Russia and anti-regime rebels in eastern Ukraine of deliberately bringing down MH-17 with a Russian guided missile system, without – as yet – hard evidence to support the claims. Since an accident investigation should be undertaken to uncover the truth in what is supposed to be a scientific and completely impartial way, it is understandable that Russia would see a ‘prosecution tribunal’ vociferously supported by such anti-Russian sentiment as compromised from the outset. Ulson Gunnar, a New York-based geopolitical analyst and writer especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook,” writes that, “predictably, Russia has been decried as obstructing justice with language intentionally used to further heap guilt upon Moscow… which might perhaps be why Moscow itself had no faith in a UNSC resolution regarding MH17 to begin with.

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Image via themalaymailonline.com

In addition to being yet another excuse given for furthering economic sanctions against Russia, MH-17 is becoming another tool in the West’s arsenal of anti-Russian ideologies, now being brought to bear in the United Nations Security Council. When considering the international flavour of the MH-17 political manoeuvres, it must be remembered that Russia along with the other BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) are gearing up to create an economic zone beyond the reach of Washington, London – or Canberra, for that matter. If indeed it was a foregone conclusion that Russia would veto a tribunal sponsored by opposing factions within the UN, the proposal could be seen as an attack on the Sino-Russian relationship.

Russia has also taken the recent move of enacting laws that allow action to be taken against “undesirable” international non-governmental organisations. One of the first organisations to be banned is the National Endowment for Democracy, a Washington-based non-profit funded largely by the United States. According to its website, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is “dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world” and has “funded local non-governmental organisations in more than 90 countries.”

A statement on Tuesday from the Russian prosecutor general’s office said that it “poses a threat to the constitutional order of the Russian Federation and the defensive capability and security of the government. Using Russian commercial and non-commercial organisations under its control, the National Endowment for Democracy participated in work to declare the results of election campaigns illegitimate, organise political actions intended to influence decisions made by the authorities, and discredit service in Russia’s armed forces.”

In Why Russia Shut Down NED Fronts, veteran investigative reporter Robert Parry explains:

NED is a U.S. government-funded organisation created in 1983 to do what the Central Intelligence Agency previously had done in financing organisations inside target countries to advance U.S. policy interests and, if needed, help in “regime change.” The secret hand behind NED’s creation was CIA Director William J. Casey who worked with senior CIA covert operation specialist Walter Raymond Jr. to establish NED in 1983. Casey – from the CIA – and Raymond – from his assignment inside President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council – focused on creating a funding mechanism to support groups inside foreign countries that would engage in propaganda and political action that the CIA had historically organised and paid for covertly. To partially replace that CIA role, the idea emerged for a congressionally funded entity that would serve as a conduit for this money.

It would seem that at least some Russian lawmakers have agreed that the NED serves, or at least has the potential to serve as a means of Western interests using grass-roots style “colour revolution”. American “colour revolutions” attempt to obfuscate all possible ties between themselves and their agitators in an attempt to take back the strategic initiative by maintaining maximum plausible deniability. It would seem the Russians have dealt with US subterfuge long enough that Russia’s emerging media influence on the world stage played an essential role in unmasking and disrupting America’s efforts to destabilise and overthrow the government in Armenia. The protests there were the work of  the “No To Plunder” group, led by lawyers and activists emanating from the National Endowment for Democracy and USAID.

According to Tony Cartalucci of GlobalResearch, “times are tough for America’s ‘colour revolution’ industry. Perfected in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union, and honed during the so-called ‘Arab Spring,’ the process of backing subversion in a targeted country and overthrowing a sitting government under the cover of staged mass protests appears to be finally at the end of running its course.”

 Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a summit in Ufa, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a summit in Ufa, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

It should also be remembered that, in terms of Western economic interests, that Russia is part of an emerging new order – the BRICS nations who recently held a twin BRICS/SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) summit in Ufa, Russia, aimed at actively establishing interlocking security guarantees between Tehran, Beijing, Moscow, Islamabad, and New Delhi.

In an article for The Nation, The Geopolitical Big Bang You Probably Don’t See Coming, Pepe Escobar explains that,

The New Development Bank (NDB), the BRICS response to the World Bank, was officially launched with $50 billion in start-up capital. Focused on funding major infrastructure projects in the BRICS nations, it is capable of accumulating as much as $400 billion in capital, according to its president, Kundapur Vaman Kamath. Later, it plans to focus on funding such ventures in other developing nations across the Global South—all in their own currencies, which means bypassing the US dollar. Given its membership, the NDB’s money will clearly be closely linked to the new Silk Roads. As Brazilian Development Bank President Luciano Coutinho stressed, in the near future it may also assist European non-EU member states like Serbia and Macedonia. Think of this as the NDB’s attempt to break a Brussels monopoly on Greater Europe. Kamath even advanced the possibility of someday aiding in the reconstruction of Syria.

The wrangling over investigations into the MH-17 are a flashpoint in Russian-Western relations. The UN should be seeking a truly international investigation regarding the accident, knowing that it will take the unanimous agreement of the UNSC to secure any form of future prosecution. Should the West act in a truly objective manner toward such an investigation, they may find future resolutions met with agreement rather than a veto.

MH-17 reflects a fear of the increasing strategic depth between Russia and other nations such as China which are developing economically, a reality now becoming visible across Eurasia. At Ufa, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Chinese President Xi Jinping on the record: “Combining efforts, no doubt we [Russia and China] will overcome all the problems before us.”