Warship Watch. RIMPAC war games heighten tensions in Asia Pacific

2018.07.11-Hawaii-RIMPAC-protest-MaluAina-04Three articles on the world’s largest naval war exercise and Canada’s participation, the opposition by the people of Hawai’i and the geopolitical context.

By YI NICHOLLS

The U.S.-led naval war games, Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), are underway from June 27 to August 2 around the Hawaiian Islands and southern California. The last RIMPAC exercise was held in 2016. A May 30 U.S. Navy press release informs, “Twenty-six nations, 47 surface ships, five submarines, 18 national land forces, and more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel will participate in the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise […]”[1] Canada is one of the participating nations.

The U.S. Navy describes the ostensible aims of RIMPAC 2018 using innocuous and high-sounding ideals:

“As the world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity designed to foster and sustain cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s interconnected oceans. RIMPAC 2018 is the 26th exercise in the series that began in 1971.

“The theme of RIMPAC 2018 is ‘Capable, Adaptive, Partners.’ Participating nations and forces will exercise a wide range of capabilities and demonstrate the inherent flexibility of maritime forces. These capabilities range from disaster relief and maritime security operations to sea control and complex warfighting. The relevant, realistic training program includes amphibious operations, gunnery, missile, anti-submarine and air defence exercises, as well as counter-piracy operations, mine clearance operations, explosive ordnance disposal, and diving and salvage operations.”

It is important to keep in mind the context for the exercises. The U.S. military and navy is anything but an innocuous force worldwide. The U.S. has suspended this year’s U.S.-south Korea Freedom Guardian war exercises around the Korean Peninsula. It finally admitted that these “strictly defensive exercises” directed against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) are in fact provocative and counter to the nascent peace process underway between itself and the DPRK. This example makes the obvious point that war games carried out by an imperialist power such as the U.S. have an inherently aggressive aim that is not compatible with the peaceful resolution of disputes between peoples and countries. This raises the question of which countries are being targeted through RIMPAC?

China disinvited from 2018 RIMPAC

This year’s exercise takes place under the Trump administration’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy (FOIPS). Joshua Kurlantzick, in a February 21 item for the Council on Foreign Relations, writes, “After declaring the ‘rebalance’ to Asia dead, the Trump administration’s ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ strategy appears to be pursuing similar goals: containing China’s ability to dominate Asia and bolstering partnerships with major partners in Asia like Australia, India, and Japan.”

Thus, while China has been a participant at previous editions of RIMPAC, most recently in 2016, U.S. Department of Defense spokesman Marine Lt. Col. Christopher Logan announced in May that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy) would not take part this year despite its participation in submarine safety and other non-warfighting components of the exercise in previous years.

“The United States is committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific. China’s continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serve to raise tensions and destabilize the region. As an initial response to China’s continued militarization of the South China Sea we have disinvited the PLA Navy from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise. China’s behaviour is inconsistent with the principles and purposes of the RIMPAC exercise,” Logan said.

Kurlantzick elaborates in a February 19 article published by the Aspen Institute:

“[T]he Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy rests, in part, on the U.S. and some U.S. partners essentially working to contain China’s abilities to dominate Asian waters, Asian trade, and Asian diplomacy. The president and many other Trump administration officials are using speeches to call for freedom of navigation in Pacific waters, and to assertively and publicly call out Beijing for violating free navigation in areas of the Pacific. The concept also emphasizes states’ sovereignty, essentially rejecting large multilateral coalitions. […]

“This Trump administration strategy also involves convincing three other major partners in Asia – India, Japan, and Australia – to bolster ties with the United States, potentially as a sign of a counterweight to China’s increasing assertiveness and military power. These four nations are referred to by the Trump administration as the ‘quad,’ or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue; the idea that these ‘quad’ of nations could upgrade strategic ties has existed since the George W. Bush administration, in a hazy form, but the Trump administration seems to view closer quad ties more specifically as a counterweight to Beijing. The Trump administration still has not made the idea of how the quad will develop very clear, and the countries involved in it are still unsure whether it will actually develop into more substantial security cooperation. Instead, the quad will likely remain just generally a consultative mechanism.

“Most clearly, the Trump administration has been signalling that it wants to upgrade the U.S.-India relationship. U.S. officials are pushing India to be a major security counterweight to China in Asia as a democratic power, a country that supposedly is more wedded to international rules and norms, and a major naval power that could help the United States preserve freedom of navigation and free trade in Indo-Pacific waters. The Trump administration also is stepping up plans to work with Japan, India, and other countries to develop ways to finance and support infrastructure creation in Asia, as a counterbalance to China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative.”

Quite apart from U.S. hegemonic aims in Asia couched in the particular claims made by the U.S. military against China, the fact remains that the South China Sea is an important shipping and fishing zone for multiple countries in the region who all require free and equitable access and transit for their economies. China’s activities to exclude or unilaterally limit others from being able to use those waters as required, especially in view of the much larger military and economic force it can exercise, is blocking a proper resolution to the South China Sea dispute that harmonizes the interests of all parties involved. This has provided an opening for the U.S. to interfere in the region for self-serving aims by presenting its military might as a counter-balance to China.

The situation in the South China Sea and the actions of China and the U.S. to contend with each other and ignore or use the situation facing smaller countries in the region on a self-serving basis underscores the need to uphold the principle of the peaceful resolution of conflicts between people and countries, and the principle of the equality of all countries, whether big or small.

Canada’s participation in RIMPAC 2018

Quotes from Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Rear-Admiral Bob Auchterlonie, Commander Joint Task Force RIMPAC, play up this so-called leadership role for Canada at RIMPAC.[2]

To portray Canada’s servility to U.S. aims at RIMPAC as a “leadership role” is misleading. Canadians need to pay close attention to the activities of Canada’s military and its involvement in RIMPAC and other such war games. While a hue and cry is raised about protecting Canadians and their “democratic institutions” from “foreign influence,” this is a diversion from the fact that Canada’s military is effectively subordinate to the U.S. military and U.S. interests, while Canada’s economy is being more and more integrated into the U.S. war machine.

This year marks the centenary of the end of the First World War. The fiction has been created that Canada’s sacrifice of its youth as cannon fodder at that time was a “coming of age” that earned it status as a power to be reckoned with. This warmongering in the service of empire was rejected by the working people of the day, especially Quebeckers. Today, Canada’s so-called leadership in supporting U.S. imperialist aims to the hilt, which is also supposed to confer on it big power status, must also be vigorously opposed. The requirement of the times is for Canada to show leadership as a force for peace in the world, and this can only happen by the people organizing to make Canada a Zone for Peace.

Notes

1.The 25 countries participating in RIMPAC 2018 are: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, the Republic of Korea, the Republic of the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tonga, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam. Israel, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam are participating in RIMPAC for the first time. Brazil, which was originally scheduled to participate, has now dropped out of the exercises.

2.A June 25 news release from the Department of Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces informs:

“Over 1,000 Canadian sailors, soldiers, and aviators are set to participate in [RIMPAC …]

“Canada, along with Australia and the United States, has participated in every RIMPAC exercise since its inception in 1971. The continued participation of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) reinforces Canada’s commitment to enhancing partnerships and security in the Asia-Pacific region.”

HMCS Ottawa and Vancouver and one auxiliary oiler replenishment ship, MV Asterix, are deployed to Hawaii. Two maritime coastal defence vessels, HMCS Yellowknife and Whitehorse, are operating off the coast of Southern California. Approximately 170 soldiers from the Canadian Army are at Camp Pendleton in Southern California. This includes a dismounted infantry company group from the 2nd Battalion, Royal 22nd Regiment. The Royal Canadian Air Force (CAF) is sending approximately 75 members with a CP-140 Maritime Patrol Aircraft and a deployable mission support centre. Additional CAF personnel are serving various coalition staff functions to support the exercise. There is also a national command and support team to ensure continued operational, logistical, and administrative support to deployed elements. The news release also states, “Reflecting Canada’s leadership role in RIMPAC, several Canadian officers will hold key appointments during RIMPAC […]”

TML Weekly, July 14, 2018 – No. 27


People’s opposition to RIMPAC

2018.07.11-Hawaii-RIMPAC-protest-MaluAina-03

The RIMPAC war games are being opposed by activists in Hawaii. The Malu ‘Aina Center for Non-Violent Education and Action informs that the war exercises include bombing and shelling the 133,000-acre Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA) located in the centre of Hawaii Island. Malu ‘Aina explains:

“Pohakuloa is used as a live-fire target by the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines and is contaminated with a wide range of military toxins, including Depleted Uranium (DU) radiation. Despite this contamination the base continues to be bombed, (more than 15 million live-rounds annually) spreading the DU oxide dust particles around the island. Doctor Lorrin Pang, MD, retired Army Medical Corps, says that inhaled DU oxide dust particles can cause cancer and genetic damage.

“Hawaii Island is undergoing tremendous trauma from Kilauea Volcano lava flows and earthquakes. Thousands of people have been displaced from their homes, farms, and businesses. We do not need to add to the trauma by RIMPAC bombing of our island home. We ask that the bombing be stopped immediately.

“If the military wants to truly protect the people of Hawaii island, forgo RIMPAC 2018 and use the money for housing and other lava relief efforts.”

Open letter to U.S. and Hawai’i State governments to end RIMPAC

2018.07.11-Hawaii-RIMPAC-protest-MaluAina-01Women’s Voices Women Speak, Hawai’i Peace and Justice, World Can’t Wait-Hawai’i, Veterans for Peace-Hawai’i, Hawai’i Okinawa Alliance and community allies call on the Hawai’i State Government to end the Rim of the Pacific exercises, known as RIMPAC, occurring this July to August 2018. Instead of the practice of war and more militarism, we call for practising peace and intergenerational healing in Hawai’i, Moana Nui (Oceania) and across the Earth. We envision a future of genuine security where our efforts focus on sovereignties, cultural resurgence, health, food, education, sacred places, housing, sustainability and respect and dignity for all peoples.

RIMPAC is the largest naval exercise in the world, and it takes place in Hawaiian waters. It is part of the U.S Navy’s effort to coordinate military exercises and weapons training with military forces of other nations to control the Pacific and Indian Oceans. RIMPAC was established in 1971 with militaries from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the U.S. Since then, Chile, Colombia, France, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Peru, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Ecuador, India, Mexico, the Philippines and Russia joined. RIMPAC 2018 will feature 26 nations, including Israel, Brazil, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

RIMPAC increases Hawai’i’s dependence on a militarized economy, spending our tax dollars for weapons, assault vehicles, artilleries and technologies to use for domestic and international violence. Tourism colludes with militarism via RIMPAC, as Hawai’i hosts an influx of visitors, some of whom contribute to local sex industries supported by sex trafficking. Hawai’i can be used for R&R and host for military exercises because it is considered the 50th State of the U.S., an illegal status since the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom and the 1898 illegal annexation that took place without a treaty and that was opposed by thousands of Kanaka Maoli who signed petitions against it. The military occupation of Hawai’i leads to abuses such as, but not limited to:

  1. The U.S. Navy’s fuel storage tank in Red Hill, sits 100 feet over a water aquifer of Honolulu, threatening fresh drinking water of the most populated parts of O’ahu.
  2. Pohakuloa, on the Big Island of Hawai’i, four times larger than Kaho’olawe, is controlled by the U.S. Army for weapons and military training, affecting the environment and surrounding community with aerosolized Depleted Uranium.
  3. Disinterred and disturbed Kanaka Maoli burial and cultural sites in Makua Valley (U.S. Army), Mokapu (Kane’ohe Marine Corp Base Hawaii), Pu’uloa (Pearl Harbor) and Nohili (Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands) for U.S. military training purposes.
  4. Threats to public information privacy through the Hawaii Cryptologic Center, which houses NSA intelligence, surveillance and cyberwarfare efforts.

2018.07.11-Hawaii-RIMPAC-protest-MaluAina-02The negative effects of militarism and RIMPAC extend to places to which many in Hawai’i can trace their ancestries. For centuries, western empires have colonized Pacific Islands, transforming them into military outposts that subjected the native people to war, rape, repression of sovereignty, environmental contamination and displacement. Today, the newest iteration of this ongoing history is the Pacific Pivot / Indo-Pacific Rebalance, in which the U.S. leverages its power over its colonial possessions for military weapons testing through a “transit corridor” that projects from the Southern California Range Complex (SCRC) in San Diego, cutting across the Pacific through the Hawaiian Island Range Complex (HIRC), which includes the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument and the military installations on the main island chain. Another transit corridor connects the HIRC to the Mariana Island Training & Testing Area (MITT), including Guåhan (Guam), the southern chain of the Mariana Islands, and parts of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument as land, sea and air zones for U.S. Military training purposes. In between are marine national monuments that can be used for military purposes for “national security.” This military infrastructure across the Pacific links with bases in the Korean Peninsula (Jeju Island), Japan (Okinawa), and the Philippines.

2017.05.01.CubuMayDay.Painting:Truck

May Day, 2017 rally in Cebu, Philippines

2018.05.23.1st anniversary of Martial law Philippines

2018.09.Philipino teachers-never-again-01

Demonstration of Philipino teachers in September 2018 against martial law.

The Chamoru people of Guåhan are demanding a stop to the creation of live fire bases, such as in Litekyan, Guam, because they threaten cultural sites and endangered plants and animals. Filipinos are protesting President Rodrigo Duterte’s support for militarization, which extended martial law in Mindanao and increased extrajudicial killings. The villagers of Gangjeong have resisted a naval base for ballistic missile defense systems on Jeju Island since 2007. Okinawans have sparked island-wide protests against military bases’ disruption of local democracy and economy, and the daily endangerment to public health and safety. While the military bases are promoted as being to build mutual security in the region, they are really about the spread of a U.S. ideology of nationalist “security” in which nations become addicted to arms and resource-extractive economies that fuel climate change, displace Indigenous peoples, worsen out-migration, destroy natural resources, abuse workers and pollute oceans.

We demand that the Hawai’i State Government choose to protect Hawai’i citizens, our environment and a peaceful future, rather than support military dependence. Section 1 of the Hawai’i State Constitution states: “For the benefit of present and future generations, the State and its political subdivisions shall conserve and protect Hawai’i’s natural beauty and all natural resources, including land, water, air, minerals and energy sources, and shall promote the development and utilization of these resources in a manner consistent with their conservation and in furtherance of the self-sufficiency of the State. All public natural resources are held in trust by the State for the benefit of the people.” We call on the State of Hawai’i to uphold these Constitutional principles by ending RIMPAC.

(Malu ‘Aina website, July 4, 2018; Hawaii Independent, June 13, 2018. Photos: Malu ‘Aina.)

TML Weekly, July 14, 2018 – No. 27



Struggle for influence in the Western Pacific

Germanforeignpolicy.com

The U.S.-led RIMPAC 2018, the world’s largest naval manoeuver, began June 27 with German soldiers participating. According to the U.S. Navy, the naval exercise will also include operations in the Western Pacific. The region of the Southwest Pacific Islands will thus come into focus, which – even though largely ignored by the European public – has been gaining significant global influence. On the one hand, the influence of Western countries has shrunk recently, while that of their strategic rivals, such as Russia and China, has significantly grown. Some Pacific Island nations have since then been seeking to pursue a foreign policy independent from the West. On the other hand, the Southwest Pacific has become even more important also for Australia and the United States: as the political economic backyard for Australia and “gateway to the Indo-Pacific” for the USA. Germany is also attempting to increase its activities in the region.

RIMPAC 2018

As the U.S. Navy had previously announced, the naval exercise will particularly focus on operations in the Western Pacific[1] and will include the small Tonga kingdom, a state in the large island region of the Southwest Pacific. The region, which has recently been gaining significant global influence – even though largely ignored by the European public – will thus come into the sights of Western military strategists.

Of the eleven independent nations, two partially self-administrated states and diverse colonies of the Pacific region,[2] seven of the republics had been German colonies – a history largely forgotten: the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, the Salomon Islands and Samoa. Only two of the Pacific Island nations, Fiji and Tonga, have their own militaries. For a long time following World War II, in addition to the traditional colonial powers Great Britain and France, particularly Australia, New Zealand and the USA, organized in the ANZUS pact[3] played a dominant role in the region’s politics, economy and military.

Growing rivals

Over the past few decades, however, the Western powers have increasingly been losing influence in the Pacific – to emerging nations, such as Brazil and India, but also to their direct rivals, like China, Cuba, and Russia. Since the early 2000s, Cuba has had ties to almost all countries in the region and provided medical aid in particular. Physicians from the socialist republic are working in several Pacific Island nations.

In 2003, the government of the People’s Republic of China had announced that it would expand its ties to countries of the Pacific Island Forum (PIF), which includes all islands of the region.[4] In fact, during the years that followed, Beijing massively expanded its influence, above all, through credits and development aid.[5]

Russia is also expanding its presence in the Pacific. After the 2009 military putsch in Fiji, its new government was turning increasingly toward Moscow. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was the first senior Russian government official to visit Fiji in 2012. Four years later an extensive Russian arms shipment to Fiji aroused international attention. Following the military hardware, Russian military advisors arrived on the island.[6] For Western strategists, this was a severe setback.

A more independent foreign policy

In fact, the growing non-Western influence is allowing several of the Pacific Island nations to attempt a foreign policy more independent from that of the West. This can be seen in minute details, hardly discernable to superficial observers. For example, between 2009 and 2011 Nauru, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu recognized the independence of the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia – a setback not only for Western-oriented Georgia, but also for the western countries themselves, including Germany, which still strictly refuse to recognize both regions’ independence. Tuvalu and Vanuatu, however, under massive pressure from the West, rescinded their recognition.

After Crimea joined the Russian Federation in 2014, five of the Pacific Island governments refused to condemn this as an “annexation in violation of international law” – as the West does.[7] In 2015, police officers from Vanuatu marched, for the first time, in China’s capital Beijing’s celebration parade commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the end of World War II in Asia.[8]

As an open reprisal to their pursuit of an independent foreign policy, the U.S. Congress passed a law last year, threatening to apply sanctions to countries recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s independence. This would affect Nauru.[9] In spite of the pressure from Washington, the Nauruan government is remaining steadfast in its position – and in January, received, for the first time, the South Ossetian foreign minister.[10] In April rumours began to spread that the Chinese military would be allowed to open a base on Vanuatu, which both countries’ governments deny.[11]Experts nevertheless maintain that a military presence on Vanuatu, in the long run, could be a strategic option for China.

“America’s gateway to the Indo-Pacific”

Accordingly, Western powers are beginning to intensify their influence activities in the southwestern Pacific. In early June, at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore – a sort of Asian Munich Security Conference, where top German politicians have also been participating over the past few years[12] – the U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced the U.S. would be expanding its activities in the Pacific Rim countries, declaring that the region is “America’s gateway to the Indo-Pacific.”[13]

The governments of at least some of the countries in the region, show themselves to be receptive, in principle, to all sides. “We welcome anyone who supports us, because we can really use any help we can get,” the Minister of the Economy of the Fiji Republic, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, told the German press in early June. Whether that help comes from Australia, Germany or China, is unimportant to his country.[14]

“More Australian leadership”

In fact, besides the United States, it is particularly the Australian political establishment that is again showing an increased interest in the southwest Pacific. As Peter Jennings, Executive Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), explained, the region needs “more Australian leadership.” If necessary, Australia must also engage its military.[15] The ASPI is co-financed by Australia’s Defense Ministry.[16] Leading associates of the think tank have taken part also in the Körber Foundation’s Bergedorf Round Table.[17]

Australia is the Federal Republic of Germany’s traditional regional ally. Since 2016, Berlin has been engaged in a regular dialogue with Canberra at the foreign and defence ministry levels – also to reinforce Berlin’s standing in the Pacific realm.[18] Last year German business associations were calling for entering free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand.[19] Last, but not least, beyond its cooperation with Australia, the German government now wants to expand its influence in the Pacific realm which is rapidly growing in importance – also by reinforcing its development aid.

Notes

  1. See also “War Games in the Pacific.”
  2. The states are: the Cook Islands (not independent, associated with New Zealand), Fiji, Tonga, Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Niue (without diplomatic relations with Germany, not independent and associated with New Zealand), Palau, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. In addition, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is still a U.S. colony.
  3. The ANZUS Pact, founded in 1951, is the equivalent to NATO in the South Pacific. Since 1986, New Zealand has been partially suspended from the pact, as the government at the time declared the country wants to be free of nuclear weapons and nuclear power.
  4. “China announces initiatives to expand ties with PIF member countries,” pg.china-embassy.org, November 24, 2003.
  5. Lucy Craymer, “China Seeks to Star in South Pacific,” wsj.com, April 27, 2012.
  6. Ben Doherty, “Secret Russian arms donation to Fiji raises concerns of bid for Pacific influence,” theguardian.com January 22, 2016.
  7. Roman Madaus, “The Bear Returns to the South Pacific: Russia Sends Arms to Fiji, thediplomat.com, April 9, 2016
  8. “Tiny Pacific Nation of Vanuatu to Join Motley Crew at China’s WWII Anniversary Parade,” time.com, September 1, 2015.
  9. Maximilian Hess, “Congress Pushes Tougher Line on Russia,” intersectionproject.eu, July 6, 2017.
  10. David X. Noack, “Signal an die Großen,” junge Welt, January 27, 2018.
  11. Dan McGarry, “Baseless rumours – Why talk of a Chinese military installation in Vanuatu misses the point,” theguardian.com, April 11, 2018.
  12. See also “Asiens Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz.”
  13. “Sorgen um Chinas Vordringen im Westpazifik,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, June 4, 2018.
  14. “Uns ist gleich, ob die Hilfe aus China oder Deutschland kommt,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,June 4, 2018.
  15. Peter Jennings, “Leadership requires courage in the Pacific,” aspi.org.au, April 14, 2018.
  16. “About Us,” aspi.org.au [ohne Datum].
  17. Teilnehmer des 154, Bergedorfer Gesprächskreises “Frieden und Sicherheit in Asien-Pazifik,” Jakarta, 1-3, November 2013, koerber-stiftung.de [ohne Datum].
  18. See also “Springboard into the Pacific Region.”
  19. See also “Foray into Down Under.”

(June 28, 2018)

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