From Post-Colonial Guilt to a National Interest Based Foreign Policy: The Case of China and the Defence of the Falklands
by The Editor
By Alex Calvo - From Post-Colonial Guilt to a National Interest Based Foreign Policy: The Case of China and the Defence of the Falklands
The recent words by Foreign Secretary William Hague calling on Britons not to suffer
any "post-colonial guilt" and for the country to be "more confident" on the world stage
have been met with approval at many quarters, with a number of voices cautioning
however that foreign policy should be based on the defence of the national interest. An
area where this clearly needs to be the case is the South Atlantic.
Acting in the national interest, however, does not necessarily mean restricting the
geographical scope of the country's foreign policy. On the contrary, it may sometimes
mean expanding it in order to deal more effectively with threats to national security.
There are many reasons for this, one of them being that issues which may seem at first
to bear no relation at all are often connected, thus demanding a coordinated approach.
One of them is China and the Falklands. Although thousands of miles away from
them, the Chinese seem to be paying a lot of attention to the islands. At first, they
seemed to be content to study the military lessons of 1982 but they have later taken
on a much more active approach, recognizing Buenos Aires' claims and proclaiming
their support to the world. Unfortunately, the myriad voices who regularly remind us
of Beijing's "prudent" approach to world affairs, not to mention those who praise the
country's "quiet ascent", seem to have failed to notice the clear discrepancy between
such lofty ideals and the regime's behaviour in the South Atlantic. Also unfortunately,
this aggressive posture and clear disregard for the wishes of the Falkland's population,
ironically from a power constantly trumpeting her adherence to "non-interference",
has let to little, if any, reaction from official quarters. An example was the prompt
removal of a Republic of China (Taiwan) flag from Regent Street during the Olympics,
following orders issued by the Embassy of the People's Republic of China, whose
sovereign territory seems to extend to some areas of London.
A foreign policy based on the national interest makes it imperative to examine the
national interest of competing powers, not to try to "understand" them in the vain hope
of securing peace by appeasement, but rather because the more one knows about his
enemy the better he is able to fight against him. Therefore, we must ask ourselves
the question why Beijing is supporting Buenos Aires. First of all, the seas around the
Falkland Islands, their Exclusive Economic Zone, are home to vast (although still being
determined) reserves of oil and natural gas. Second, a weak state like Argentina, with a
depredatory regime moving fast towards economic disaster, offers the chance of gaining
political influence. Third, in their attempt to leave behind what they term a century and
a half of humiliations, Britain looms large in the regime's view of history, and, although
they may not admit to it publicly, more than a few Communist leaders would like to see
the country humiliated.
Once we have examined Chinese national interests in the South Atlantic, it is necessary
to briefly note their tools and capabilities. These include a permanent seat at the UN
Security Council, a growing (although not yet blue-water) navy, sizeable foreign
reserves, and nuclear weapons.
The seat means that, in contrast with 1982 when the first battle won by Great Britain in
the war was securing a UN resolution against the impending invasion, we can no longer
count on any such statement by the United Nations. This is of course not a big deal, but
since there are still those who seem to be unable to lift a finger without UN approval,
it is time to start making it clear that the defence of the Falklands does not depend, or
require, any kind of international sanction. This is simple common sense but needs to be
said aloud so that nobody is left in any doubt.
China's navy is a controversial subject, and one closely followed by many observers,
not to mention of course her neighbours. Broadly speaking, we could say that its focus
remains regional (although no longer purely coastal) and that it is mainly devoted to the
development of access-denial technologies and systems. However, it is also building an
embryonary blue water capability and currently testing her first carrier. Two threats can
thus clearly be seen: the transfer to Buenos Aires of some of these systems (for example
the ballistic anti-ship missile being developed) and the deployment of a naval task force
coupled with an attempt at "peace brokering" at the UN Security Council.
How could a country like Argentina, with runaway inflation and many other economic
problems, pay for such weapons? As noted by many observers, the Argentine military
has not recovered from its 1982 defeat in many areas. However, going back to Chinese
national interests in the South Atlantic, there is the danger that Beijing may agree to
provide arms in exchange for an exclusive right to the offshore oil and natural gas
around the Falklands.
China's foreign currency reserves may also facilitate an interventionist role in the area,
although we are beginning to see clear signs of trouble in that country's economy.
Following three decades of uninterrupted fast growth, we can now witness a number of
problems including bad debts, unregulated lending, local government hidden deficits,
inefficient state-owned enterprises, diminishing competitiveness and a huge capital
and human drain fuelled by political instability. Although China's post-1979 economic
transformation is remarkable, the country is historically unstable and prone to all sorts
of revolts and divisions.
We must note, however, that some people believe that this may promote, instead of
dampen, Beijing's penchant for foreign adventures in a bid to unite the population.
Actually, we have seen this summer how the regime orchestrated a landing in Japan's
Senkaku Islands (which it calls Diaoyu) from Hong Kong, displaying flags from that
territory, Macao, and Taiwan, in an attempt to promote pan-Chinese nationalism and the
ultimate goal of the Anschluss of Formosa.
This last week, we have seen again the Senkaku Islands on the news. However, despite
extensive coverage by the British media, most observers have failed to note any
connection between events there and the country's national interest. Of course, the first
step towards a national interest based foreign policy is identifying where that national
interest lies, but it is common among journalists to report on world events without
stopping to thing what their impact on the UK may be.
Although it is too early to say how the dispute will evolve, the targeting by violent
demonstrators of Japanese-owned or connected enterprises may well redirect Tokyo's
FDI to other countries, as some Filipino observers are already noting. Furthermore,
it could promote efforts by companies to diversify away from China and avoid being
too dependent on that country. Could the resulting drop in foreign investment lead to a
tipping point? Domestic factors are probably more important, but at a delicate economic
juncture like the current one everything counts. The current string of attacks may also
nudge Japan towards a more realistic position. Would the British national interest
benefit from a lower Chinese economic growth rate and a more assertive Japan? These
are the kind of questions that we should be asking ourselves.
Finally, concerning nuclear weapons, since China also possesses them, the question is
whether Beijing's support for Buenos Aires would open the door to the use of tactical
devices in defence of the Falklands. Argentina is a non-nuclear weapons state, as
well as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and therefore it would seem to be
protected by the UK's statement providing a negative security assurance to such nations
in the 2010 Strategic Security and Defence Review. However, although there are
different interpretations of this matter, such as statement can be seen as not applicable to
countries not possessing nuclear weapons but acting in concert with one which does.
Following this examination of Chinese motives and capabilities, the last aspect to
discuss is how to counter them.
Concerning Bejing's UN seat we have already mentioned the need to decouple the
defence of the Falklands from any perceived need to act under the mantle of this or
any other international organization. With regard to Chinese temptations to intervene
in the South Atlantic, they could only realistically be implemented once China had
secured the First Island Chain and the South China Sea. This would mean, among
others, taking over (or at least finlandizing) Taiwan and forcing Tokyo and Hanoi to
submit to her designs. Therefore, it is a British national security imperative that Beijing
fails to achieve these goals, since they would free China to act in the South Atlantic.
This means that British foreign policy must be geared towards cooperating with those
countries opposing such designs. We must insist on this, not out of any well meaning
generosity or universal ideals, but simply because as long as the Chinese Navy is busy
around the Senkaku Islands it will not be casting a shadow over the Falklands.
It is for these reasons that, while applauding the promptness with which the government
reacted to Tokyo's relaxation of her long-standing ban on arms exports by signing an
agreement on defence industry cooperation with Japan, we must stress our concern at
the even greater speed with which the Republic of China (Taiwan) flag was removed
from London's Regent Street during the Olympics. The defence of the Falklands
demands a new approach to China, seizing the initiative and preventing negative
changes to the regional balance of power before they emerge.