Washington’s Expanding Military Footprint on China’s Doorsteps

September 13, 2023 (Brian Berletic - New Eastern Outlook) - A series of announcements by the US reflect its large and still growing military presence across Asia-Pacific, particularly in East and Southeast Asia. Together, they reflect a continued and increasingly desperate desire by Washington to encircle and contain China.

These announcements include plans for expanding the number of US air bases across the region as part of the US Air Force’s (USAF) new “Agile Combat Employment” (ACE) doctrine. It also includes plans for a “civilian port” in the Batanes islands, less than 200 km from the Chinese island province of Taiwan. Then there were recently announced plans by the US Department of Defense to create drone swarms for countering China’s growing advantage in materiel and manpower.

Washington’s “ACE” in the Hole? 

A recent article published by Defense One titled, “Air Force expanding number of bases in Pacific over next decade,” reported on the Pentagon’s plans to expand the number of air bases across the Pacific over the next decade to fulfill the requirements of the USAF’s “ACE” doctrine.

More than simply increasing the number of air bases in the region, ACE seeks to disperse US aircraft, ammunition, and personnel among a larger number of smaller bases, thus creating more targets for potential adversaries and increasing the overall survivability for USAF assets.

The article notes:

The U.S. Air Force will increase its number of bases across the Pacific over the next decade, in an effort to spread out and become more survivable in conflict.

And that:

In the ACE concept, a few airfields serve as central ports, or hubs, while several smaller airfields serve as spokes. The idea is to be able to distribute weapons and assets over a large area and to increase survivability, versus just having a few large airfields throughout the geographically enormous region. 

Despite USAF assets being distributed, command and control would be able to mass together assets from across multiple smaller bases for each specific mission or “force package.”

The concept is meant to make it more difficult in a potential conflict with China for it to target and destroy US air bases with its large missile arsenals and by doing so, significantly disrupting US air capabilities in the region.

While ACE doctrine may be a realistic shift away from the relatively centralized nature of US military bases across the Pacific, it will take many years to implement and only if the Pentagon’s budget is adjusted to do so. By then, China’s missile arsenal will only have increased in size and capabilities, possibly neutralizing any advantage the US seeks to achieve by pursuing this doctrinal shift.

And while an eventual dispersal of US air assets may complicate China’s ability to target and destroy US warplanes before even leaving the ground to perform missions, China also possesses a large and very capable integrated air defense system able to intercept both US warplanes and the munitions they would be using against Chinese targets.

US Seeks “Civilian Port” Dangerously Close to Taiwan 

Reuters, in an article titled, “Exclusive: U.S. military in talks to develop port in Philippines facing Taiwan,” would report:

The U.S. military is in talks to develop a civilian port in the remote northernmost islands of the Philippines, the local governor and two other officials told Reuters, a move that would boost American access to strategically located islands facing Taiwan. 

U.S. military involvement in the proposed port in the Batanes islands, less than 200 km (125 miles) from Taiwan, could stoke tensions at a time of growing friction with China and a drive by Washington to intensify its longstanding defence treaty engagement with the Philippines.

The article also notes:

The Bashi Channel between those islands and Taiwan is considered a choke point for vessels moving between the western Pacific and the contested South China Sea and a key waterway in the case of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. The Chinese military regularly sends ships and aircraft through the channel, Taiwan’s defence ministry has said.

The article fails to mention a much more important fact, that this “choke point” leading into the “contested South China Sea” is already “a key waterway,” one for Chinese maritime shipping.

Will the US Pressure Southeast Asia into Arming Ukraine?

August 24, 2023 (Brian Berletic - New Eastern Outlook) - In mid-August as Ukraine’s offensive remained stalled on the battlefield, Russian officials claimed the US was pressuring Southeast Asia to transfer Soviet-made arms to Ukraine.

In a TASS article titled, “US twists arms of Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia to send Soviet weapons to Kiev — top brass,” it was claimed that the purpose of doing this was to “prolong the conflict in Ukraine by all possible means.

The development reflects a much larger problem the US and its allies face as they continue encouraging Ukraine to fight Russian forces.

The Desperate Search for More Arms 

The desperate search for more arms for Ukraine has been a central theme amid US and European support of the conflict since it began. Russia’s military reduced Ukrainian forces, both in terms of trained manpower and equipment in the opening months of the Special Military Operation (SMO). What weaponry Ukraine had left was quickly running out of ammunition.

A desperate bid to scour the planet for spare Soviet-era arms and ammunition was made along with the decision to incrementally replace all of Ukraine’s Soviet-era weapons with NATO equipment. This included sending M777 howitzers, M109 self-propelled guns, the HIMARS multiple launch rocket system, and eventually even NATO main battle tanks like the Leopard 2 from Germany, the Challenger 2 from the UK, and possibly even the M1 Abrams from the US.

There is now also ongoing talk of replacing Ukraine’s dwindling number of Soviet-era warplanes and munitions with US-made F-16s and associated ordnance.

The next problem that presented itself was the reality that NATO was incapable of producing enough of its own equipment and ammunition to meet the rates of fire and losses Ukraine faced on the battlefield.  US and European artillery shell production, for example, is vastly outpaced by Russian shell production. Even after a planned expansion of production expected to be completed by 2027, the US and EU will still be producing fewer shells per month than the Russian Federation currently produces.

In the meantime, the US and the rest of NATO have insisted that Ukraine change its methods on the battlefield to conserve ammunition and equipment, relying more on NATO-style maneuver warfare and even on unmounted soldiers with small arms, exacting a tremendous casualty rate on an already badly battered Ukrainian military.

The recent Ukrainian offensive, launched in early June, proved that this was not plausible and that the only hope of Ukraine succeeding on the battlefield, or at a minimum, to continue fighting on, was indeed for the US and the rest of NATO to provide Ukraine with many more weapons and ammunition.

Recruiting a Reluctant Southeast Asia 

Toward this end, it appears the US is pressuring Southeast Asia, which has so far attempted to remain neutral in the conflict. The goal is to transfer what Soviet-era and now Russian-made equipment Southeast Asia has on hand to Ukraine.

While the TASS article mentions no specifics, Vietnam and Thailand, especially, have plenty of compatible equipment and ammunition that would indeed help perpetuate the conflict.

Vietnam has long considered Russia to be a close ally, stretching back to the days of the US-led Vietnam War and continuing to today. Vietnam is by far the largest importer of Russian-made weapons, including systems that would be compatible with Ukrainian stockpiles and inventories including everything from warplanes and helicopters, to tanks, artillery systems, and air defense systems.

Thailand, while widely viewed as a close non-NATO ally of the United States, has in recent years diversified away from US and European-made weapons and has acquired a growing number of Russian and Chinese-made equipment as well as systems compatible with both.

For example, Thailand has a growing collection of Russian-made Mil Mi-17 transport helicopters, a cheaper and more capable aircraft compared to Thailand’s existing fleet of US-made Blackhawk helicopters. Ukraine has been sent whatever Mi-17 helicopters the US and its allies could find, including those originally meant for the now extinct US client regime in Afghanistan, US state media Voice of America reported last year.

US Arms Package to Taiwan Heralds “Ukraine Part 2”

August 12, 2023 (Brian Berletic - New Eastern Outlook) - The United States has announced a new weapons package for Taiwan worth up to 345 million USD. Reuters, in an article covering the package, would suggest it was aimed at providing Taiwan with “security assistance.”

In reality, the transfer of weapons from the US to Taiwan is a violation of Chinese sovereignty under international law, which recognizes Taiwan as an island province of China.

The US State Department on its own official website admits, “the United States does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan,” and that, “we do not support Taiwan independence.” Yet, the continued support of political parties on Taiwan pursuing independence and the shipment of US weapons to Taiwan to underwrite such aspirations constitutes a blatant violation of Washington’s own agreements with Beijing under the “One China” policy.

Washington’s actions in contravention of both international law and its own agreements with Beijing constitute a clear provocation against China and serve as the central driving factor behind Chinese military expansion, especially in and around the Taiwan Strait.

By violating China’s sovereignty by shipping arms to separatist elements on Taiwan, the United States is neither providing for Taiwan’s security nor underwriting regional stability as Washington often claims its presence in the region, thousands of miles from its own shores, is meant to achieve.

A factor, further undermining Washington’s claims of providing for Taiwan’s “security” through such arms transfers, is the very nature of these packages.

Reuters reports that:

In recent weeks, four sources told Reuters the package was expected to include four unarmed MQ-9A reconnaissance drones, but noted their inclusion could fall through as officials work through details on removing some of the advanced equipment from the drones that only the U.S. Air Force is allowed access to.

Even if the MQ-9A reconnaissance drones, also known as Reapers, included the most advanced technology used by the US Air Force, their utility in providing for Taiwan’s “security,” would be questionable at best. That the US is stripping them of features maximizing their capabilities further demonstrates the lack of sincerity behind US intentions to “secure” Taiwan through such arms shipments.

Western drone technology including US Reaper drones as well as Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones have proven to be ineffective in combat roles against peer or near-peer competitors, namely Russia, as seen during the fighting in Ukraine and Syria.

Blinken Meets ASEAN: Turning Southeast Asia Against China

July 19, 2023 (Brian Berletic - New Eastern Outlook) - US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s meeting with ASEAN in mid-July, focused on convincing the bloc to confront Beijing, follows a long-running US strategy to transform Southeast Asia into a united front against China. By doing so, nations in the region are encouraged or coerced to antagonize China, despite the growing superpower being their largest trade partner, investor, and source of tourism as well as their most important infrastructure and development partner.

Reuters in its article preceding the meeting titled, “Blinken to press ASEAN to take tougher line on Myanmar, China,” would claim:

Washington hopes to rally Southeast Asian nations to take tougher action against Myanmar’s military junta and to push back on China’s actions in the South China Sea as top U.S. diplomat Antony Blinken heads to the region for meetings next week, a State Department official said on Friday.

By turning Southeast Asia into a battering ram against its largest, closest, and most important regional partner, it will be undermining its own peace, stability, and prosperity simply to serve Washington’s foreign policy objectives which not only include the encirclement and containment of China, but preventing the rise of all of Asia.

Secretary Blinken’s agenda is not unique to the current administration of US President Joe Biden. Transforming Southeast Asia into a US-controlled front against China has been a US foreign policy objective since the end of World War 2.

In a 1965 memorandum from then US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to then US President Lyndon Johnson titled, “Courses of Action in Vietnam,” Secretary McNamara would describe a “long-run United States policy to contain Communist China” which he said, “looms as a major power threatening to undercut our importance and effectiveness in the world and, more remotely but more menacingly, to organize all of Asia against us.” 

In the same memorandum, Secretary McNamara defined the three primary fronts along which the US sought to contain China, “(a) the Japan-Korea front; (b) the India-Pakistan front; and (c) the Southeast Asia front.”

The US policy of containing China has continued, unabated, ever since, with Secretary Blinken’s attempts to coerce Southeast Asia to turn on its largest, closest, and most important neighbor, simply the latest attempt to fulfill it.

Eliminating Chinese Allies – Starting with Myanmar 

The US seeks to use all of Southeast Asia as a united front against China, much in the way it has transformed Eastern Europe into a united front against Russia. To do this, the US has engaged in interference in each of Southeast Asia’s nations’ internal political affairs, creating and building up political opposition parties, supporting “civil society” networks to help them take and maintain power, creating powerful media networks to dominate Southeast Asia’s information space, and even organizing and supporting violent street movements and militant groups.

The worst hit by US interference is Myanmar, a nation with a particularly close relationship with not only China which it shares a border with, but also Russia, another chief US adversary.

Myanmar has been plunged into violence since the nation’s military ousted the US-backed government of Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) in 2021. Since then, the US has both attempted to isolate Myanmar’s military and central government, as well as assist armed militants fighting the government and  terrorizing Myanmar’s civilian population.

Part of this support includes the “Burma Act,” passed by the US Congress and included in the 2023 US National Defense Authorization Act. It provides “non-lethal assistance” to militant groups engaged in violence. It is similar to other assistance programs accompanying US regime change operations elsewhere in the world, including in Libya and Syria in 2011, both of which evolved from “non-lethal assistance” and into US military interventions.

Facebook* vs. Cambodia: A Lesson in Securing Information Space

July 19, 2023 (Brian Berletic - New Eastern Outlook) - A recent row between US-based social media giant Meta* (also known as Facebook*) and Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, saw the Southeast Asian leader migrate from Facebook* to Telegram, a social media application popular in former Soviet republics and in a growing number of other nations around the globe.

Global Voices, a Western foundation-funded media outlet, in an article titled, “Cambodian Prime Minister quits Facebook* after Oversight Board review,” claimed that Facebook* representatives decided to suspend Prime Minister Hun Sen’s account for six months after allegedly “inciting violence”.

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s comments may or may not have constituted such a violation of Facebook’s terms of service, however the real issue at heart is why Cambodia’s leadership is being targeted and suspended while Washington-based politicians, their political allies abroad, and networks of opposition groups globally including those engaged in actual physical violence are not.

Militant groups backed by the US and its allies in another Southeast Asian country, Myanmar, for example, maintain accounts on Facebook* in good standing despite calling for, carrying out, then celebrating deadly violence on the US-based social media platform.

US-Based Social Media Platforms as a Tool of US-Sponsored Regime Change

This hypocrisy stems from the special relationship Facebook* and the US State Department have maintained for well over a decade, stretching back years before the US-engineered “Arab Spring” where Facebook*, other US-based social media giants, and the US State Department all worked together to train agitators ahead of the region-wide destabilization of the Arab World from 2011 onward.

This was even admitted at the time by the New York Times in a 2011 article titled, “U.S. Groups Helped Nurture Arab Uprisings.” The article admitted the role of the US government in training, funding, and equipping opposition groups as early as 2008 through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED is banned in Russia), its various subsidiaries and through “technology meetings” the New York Times admits were sponsored by, “Facebook*, Google, MTV, Columbia Law School and the State Department,” and specifically to “use social networking and mobile technologies to promote democracy.”

While the New York Times uses the term “to promote democracy,” it should be noted that a process in which political change was effected through foreign money and direction is, in fact, foreign interference merely masquerading as promoting “democracy.”

Just as was the case across the Arab World in 2011, the US seeks to reorganize Southeast Asia by coercing or removing governments in the region with close and growing relations with China as Cambodia does, and eventually transforming the region into a united front against China.

Why does Facebook*, operating on the other side of the planet from where Cambodia is located on the map, have more say regarding what can and cannot be said within Cambodia’s information space than the Cambodia government or its people? What’s worse is that Facebook’s* ability to decide what can and cannot be said and by whom is clearly done in pursuit of US foreign policy objectives at the cost of peace, stability, and prosperity both within Cambodia’s borders and across the wider Southeast Asian region.