BRI and France, UK, US, Aussie Relations
By Mahika Ming
Bilateral relations between France, UK, U.S. and Australia are experiencing unprecedented twists due to the new defence agreement. In the background is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) or OBOR which is the 21st century Silk Road initiated by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) 700 years after Great China concluded the maritime Silk Road under Admiral Zheng He. During that period Sri Lanka established the rule of Parakramabahu VI (50+ years) which ushered in economic, political and social stability a century prior to colonisation in 1505.
According to sources the Chinese navy has had more than 300 ships in 1403 AD. Most were four times the size of the ship which Christopher Columbus sailed to discover the Americas in late 1400s AD. In 1949 the PRC was founded and they tried in many ways to redeveloping their naval capacity. One attempt was the China United Shipbuilding Company purchasing the decommissioned air craft carrier HMAS Melbourne in 1985. Australia expected China to tow the ship home to be broken for scrap.
Australian authorities as per sources has removed all electronic equipment and weapons from the ship and had also welded the rudders into a fixed position preventing the Chinese reactivating the ship. As this was the peak of cold war many were concerned about Communist China becoming powerful. India’s Nehru and Malaysia’s Mahathir, they say advised their engineers to scrap the brand new locomotives and monorails which were imported into their countries with long term plans of developing their own machines.
China learned the hard way
The PLA Navy did not scrap Melbourne immediately. They studied her in detail for years. According to Chinese sources Melbourne has been the largest warship the Chinese had seen and had hands on exposure by then. Chinese engineers had marched long distances since 1985 and managed to develop highly advanced war ships, aircraft carriers and submarines such as the ‘Striver’ which expanded the BRI 11 KM under the sea in the Mariana trench in 2020. The BRI was launched in 2013 signalling China’s rising as a global power.
As in 1985 the West and their allies were getting concerned. In 2017 President Trump while visiting Japan took the initiative to launch an alternative to the BRI in association with partners such as Japan, India and Australia. A critical analysis may indicate fear factors of the traditional powers about China’s growth but at the same time the poorer countries in the Asia Pacific region may use this opportunity to gain from the alternative as well while trading and cooperating with China’s BRI. Japan as we know was an economic power prior to WWII.
They occupied large parts of mainland China and was technically advanced to develop world’s first biological weapons programme using Chinese peasants during WWII. In 2017 USA and Japan took the lead in the alternative BRI aiming at attracting partners of BRI by way of various alternatives provided. Australia and India were also expected to be partners of this effort.
Japan forging against PRC’s BRI may be justified with the historic events. However, some in Japan are still questioning how they would work with USA as they are still overcoming the effects of the bombs which fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Paris – Canberra - Washington
French authorities seemed extremely confused and angry when Australia announced its willingness to develop nuclear powered submarines with technical support from the USA and UK recently. As France is already into an agreement to help Australia develop its submarine fleet, the announcing of the agreement commonly known as AUKUS angered one of the oldest friends of the USA resulting in France recalling its ambassadors to USA and Australia.
According to the Foreign Minister of France this very rare decision has been taken by French President Emmanuel Macron due to the ‘exceptional gravity’ of the matter. It was exactly an year before President Trump invited Australia, Japan and India to jointly offer the world an alternative to the BRI that France signed the 40 billion USD deal with Australia to help the latter develop its submarine fleet in 2016.
Post 2017 many fronts have developed with the BRI forging ahead spanning the globe. When the US, Canada and UK were being hard on Chinese telecom giant Huawei, France boldly allowed Huawei to operate as it wished to give more options to its public in telecommunications. Though French are considering the Australian act as a stab on the back, Australia has only said that the decision has been taken based on national security interests.
USA referring to France recalling its envoy has commented that the old friend who gifted them the iconic Statue of Liberty is a vital ally. Still they may be considering it a security threat to keep the European super power bonded with the Asian super power China closer.
Throwing the Boomerang
Although France has not taken steps to recall its envoy in UK they have postponed the meeting which was scheduled for 21st with the British Foreign Secretary protesting against the opportunistic move of the British to grab a chunk of their 40 billion USD from Australia according to sources . However, it will have a serious impact on the European approach to the affairs of the Indo – Pacific in the coming years.
When Britain send QEII aircraft carrier to the South China Sea it was clear to many that a new move is on the way. Analysing the U.S. behaviour for the past few decades, it may be that they are looking for new stations to send their troops which were taken out of Afghanistan.
For an average U.S. soldier being based in Australia would be much more comfortable in case if there is a major operation planned. China’s BRI can be seen as a definite game changer when analysing the behavioural changes of Australia. In 1995 Canberra was against the French decision to test nuclear power in the South Pacific but having the small eyed new kids are in the block must be a different feeling altogether.
France is about to take the Presidency of the EU while UK is out of the EU and it is certain that EU’s view on Indo-Pacific may not be what many expected. French approach seemed like having more involvements with China with regard to trade specially using the sea routes. The new developments may be beneficial to Hainan to be a leading free trade port in the coming years. As per many experts the French move is “historic.” Aboriginal people in Australia are known to be experts in using the Boomerang. Only they know what if it is missed.