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Document declassification to define US demands

Written by: (Contributed) on 20 January 2021



The declassification of a major US foreign policy document has revealed influence brought to bear by supporters of the Trump administration upon the incoming Biden presidential grouping.

The declassification was undertaken for three reasons:

to divert attention away from the riot by Trump supporters on Capitol Hill;
to attempt to clarify the position of the Trump administration toward the Indo-Pacific
as a warning to the Biden administration by Trump's military hawks.
It will, therefore, be interesting to note the positions taken by the Biden administration toward the region, particularly with the trade war with China beginning to take its toll on economies.

Soon after New Year celebrations the Trump administration took responsibility to declassify a ten-page foreign policy intelligence document written in 2018, which was not supposed to have entered the public domain until 2043. (1) Questions immediately arose about the motives for the declassification in the dying days of the administration.

The foreign policy document was primarily concerned with the US attempt to reassert traditional hegemonic positions, which have been threatened by competition from China. (2) In recent years China has successfully dislodged Japan as the second biggest economy in the world, and is now set to replace the US as world economic leader within the next decade.
It has been the rate of growth of the China's economy which has shaken the confidence of the Trump administration and the Pentagon; despite unleashing a trade war, China finished 2020 in a stronger position than at the beginning. It now accounts for 16.8 per cent of global GDP as opposed to a previous 14.2 per cent in 2016, before the trade war even began with the US. (3)

The US, meanwhile, has been noted to be 'grappling with extreme political stress', its economic position with global GDP totals remains stagnated at the 2016 level. (4) Other studies being considered by the US Federal Reserve suggest 'an economic slowdown is under way'. (5)

China, however, can be seen to be leaping ahead, as a serious competitor to US hegemonic positions, particularly in its Indo-Pacific neighbourhood. It is expected to grow by a further 9.0 per cent this year, with their share of global export of goods jumping to 15.4 per cent late last year from the previous year when it totalled 13.7 per cent. (6)

Assessments have caused the US to realise their 'military balance has shifted from a clear US advantage into the grey zone as China's build-up accelerates'. (7) A US congressional commission, in fact, concluded as early as November 2018 that the 'US is no longer clearly superior to the threats it faces'. (8)

US-led military planners have been concerned further advances by China will enable them to consolidate a base for their lasting strategic advantage.

These factors had been seized upon by the Trump administration and their far-right supporters to unleash the new Cold War against China; the fact their trade war has been seen to fail has merely strengthened their resolve and recklessness.

The recent riot on Capitol Hill and occupation of government premises can best be seen as a desperate attempt by the US far-right to prevent the inauguration of Biden as president. Those concerned, primarily low status whites holding supremacist ideologies, identify with Trump as an authoritarian leader. They were intent on seizing hostages and their social media chatter had actually been identified the previous day by the FBI as intending to 'commit violence and war'. (9) It would appear they were intent upon staging an insurrection and coup; it was not a spontaneous riot, but carefully planned from elsewhere. (10)  

As their protests proved short-lived and crumbled, those instigating the protests from other quarters, however, sought to distance themselves from the whole debacle. The fact a recent study has concluded far-right and white supremacist organisations have been recruiting inside the US military has revealed how serious the problem has become. (11) The entire US National Guard has had to be re-vetted in order to guarantee security-related considerations with the presidential inauguration of Biden. (12)

There was no finer way to deflect attention than to declassify the document; those who made the decision were desperate, and they were living in desperate times.

It is interesting to note the declassified document focussed upon the Indo-Pacific region, which can be regarded as the most likely theatre of war which has already experienced a dramatic escalation of US-led diplomatic hostilities toward China. It has included the Trump administration continually pushing Taiwan into the forefront of their regional foreign policy as part of their re-vamped Island Chain Theory from the previous Cold War.  

The Trump administration appears to have also adapted the Defence of Japan (DOJ) doctrine to also include the strategic value of Taiwan, as a mini-hub for additional intelligence collection. The DOJ has, historically, centred upon South Korea and Guam for rapid deployment facilities with intelligence facilities based at Pine Gap and elsewhere.

Recent disclosures that the Taipei-based American Institute in Taiwan has a staff of nearly five hundred US diplomatic officials on temporary leave from the State Department would leave little to the imagination about the nature of their employment; they are providing assessments and other services regarding 'US interests' in that part of the region. (13)

Their media releases in recent times, for example, have noted an attack by China on Taiwan 'would be a strategic catastrophe for Tokyo … leaving Beijing in control of the sea routes Japan needs for survival', with China achieving strategic advantage over a major US regional hub for 'US interests'. (14)

Those in senior positions inside the Trump administration now fear their hawkish foreign policy positions will be modified or changed with the incoming Biden administration. It has been noted, for example, that when Biden published an essay on regional foreign policy in an official Washington journal mid-2020 he did not even refer to Taiwan as an issue. (15)

And in conclusion it might be appropriate to note the declassified document followed a common pattern for the Trump administration. It contained recommendations the US seek to reassert their regional hegemonic presence through ASEAN forums which they regarded as central to 'the region's security architecture'. (16)

The Trump administration, however, gave no consideration to the diversity of ASEAN and problem that any consensus has proved extremely difficult to achieve, particularly in light of the fact the regional body is based in China's neighbourhood; the ten member countries have usually taken diplomatic positions to avoid being seen to take sides in what they regard as an obstacle to their own economic development programs. The US has also, during the four years of the Trump administration often not even bothered to attend ASEAN functions, despite receiving invitations.

Other considerations in the declassified document contain a specific reference to the US deepening trilateral co-operation with Japan and Australia. (17) It has revealed just how dangerous our alliance with the US has become in recent times:

                                         We need an independent foreign policy!


1.     Australia's reading of the US Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific, The Diplomat, 14 January 2021.
2.     What does the US Indo-Pacific framework say, The Diplomat, 13 January 2021.
3.     China powers ahead while the world reels, Australian, 15 January 2021.
4.     Ibid.
5.     Jobless claims rise as Covid slows economy, The Weekend Australian, 16-17 January 2021.
6.     Australian, op.cit., 15 January 2021.
7.     Biden on a tightrope between China and Taiwan, Australian, 13 January 2021.
8.     Study: US is no longer dominant power in the Pacific, Paul D. Shinkman, Information Clearing House, 22 August 2019.
9.     Rioters intended to "capture and assassinate" US Capitol elected officials: Prosecutors, The New Daily, 16 January 2021; and, Peddlers of hate, The New Daily, 17 January 2021.
10.   Rioters intended..., ibid., New Daily, 16 January 2021.
11.   Far-right recruiting in services, The Weekend Australian, 16-17 January 2021.
12.   Forces on guard against infiltrators in their ranks, Australian, 15 January 2021.
13.   Beijing keeps a wary eye on new US Taipei outpost, Australian, 18 June 2018; and, Pentagon plays the spy game, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 7 December 2012, which provided coverage of Pentagon planning to development their Defence Intelligence Agency, 'into a spy service focused on emerging threats', with an additional 1,600 intelligence collectors in positions around the world.
14.   Australian, op.cit., 13 January 2021.
15.   PM can act swiftly to help shape US policy, Australian, 14 January 2021, quoting the US Foreign Affairs Journal.
16.   What does the US Indo-Pacific framework say, The Diplomat, 13 January 2021.
17.   Australia's reading of the US Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific, The Diplomat, 14 January 2021.


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