In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Once again on the meaning of Brexit

Posted by seumasach on August 2, 2016

Cailean Bochanan

2nd August, 2016

“Brexit means Brexit!” but what is Brexit? Well, now we know. It is the alignment of the UK with the policy which will dominate the next US presidency:  the strategy of containment or isolation of China.

The May government has not only sidelined George Osborne but also the Osborne doctrine of a “golden era” of win/win cooperation between the UK and China. Ominous signs emerged straight after the vote when the Conservative Human Rights Group issued a report criticising human rights in China and questioning overclose economic ties. Then came the bombshell of the sacking of Osborne and his exile to the back benches. Finally we have the decision to delay Hinckley nuclear power station and the accompanying revelation from Vince Cable that May had form in opposing a “gung-ho approach to Chinese investment”. The decision also brought threats of resignation by Lord O’Neill of Goldman(pro-Chinese, pro-‘Remain”) and BRICS fame.

That in itself is already powerful evidence for a U-turn but it is the international context that confirms it. After the Hinckley decision I immediately checked whether there had been any change in Australian policy, which under Turnbull (ex-Goldman) was about as gung-ho pro-Chinese as you could get. I was disappointed: there had been. Australia had been drawn into anti-Chinese machinations in the South China Sea by the Americans, subsequent to the Hague ruling, and had incurred the  wrath of the Chinese. So they had been prepared to risk the immense gains of their ever greater cooperation with China and integration into Asia for the dubious privilege of doing what the Americans told them.

It then occurred to me that something might be happening in Hong Kong subsequent to Brexit and the developments in Australia-US relations. Again I was disappointed: Hong Kong “democracy” protesters, no doubt of Freedom House provenance, were marching waving union jacks and calling for the restoration of British rule.

In addition, the oligarchical coup in Brazil, not recognised in Russia or China, was beginning, retrospectively, to make more sense. Coup leader Temer was obviously bringing Brazil back under a latter-day  Monroe Doctrine and in the process loosening Brazil’s ties with the BRICS as well as Mercosur whose presidency under Venezuela he is now threatening.

Argentina, under Macri, is already seeing a turn to the “West” and a disassociation from Kircher’s China-friendly policy.

In Venezuela, the opposition is attacking Maduro for his close alliance with a “neocolonial” China.

A similar move aimed at overthrowing Zuma didn’t quite come off but orange revolutionary kind of moves in Zimbabwe, another close ally of China, are in the works.

In the year of the presidential election the main thread in US foreign policy, as is usually the case, had made itself manifest: Chinese soft power is to be checked and China isolated or “contained”. Obama’s pivot to Asia was the real thing after all, not just a bluff. There was more to it than the dispatch of a few gunboats.

This then is the next theatre of US foreign policy failure. But they’re obviously not quite the busted flush they appear to be since they have the power to get a whole range of countries to abandon their own national interests and to be plunged deep into political instability and economic collapse  for what looks like little or nothing in return.

This particularly true of the UK where the strategic partnership with China opened up many possibilities. The irony is that the Brits thought they were voting for national independence. As it is, our society and economy, including the City of London, is to become “collateral damage” of the erratic twists and turns of US foreign policy.

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