STEVE Bannon really does not like China. I’m not sure what China did to him but he’s made it his personal mission to go after them with everything he’s got.
The story goes that when he was a young naval officer in the 80s, he was so outraged by the fact that US warships patrolling the South China Seas had to sail with their radar “down” (meaning not tracking sea traffic), that this warranted, in his view, nothing less than the Seventh Fleet being let loose upon the People Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
After all, the United States has made the “Persian” Gulf Straits US territory, why should the South “China” Sea be any different? That his warnings and wish have somewhat come to fruition is therefore hardly a surprise.
In any other US administration, the frustrations of a cantankerous alt-right conspiracy theorist could be safely dismissed, but not in one headed — as it is today — by an alt-right conspiracy theorist.
If anything, Bannon has been the most effective policy wonk in the Trump administration, despite the fact that his official role as chief strategist to the White House was relatively short-lived.
His policy platforms on immigration (no), taxes (lower), and healthcare (forget about it) have been followed to a T. But his biggest beef by far is China.
He was the hand behind the trade war, and now it seems he literally wants blood. And he might get it, too.
US-China relations have deteriorated to dangerous lows over South China Sea territoriality. The US is openly stoking confrontation by bringing out its top gear, the B1 Lancer supersonic bombers, as well as warships, to patrol the region.
Beyond our own territorial claims, there is a lot at stake here for Malaysia.
One-third of the world’s shipping traffic flows through the South China Sea, which also contains 10% of world’s fisheries, 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and some 11 billion barrels of oil.
You can see why the Americans want a dog in this fight.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompei is urging Asean nations to stand up to China, and some countries like the Philippines are taking the bait. In Manila, there are mass protests on the streets in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
Before we are goaded into the fray, it’s important to remember what happens when the US presses its own interests under the cover of democratic moral authority.
Apart from the risks to critical resources and global trade, it’s clear that Trump believes his best shot for re-election is a strong stance against China. This is especially true after his disastrous handling of the Covid-19 crisis.
The last thing we want is for the US to grow bored of the Middle East and shift their focus to South-East Asia. Anyone remember Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and, if Bannon has his way, Iran?
Malaysia should be clear that our interests lie as much to the East as to the West. We are a critical stop on China’s Belt Road trade route and one of the largest recipients of China’s outbound investments.
At the end of the day, we will have to stay on here when the US decides to move on. Remember this: When it goes after a country, the US rarely wins. But that country always loses. It looks like China’s in the crosshairs next.
Let’s not get in the middle of it.
Dr Rais Hussin is a Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia strategist. The writer’s views are entirely his own.
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