Real Risks On The Prowl

Earth Globe World

When the world was ushering in 2024 cautiously amid rife speculative analysis of the global security ahead in a relatively pessimistic mood, the foiled attempt of purported “colour revolution” in Belgrade, believably with the US fingerprints abound, cast a long shadow on the prospect of world peace.

Though geographically, Balkans is half a world away from Asia Pacific, a live tinderbox in the contemporary power play theatre, the message resonating across the world is loud and clear that the reigning hegemon would less likely scale down its “regime change” agenda through “colour revolutions”, albeit after setbacks in Hong Kong , Belarus and Belgrade, Serbia.

From the US perspective,  the deployment of ” soft power ” in precipitating the covert  ” colour revolution ” from within the target nations remains one of the key pillars of its global security warfare. Invariably it goes in tandem with its military deployment and arms sales across the region where Washington’s security interests lie.

The insurrectional “uprising” in Belgrade allegedly sparked off by protests against the electoral outcome in late December 2023 served to refresh the world’s memory of the modus operandus of the US-sponsored “regime change ”.

Prior to this, the US-based MintPress News, an independent watchdog journalism organization, reported that some leaked papers passed anonymously to it reveal the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a notorious CIA front, is laying the foundations for a colour revolution in Indonesia.

By and large, the skulduggery deployed by the NED-inspired activists finds its commonality in the 2019 Hong Kong social unrest and mass protest in Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Indonesia, where individuals and local NGOs can be stirred to activism or even violence at the behest of the local U.S. Embassy or Endowment chapter in return for even a small “grant”, according to the MintPress News.

As more beans were spilled at the trial of some insurrectionists and their masterminds in Hong Kong, the “money-for- protest” claim is no conspiratorial fabrication. This aligns with what Endowment cofounder Allen Weinstein openly admitted in 1991:
“A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”

This is no less damaging to a target nation as compared to that inflicted by a kinetic military action. In the latter, physical devastation may be the endgame, whilst the extent of damage inflicted by the perpetrators in the former is far more overarching as hearts and minds targeted are reduced to absolute subservience.

A case in point is the inconceivable protest staged by the Indonesian labour groups against President Joko Widodo’s job creation legislation last August. The bone of contention is whose interest the labour rights activists are supposedly spearheading. Are they truly the voice of Indonesian labour ? Or are they mere pawns to play the mouthpiece for the foreign investors ?

In this context, Indonesia is certainly not the single target as the NED is known to have its operatives in over 100 countries with lavish fund disbursements in excess of 2,000 grants every year by its own reckoning.

In the run-up to election in Indonesia soon, these sums were said to have helped extend the NED’s tentacles into various NGOs, civil society groups and most crucially, opposition parties and candidates across the political spectrum in the country. Electoral grooming and training of individuals were provided alongside staging of mass protest should the electoral outcome run contrary to the preset aspirations of the NED. The latter is obviously reminiscent of the recent violent protest in Belgrade.

All in all, the investigative report by MintPress News simply lays bare the skulduggery cloaked in the outfit of ” advancing democracy ” that is now rearing its ugly head in the Southeast Asian Republic — the largest economy in ASEAN that has been pursuing a relatively independent diplomacy amid the rising Sino-US rivalry in Asia Pacific. Conceivably, this does not align well with the security interests of Washington.

From the US perspective, its security interests lie more in creating a geopolitical environment conducive to keep its primacy unchallenged. To this end, the reigning hegemon has to endeavour to keep its targeted region, if not the world, populated with client states.

Prior to the outbreak of Israel-Hamas conflict, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ( ASEAN ) made the key target in Washington’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, notably in the realm of security concerns.

To veer the regional bloc from its present China-centric economic orbit, notably under the framework of Belt and Road Initiative  (BRI), is not as simple as a walk in the park. Driven by such a stratagem in mind, the best bet ever is none other than installing a pliant government in the target nations.

This modus operandus has long been in the playbook of NED, alongside the International Republican Institute (IRI), another US vehicle with a proclaimed tenet of advancing democracy worldwide.

The same was said to have been repeatedly used in the other Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia and Thailand in the recent past albeit the truth was deliberately well kept under wraps by the influential international media controlled by the West.

All these constitute the building blocks of US cognitive warfare across the world. Alongside its ” regime change ” operations in the name of advancing global values of democracy and freedom in the target nations, international media is fully weaponised to enhance the coverage of such undemocratic deeds in the positive light favouring the perpetrators.

Under its lenses, journalism is nothing but a mere tool for disseminating dis- information. Responsible reporting and news analysis are left with no place in the entire cognitive warfare architecture. China, having been labeled as the only country capable of and is well posed to challenge the US hegemonic primacy, makes the natural target of such a mammoth global warfare.

Against such a hostile backdrop, Washington is less likely to go on soft-pedal in 2024 despite that the Xi-Biden summit at Woodside helped arrest the free falling Sino-US relations. Asia Pacific, notably Southeast Asia looks set to be the main theatre for the cognitive tussles between the two powers.

On the other hand, though the military build-up pursuant to the US ‘ pivot to Asia Pacific finds its relevance and significance in Washington’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, its enhanced military presence alongside the hyping of the minilateral military partnership, QUAD in Asia Pacific do not necessarily elevate the probability of kinetic conflict hazards, particularly after the Israel-Hamas conflict has erupted.

Understandably, at this juncture, any military flare-up in the South China Sea, East China Sea or Taiwan Strait would simply be too heavy a new battlefront for Washington to bear, given the present domestic financial pressure confronting the largest economy.

In reality, time and again, the hard facts on the high seas of Asia Pacific should have dawned upon Washington that the continuous sabre rattling of the US warships in the name of Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) has proven no deterrent to Beijing’s assertiveness in safeguarding its territorial maritime integrity as it is intended for.

The recent attacks on commercial vessels with Israeli interests in the Red Sea by the Houthi militias from Yemen has indeed put the FONOPs to test. The intensity of  firepower defying the US-led FONOP and the disruption caused to the shipping lanes in Red Sea by the asymmetrically ill-equipped militias are sufficient to call into question the perceived invincibility of the US navy under the global watch.

The emergence of such grey rhinoceros as Hamas militias’ attack on Israel and the Houthi’s vengeful attacks purportedly in support of Palestinians’ resistance against the Israel genocide have ostensibly diverted the US military deployment focus from the Ukrainian battlefront to that of the Middle East. Unlike in the immediate past, Asia Pacific, a live tinderbox in hand , is too burdensome for Washington if at all a kinetic conflict were to flare up now.

In the run-up to the just concluded Presidential Election in Taiwan, Washington’s repeated reiteration on its commitment to upholding the One China Policy is, in itself, a subtle warning to the fore-running DPP Presidential candidate William Lai who has been going hellbent on his anti-China rhetoric. Reading between the lines, the remarks also signify Washington’s eagerness to de-escalate the rising tension across the Taiwan Strait amid the DPP’s campaign rhetoric that may infuriate Beijing.

Be that as it may, the security hazards across the Taiwan Strait remain looming large so long as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed into law by the US President, continues to allow increasingly greater latitude for Washington to arm Taiwan year after year.

The progression of NDAA from the “authorization of up to US$10 billion in security assistance and fast-tracked weapons procurement for Taiwan over the next five years” in 2023 to establishing a “comprehensive training, advising and institutionalized capacity-building program” for Taiwan through Pentagon in 2024 is sufficient for any right thinking mind to doubt the sincerity of Washington in toeing the red line drawn by Beijing on the Taiwan issue. The juxtaposition of Washington on the renegade province is the real cause for concern. And no “guardrail” of whatever form could ever keep the wobbling Sino-US relation on track diplomatically if the same trick were to be recycled.

In this context, any insensitive move to invite Taiwan to the Rim of the Pacific exercise and have joint military exercises with the island regime as is provided for in the NDAA 2024 could easily turn out to be the last straw breaking the camel’s back that may risk edging the entire Asia Pacific , if not the world, to Armageddon.

Ong Tee Keat is President, Belt and Road Initiative Caucus for Asia Pacific (BRICAP)

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