Falklands: China comes into the limelight

9 February, 2022

Malvinas / Falklands
Malvinas / Falklands

The Falklands/Malvinas is definitely a new flashpoint in the global imperialist conflict. While Britain is forcibly militarizing the islands and Argentina is hastily reinforcing defenses, China is pressing against the British, South America is splitting in two, and the EU, encouraged by Spain and Germany, is increasingly tempted to open a new diplomatic front against London.

Table of Contents

The militarization of Malvinas

British missile drills in the Falklands / Malvinas.
British missile drills in the Falklands / Malvinas.

In the first months of 2021, the arrival of Chinese trawlers in the Hoces Sea (Drake’s passage) raised the alarms of the US, which immediately sent a patrol boat to Argentine waters. The Casa Rosada, unwilling to bother its main trading partner, denied berthing to the U.S. vessel. The US sent a surprisingly large representation of military and political leaders to Montevideo to organize from the neighboring country a forceful response towards China… and Argentina.

First sign: Great Britain began to charter direct flights to the Falklands / Malvinas Islands from Uruguay, breaking the Madrid agreements which require all flights to the islands to depart from Argentine territory. Uruguay, a traditional Anglo-American stronghold in the Southern Cone, rejected subsequent Argentine requests. British military missile exercises on the islands followed and, starting in August, a massive investment in the construction of a deep-water port that will turn the Falklands into the largest British fortress outside Europe.

Boric’s victory in Chile in December gave some breathing space to an Argentina that was militarily and politically encircled on practically all fronts. But the possibility of Chilean support did not loosen British bellicosity. A few days after the Chilean presidential elections, during the “Margaret Thatcher Day” celebrations, the United Kingdom Defense Secretary, Ben Wallace, assured that he would confront the “bullies” to defend the Falklands.

Our enemies should not doubt Britain’s determination to stand up to the bullies, to defend those who cannot defend themselves and our values.

The reference to the “defenseless” was a new affirmation of the official British policy which claims to be guided by the defense of the right to self-determination of the 2,400 British citizens who now populate the archipelago. One more fine example of how in the last century “self-determination” has become a reactionary slogan, a routine part of the rhetorical arsenal of imperialist interests.

The Argentine government responded by exacerbating nationalist propaganda about the islands at home while beginning a systematic rearmament. Drones of its own manufacture, Russian fighter jets, helicopters for marines, light armored vehicles and Chinese transports, naval anti-mine weapons… will be added to the new ocean patrol ships, to the resources brought from other regions and to the acquisitions of the Navy in the reinforcement of the southern regions and the “logistic bridge” with the Antarctica.

But the key, as the Minister of Defense reminded everyone, was in seeking allies, both in the region and outside, because the bottom line is that what is brewing is the assertion of AUKUS in the strategic connection between the Pacific and the Atlantic.

On January 15 the four living former Spanish presidents, ex-Mr Pesc and former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, and a whole cohort of Spanish “state figures” formed, under the auspices of the Argentine ambassador, son of ex-President Alfonsín, a “working group” to support the opening of a negotiation process on the future of the islands which was immediately interpreted as a win in Buenos Aires.

The British response? A new military deployment: the installation of the Sky Sabre anti-aircraft system that triples the range of the traditional British Rapier… as if Argentina were its most imminent and dangerous enemy.

China’s new role in Argentina… and the Falklands

February 6, Xi receives Fernández for the inauguration of the Olympic Games
February 6, Xi receives Fernández for the inauguration of the Olympic Games

But then came the Olympics and with them a agreement with China to attract the investments and funding desperately needed by Argentine capital. Just today the details of a swap (credit to buy its own currency) were being negotiated in order to save the peso in extremis from a devaluation.

The agreement contained a few Easter eggs. The most obvious one: to extend and deepen the arms talks with China, until then limited to the opening of a light armored factory and an unlikely purchase of fighter planes, to turn them into the basis of a military cooperation treaty with strategic meaning. The most fundamental: China’s open support for Argentina’s position on the Falklands.

The first British response was already high-temperes. Foreign Secretary Truss tweeted reaffirming the “right of self-determination” of the Falklands [sic] and demanding that China “respect British sovereignty” over the islands. The retort from the Chinese embassy in London added fuel to the fire, reiterating Beijing’s “consistent” view on Falklands / Malvinas.

Geo-strategic bloc formation reaches the Southern Cone and hints at a change of direction in Europe

The election of Boric as president of Chile points to a turn in the Chilean orientation in Falklands changing the axis of the imperialist conflict in all South America.
The election of Boric as president of Chile points to a turn in the Chilean orientation in Falklands / Malvinas changing the axis of the imperialist conflict in all South America.

The entry of the Malvinas into the strategic map of AUKUS produced immediate decantings. Not only Uruguay, but also Brazil has become a true British aircraft carrier and the Brazilian military, with Bolsonaro’s support, is determined to become London’s necessary logistic partner in its military revival of the islands.

And yet, the most strategically relevant change is that of Chile. Leaving aside the disproportionate Argentine hopes for a tweet by Boric in 2013, the fact is that the trajectory of the new Foreign Minister, Antonia Urrejola, and Defense Minister, Maya Fernández, clearly points to a shift already hinted at by Boric during the campaign and consistent with the expectations of trade integration raised on both sides of the Andes.

It is no trivial matter for the two countries in the south of the continent to share a common position on the Falklands / Malvinas, the Drake Passage and the southern islands. Avoiding it was for decades an axis of US regional policy, reinforced by the experience of the 1982 war, where it was one of the keys to the British triumph.

The ruling classes of Argentina and Chile seem to have understood that they will not be able to take advantage of the Green Deal and the new strategic importance of lithium and mining if they do not play a leading role and share the expected transoceanic corridor… that Brazil wants for itself with Peru.

One of the consequences of this alliance could be to make the EU decide to take an active position. This is what the big Spanish apparatchiks are suggesting and what the Argentine government has been trying to do since the Brexit referendum left the Malvinas outside the EU territory.

For the time being, Argentine diplomacy, in full offensive, claims to find good receptivity. The evolution of the Franco-German game in Ukraine and its frictions with the USA and Great Britain could soon generate a movement with long-term consequences. Among other things because Germany and its industry (BMW and Argentine lithium) are increasingly present both as investments and influence in Buenos Aires.

China’s great game and the strategic importance of Falklands / Malvinas

Chinese military space station in Neuquén, Argentina
Chinese military space station in Neuquén, Argentina

When the Hong Kong press wondered where Beijing’s determination over the Falklands/Malvinas came from, it provided an answer in strictly domestic terms: China wanted to respond to British accusations about its Hong Kong policy by denouncing the colonialist practices of its rival. From the point of view of imperialist propaganda this is certainly the case. But it is not the determining factor.

China now has only one base outside its territory, in Djibouti. Its intention is to secure the maritime routes from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic and from the Pacific to the Atlantic with a couple more bases. The first of them in Equatorial Guinea… which has particularly concerned the US. The second should be in relative proximity to the interoceanic passage. And China already has a monitoring base in Argentina’s Neuquén, which no one believes is limited to deep space listening.

The militarization of Falklands/Malvinas is a “preemptive” move by the US and Britain, for whom it is strategic to control the entrance to the Atlantic routes. In fact, the importance of the Malvinas is projected beyond, to the third AUKUS partner, Australia, fearful of losing to China a part of the Antarctic territory it claims (almost half of it).

The combination of the competition between China and AUKUS for control of the southern transoceanic trade routes with the competition between Brazil/Peru and Argentina/Chile to become the base of the transoceanic corridor, is forming the link which, it seems, will unite the global imperialist conflict with the regional one in a new way: economically integrating its regional protagonists with each other and with an external reference power in two relatively stable groups.

In other words, the Falklands/Malvinas conflict, like that of Taiwan and more clearly than that of Ukraine, aims to become one of the milestones in the process of building global military blocs. It is not about some remote islands or a “different and distant problem“. We are witnessing the first steps of the globalization of imperialist war.

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