By Dr Rais Hussin
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 80's 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 it warranted—in his view—no less than the Seventh Fleet to be be let loose upon the PLA.
After all, America made the "Persian" Gulf Straits US territory, why should the South "China" Sea be any different. That his warnings have somewhat come to fruition and innervated his bile 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 health care (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 he wants literal blood. 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 B1 Lancer supersonic bombers and warships to patrol the region.
Beyond our own territorial claims, there is 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 feel 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 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 it's 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 America to grow bored of the the Middle East and shift their focus onto South East Asia. Anyone remember Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and—if Mr 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 America decides to move on. Remember this: when It goes after a country, America 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.
(Datuk Wira Dr. Rais Hussin Mohamed Ariff is the President/CEO at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.)