The clouds of war are creeping over the Falklands, and this time it could be a lot more dangerous
In the shadow of the Winter Games, President Xi of China and President Fernndez of Argentina signed a joint statement supporting Argentina’s claims to the Falkland Islands. We strongly support Argentina’s claim to full sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands, it reads, using the Argentine name for the British Overseas Territory.
It could be a simple game. Yet, it could also be a sign of impending danger.
The statement comes as Argentina this month becomes the largest economy in Latin America to join communist China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The country is expected to receive more than $23 billion in Chinese investment. Based on precedent, the funding could trap Buenos Aires in Beijing’s sphere of influence for years, if not decades.
Sinking under the burden of $323 billion in public debt, Argentina, like other debtor countries, has become increasingly dependent on Chinese largesse and its promises of foreign direct investment and infrastructure development. Like other countries indebted to China, it risks making political concessions if it finds itself unable to repay its debts.
Faced with a similar situation, Sri Lanka offered Beijing its strategic port of Hambantota in 2017. Djibouti, in an effort to offset its debt to China, now hosts China’s only overseas military base. Wouldn’t the Falkland Islands make a brilliant bounty?
For Beijing, the Falklands could be a strategic outpost in the South Atlantic. Chinas Maritime Silk Road envisions a global network of Chinese-run ports and maritime routes brimming with Chinese goods. For decades, it has invested in ports and related services on the Pacific coast of Latin America and the Caribbean. He is now seeking expanded access east of the Andes.
More importantly, communist China’s access to the Falkland Islands could apparently guarantee its access to two continents and two seas. Off the coasts of South America and West Africa are vast undersea deposits of oil and gas. The continent of Antarctica, where the Antarctic Treaty prohibits resource exploration and development, also remains untapped.
Curiously, Beijing has four research stations in Antarctica and a fifth is due to be completed this year. Their activities remain largely unchecked.
Beijing’s enthusiasm for Argentina’s jurisdiction over the Falkland Islands is therefore probably more than just a nod to the idea of spheres of influence. For his part, Fernndez promised Argentina to continue supporting Xi’s one-China policy, which claims a free China as his own. Communist China’s focus on the Falklands is extremely strategic, which makes it extremely important.
It also comes as Russia threatens again to increase military involvement in Latin America and Moscow and Beijing are working together ever more closely.
In January, Kremlins Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned that Russia could not rule out deploying military forces to Venezuela and Cuba if tensions over Ukraine escalated. While the claim’s credibility is questionable, it underscores Russia’s continuing capabilities and interests in the region. Nor would it be the first time that Moscow has used military threats in Latin America when challenged in its own near abroad.
British opposition to Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea saw additional British military forces deployed to the Falklands amid fears of a Russian-backed attack. The Kremlin compares Argentina’s supposed rights to the Falklands to its own claims to Ukraine.
For Beijing and Moscow, the Falklands conflict is also a vestige of the Western-led world order they so eagerly seek to usurp. Beijing has previously criticized the British colonial mentality regarding the Falklands. Moscow continues to lament a double standard.
In a joint statement issued by Presidents Xi and Putin at the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, the two sides focused on what they see as a trend of redistribution of power around the world. The document speaks of a new type of international relations and a new type of relations between world powers.
Doesn’t the dissolution of Western relations and alliances count in this redistribution?
In 1982, one of Argentina’s major mistakes was its inability to garner significant diplomatic support. Prime Minister Thatcher moved quickly to secure a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the invasion. With Prime Minister Johnson stretched at home and abroad, would he be able to do the same? Would such a resolution pass, or would China and Russia veto them, touting British sovereignty over the islands as, however wrongly, colonialism and calling for a new world order?
Dangerous games, indeed.
Ms. Gadzala Tirziu is the editor of the New York Sun.
Image: President Fernandez of Argentina (detail). Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, Sergei Karpukhin.