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Australia in the world « Previous | |Next »
November 9, 2010

Did anyone doubt that Australia would align itself ever more deeply with the US as the latter increases its security presence in the Asia Pacific region? That increased US presence is designed to counter China's increasing economic political influence in the region and Australia has decided to strengthen its network of alliances with the US. China's rise is radically shifting Asia's strategic balance.

China's rise presents the US with a serious challenge to its leadership of Asia for the first time in decades and raises the possibility of direct strategic confrontation between the US and China.

KimberM Ynakeedoodl.jpg

The problem for Australia, of course, is that China is Australia's main trading partner. Our economic prosperity in the near future now depends on us being a quarry to provide the raw materials for China's ongoing economic transformation.

In the Sydney Morning Herald Peter Hartcher poses the problem thus:

So Australia's income from China is booming exactly as its strategic commitment to America is strengthening. We are giving ever-deepening loyalty to the world's sole superpower yet taking ever more of our national livelihood from the potential superpower. Will the strain tear us apart?

Hugh White in Striking a new balance in The Age works through the implications of this either/or. He says:
The US can only retain its old leadership by forcing the Chinese to continue to accept the subordinate position that they have accepted until now. The more their power grows, the less willing the Chinese will be to accept that the harder they will push back, the more unstable Asia will become.On the other hand, unless the US is there to constrain it, China may throw its weight around in ways that harm its neighbours, including Australia. It is possible that China will try to do this anyway, but that is far from inevitable, and whether it does or not will depend a lot on how the US and others respond to its rise. The more the rest of us try to constrain China, the more disruptive it will become.

Kevin Rudd doesn't accept this either or. He argues for Australia to work with China to build a new kind of collective leadership that reflects the new distribution of power in Asia.

If so, then Australia, in throwing its hand in with the Americans, means that it is now up to the Americans to treat China as an equal. This will be hard for Americans to do, because the US has never before seen itself this way in relation to other global powers. It sees itself is the world's sole superpower and it has always acted since 1945 to contain any challenge to it that power. Barry R Posen in The case for Restraint at the American Interest Online describes it thus:

The United States must remain the strongest military power in the world by a wide margin. It should be willing to use force—even preventively, if need be—on a range of issues. The United States should directly manage regional security relationships in any corner of the world that matters strategically, which seems increasingly to be every corner of the world. The risk that nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of violent non-state actors is so great that the United States should be willing to take extraordinary measures to keep suspicious countries possibly or even potentially in league with such actors from acquiring these weapons. Beyond uses of force, the United States should endeavor to change other societies so that they look more like ours. A world of democracies would be the safest for us, and we should be willing to pay considerable costs to produce such a world.

However, the US is now an weakened superpower: it is economically weakened with a weakened presidency. It is hard to run the world when you owe lots of people money and your debts keep piling up and you're stuck in costly wars.

Does it have the ability to transform its economy and international relations to meet the challenges of a new century? The US, from all accounts, is going to act to contain China. The United States is working to shore up existing alliances in Asia (Australia + Indonesia) and to forge some new ones (India). Is this an example of a shift to conceive of ways to shape rather than to control international politics?

Is this the emergence of the U.S. strategy of restraint that includes a coherent, integrated and patient effort to encourage its long-time allies to look after themselves? If others do more, this will not only save U.S. resources, it will increase the political salience of other countries in the often bitter discourse over globalization.

Are the liberal interventionists in the Obama administration shifting to conceiving the US security interests narrowly, using its military power stingily, pursue its enemies quietly but persistently, sharing responsibilities and costs more equitably, and watching and waiting more patiently.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:23 AM | | Comments (12)


Beijing has been playing the new economic game at a maestro level -- staying out of wars and political confrontations and zeroing in on business -- its global influence far exceeds its existing economic strength. China gains extra power from others' expectations of its future growth. The country has become a global economic giant without becoming a global military power. Nations do not fear China's military might; they fear its ability to give or withhold trade and investments.

Historically, China has been territorially expansionist only in Central Asia. So far as I recall, China's current dominion there is about as great as it's ever been in the past. I don't see China seeking territorial gains anywhere near Australia.

What seems more likely is a future of Chinese/US rivalry in the successor states of the defunct USSR, with each trying to set up subservient puppet Govts. in those places which have been recently and picturesquely described collectively as “Pipelineistan”. Such conflicts might be "soft wars", fought with bribes, promises, manipulated social “movements”, assassinations and coups.

I don’t see Australia having any role in that kind of perpetual manoeuvering for influence in those places. Re-entry of Russia into the game, however, might have much more direct consequences in the possibility of real war between Russia and China. In such a case, Siberia would be among the prizes, as well as Pipelineistan. The US is unlikely to remain on the sidelines in such an event, and I would bet that it would come down on the Chinese side with an agreement to share out the profits of a Siberia lopped off from Russia. Australia would be saved a choice between the rival Powers in that case, and would only need to try to ensure some Australian access to the boodle as far as it could.

None of these scenarios would require Australia remaining an unquestioning ally of the US.

The "pay any price and bear any burden" world-view, which has distorted U.S. foreign policy for decades, may well be dumped in favour of the US adjusting its approach to recognize that economics is now at the center of geopolitics.

Washington proclaim an awareness of the new economic order but does it have a new national security strategy to embrace it?

Will it shift to adopt the concept of off-shoring balancing?

It is true that since the end of the Cold War, U.S. grand strategy has revolved around maintaining this country's overwhelming military, economic, and political preponderance. Until now most Americans have acquiesced in that strategy.

But the costs are too high for geopolitical dominance (a "unipolar" strategy) aimed at preventing the emergence of other great powers such as China. The US can no longer afford to maintain its lofty perch.

Will the US now seek to maintain a rough balance of power among the strongest states in a region or around the world (a "multipolar" strategy)? An offshore balancing strategy would dictate that in order to coexist with the emerging great powers, or even to enjoy cooperative ties with them, the United States must start treating such powers like fellow adults. This would mean both accepting them as peers and acknowledging the legitimacy of their national interests.

Is this what the US is willing to do vis-a-vis China? Is this what Rudd is advising the Americans?

Larry Elliott in The Federal Reserve's latest quantitative easing may lead to disaster in the Guardian says that:

America's structural problem is that it has been in long-term industrial decline for the past 30 years and is in a state of denial about it. Countries succeed when they get the fundamentals right: they see the need for the whole population to be well-educated, not just an elite; they spend time and effort getting products right and making small but important incremental improvements; they make things that other nations want to buy.

He adds that:
The US has papered over the cracks by allowing debt to balloon and bubbles to inflate. Each bubble has had to be bigger than the last in order to get the growth back to something considered acceptable, which is why the US went into this crisis with debt-sodden consumers and over-extended banks.

The US bears the hallmarks of what Keynes described as a liquidity trap, the point where neither ultra-low bank rate nor quantitative easing can persuade consumers or businesses to part with their cash.

Trying to use monetary policy in these circumstances was like pushing on a piece of string; a better idea would be for governments to do the investing themselves through public works schemes.

A weaker dollar decreases the value of Chinese US holdings. That puts pressure on the Chinese to put a stop to their currency manipulation

Why the f&c% are we clinging so tightly to the nation which will likely resort to violence as soon as things get tight? Why the f&c% are we remaining joined at the hips to the nation which has yet to understand that deadly force cannot solve ALL it's problems?

Bloody hell... I've had a fekkin gutful of the clueless, narrow-minded, dickheads running this country!!!!

Judging from AUSMIN Australia's special relationship with the US is getting even more special, now that we have all those shared values
(democracy and freedom?

'Special relationships' and 'shared values' all sounds like John Howard.

The assumption of AUSMIN is that China was a hostile power. Where is the evidence?

Paul Kelly in his Deeper US alliance in response to strident China in The Australian doesn't offer much by way of evidence re a hostile China. He say:

The US is alarmed about China's more aggressive recent stands: calling the South China Sea its "core national interest", its criticism of the US proposal to send an aircraft carrier to the Yellow Sea and its escalation of a China-Japan naval incident into retaliation against Japan.

And that is it. Not much at all. The assumption here is that the Pacific is an American lake.

This post on the China-Japan naval incident in the East China Sea indicates Kelly's anti-China bias, as it looks as if it is Japan that is at fault for escalating the incident.

The little Americans (Rudd, Smith Gillard) run the federal Labor party. Their policy is a deeper strategic partnership with the US and "enhanced joint activities", rather than an independent foreign policy.

The muted independence can be seen in the proposal for an Asia-Pacific regional body

Bruce Haigh at the ABC's Unleashed says that a truly 19th century grab for influence, resources and power is underway between the US and China. And, he adds:

Gillard and Rudd have caved in. Weak governments make weak decisions, they seek the easy road, but I am not sure that all the way with the USA will be easy for Australia in the longer term.

Australia has joined the US to contain China.