The gunboat diplomacy over welcoming US troops
The pace of change in US policy over recent weeks has been frenetic, partly to position Barack Obama for the presidential race next year, partly to take attention away from the failure of Afghanistan and partly because it seems the US has regained its nerve.
Over the past 10 years, while China beavered away making money and rebuilding its navy, the US was spending its money in pursuing terrorists in the deep, dark canyons of Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama now tells us he has had enough of the Middle East and all the action is in the Pacific and Indian oceans.The US wants India on side. Australia has been pressured by US to sell uranium to India. So we will. The US is not worried about India adding to its stockpile of nuclear weapons; in terms of China they probably think it a good thing. As Pakistan and Afghanistan slide away, they need India and they need India to help counter Chinese naval power.
At the same time Obama was in Australia, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was in the Philippines to sign a Philippine-US Partnership for Growth (PFG), but really she was there to urge the Philippines to help front down China. The US believes that it has the Philippines in its pocket, it gave them another destroyer. Some in the Philippines were unimpressed saying Clinton was only seeking to bolster US hegemonic interests regionally and globally.
Clinton said the US was “updating” the relationship with five treaty-bound allies in the region — Australia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand. She said the 21st century will be America’s Pacific century and “… the world’s strategic and economic centre of gravity will be the Asia-Pacific, from the Indian subcontinent to the western shores of the Americas”.
The dispatch of marines to Darwin seems a bit of a smoke screen in terms of the gunboat diplomacy that the US is building up to wage against the Chinese. It is the port of Darwin that she covets.
Basing B52s in Darwin has the capacity to upset the Chinese. The B52 has a range of about 15,000 kilometres, enough for them to threaten southern and eastern Chinese naval bases, including the submarine pens at Sanya. Will these planes carry nuclear weapons? Will nuclear weapons be stored in Australia? Not at this stage, but let’s just see how tensions develop in the escalating Great Indo/Pacific Game.
The US must eye the great empty plains behind Darwin, serviced by the Howard railway line, as a likely safe storage area.
What are the rules of this game? Does the US believe it can break the Chinese like it broke the Russians? What is the end game? Both these states need each other. What are the Chinese and the US seeking to achieve? They need to sit down and talk; they need to deploy the hard talking diplomacy of the Cold War.
And why has Australia allowed itself to get sucked into this nonsense? What have we ever got from taking sides with the US and earlier, with Britain. The US would have come to Australia in 1942 even if we were neutral, they needed a safe base, an aircraft carrier with a food basket, from which to launch their front in the Pacific.
Australia, along with other smaller littoral states, stand to gain a lot more in the emerging Indo/Pacific Great Game, by oscillating between Beijing, New Delhi and Washington, than by throwing their lot in with anyone of them. By so doing they will or have destroyed their bargaining power.
*Bruce Haigh is a political and strategic analyst and retired diplomat
Page 2 of 2 | Previous page