By James Grubel and Caren Bohan, Globe and Mail, November 15, 2011
U.S. President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Wednesday unveiled plans for a deepening of the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific, starting with thousands of U.S. Marines operating out of a defacto military base in the Australian port of Darwin.
U.S. troops in Darwin, only 820 kilometres from Indonesia, would be able to react quickly to any humanitarian and security issues in Southeast Asia, where disputes over sovereignty of the South China Sea are causing rising tensions.
“With my visit to the region I am making it clear that the United States is stepping up its commitment to the entire Asia-Pacific region,” Mr. Obama told a joint news conference with Ms. Gillard in Canberra.
Deployment of an initial company of 200-250 Marines would begin in 2012 and expand to up to 2,500 eventually, Ms. Gillard said.
The move may be seen by Beijing as further evidence of Washington’s attempt to encircle China, with U.S. bases in Japan and Korea and now troops in Australia.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin, asked about the proposed deepening of military co-operation, said China stood for “peaceful development and co-operation.”
Mr. Liu sidestepped a question on whether China objected to the U.S.-Australia agreement, saying Beijing, like Australia and the United States, valued improved co-operation.
“As for using the form of a military alliance, China has its own concepts of friendly co-operation with all countries. Put simply, the path of peaceful development to achieve the shared aspirations of the international community. China never engages in military alliances.”
Of course, China does not enegage in military alliances. Believing their country to be the Middle Kingdom, above the fray of the barbarians from the west, they merely swamp their diplomatic guests with gifts, including expensive jewellery, entertainment and more, until, as expected, their western guests become exhausted after failing to achieve whatever diplomatic initiative they came to achieve, like the establishment of an embassy in the early days, and return home with "their tails between their legs". (See Kissinger's On China for evidence.)
China is both inscrutable and indomitable; she dances to her own drummer; she controls her own people and consequently who can expect her to enter into any military alliances, especially when, in more modern times, she controls so much of the world's economy.
Recent rumblings of China's development of a new military fighter jet is a little aberrant, given her history of downplaying a presence of hard power, in military terms.
Whether this move by the U.S. (imagine a Democratic president increasing U.S. military presence in Australia!) is specifically aimed at China or potentially also at a possible terrorist threat in the region is not at all clear. However, the world has been served notice that the U.S., suffering from exhaustive and indeterminate debate over measures to control her debt and deficit ($1 trillion plus of which is owned in U.S. Treasury Bills by China) intends to play an active role in future potential world conflicts, and considers Australia a strategic location for some 2500 marines when the project has been fully established.
There will be those on the right in the U.S. who will champion this announcement, and the political importance cannot be underestimated. Obama needs those independent voters in November 2012 to support his bid for a second term. However, to reduce this announcement to mere politics is to insult both the U.S. and the Obama Administration. There is too much intelligence and vision in the decision to render it merely a political diversion from the hard news of American dailies.