Did you know that Australia is the only nation that has fought alongside the US in every major conflict over the past century? For better or worse its true, and after Obama’s speech to the Australian parliament, it doesn’t look like things will be changing anytime soon. Listening to Obama’s speech actually gave me the creeps - the heavy patriotic tone, the chiming phrases emanating a knuckle crack to China, the newspeak about “strategy” and “close friends”…I wonder whether Aussies amongst others honestly buy this crap?
Australia and much of the Asia Pacific Region has a lot to offer in terms of primary resources. Australia alone is a big exporter to both China and the US – between July 2010-June 2011, we exported goods worth $9 billion to the US and, to China, $65 billion worth. Has Australia become so dependant on China for its trade? Well perhaps, but as far as a strategic alliance is concerned we’re with the US all the way. Australia has now officially picked a side in this tug-of-war for power, much to the delight of President Obama it seems. However, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s eagerness to allow a six-month rotational deployment of 200-250 American marines is short sighted according to China historian Stephen Fitzgerald: “I don’t think that Australia needs to be doing this in order to keep the alliance with the United States strong. I think it compromises our capacity for independence in our foreign policy and it might unnecessarily create complications in our relations with China.”
Australia’s relatively small population of 22.8 million people with billions more just at our doorstep has left us anxious for decades and propelled us to constantly rely on protection from America. Hugh White, who wrote of Australia’s “unwelcome but important choices” when it came to foreign-policy and our alliance with the US is concerned that this alliance may not keep us secure forever – “China's rise, if it lasts, is one of the biggest changes in global affairs since Australia was founded, comparable only to the rise of the US in the 19th century or the end of colonialism in the 20th century. Changes such as this reshape the way the world works…Australia must rethink their place in the world... One clear possibility is that Australia might best be served by America not struggling against China to maintain primacy in Asia, but making room for it. If the US does resist China's challenge and hostility grows between them, it is possible Australia will have to choose whether to follow America into that fight or step back from it.”
So what does this “strategic response to a more as assertive China”, as put to us by the US President, mean? White and Fitzgerald both fear that the Gillard government hasn’t got much of a clue. Neither, it seems, does the Australian defence force. Four Australian defence officials at a press conference in Canberra last week were bemused when, discussing US military deployment, reporters asked the obvious and basic question – “why?” The answer wasn’t indicative of Obama’s claim of an “alliance…updated for the 21st century” no, it was an answer that could have been given to the Asia Pacific region at any time over the past 40 years: with the rise of Indonesia, China and India and other nations of the Asia Pacific, Australia strongly believed the US presence was important to regional stability and prosperity.
What I want to know is this: is America deploying marines to give us a hand in a hope to preserve democracy and freedom? With Obama’s passionate proclamation of the importance of freedom, one would seem to think so: “History is on the side of the free – free societies, free governments, free economies, free people. And the future belongs to those who stand firm for these ideals, in this region and around the world.” But at the heart of his speech and the heart of his message, he seemed to be singing a different tune, one of American tyranny and monopoly: “Here (in the Asia Pacific), we see the future. As the world’s fastest-growing region – and home to more than half the global economy – the Asia Pacific is critical to achieving my highest priority: creating jobs and opportunity for the American people.”
See, I kind of distrust leaders who uphold values such as “freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly,” while their journalists are arrested at Occupy Wall Street protests after not being allowed press passes and Julian Assange having to yo-yo in-and-out of hiding. What did he do again, what was it exactly? Oh yeh… promoting free press and “transparency” - another favourite word of the president. That’s the thing they’re all just words, I’m not used to such sincerely delivered hypocracy, Obama, is much better at the sincere game than the right-wing parties of Australia. Here, liberal politicians will just tell you that they’re going to f--- you over, rather than f---ing you over while smiling and shaking hands. To top it all off, Obama pulled this line “And with partners like Australia, we’ve struck major blows against al-Qaida and put that terrorist oganisation on the path to defeat, including the delivery of justice to Osama bin Laden”… I’m sorry, but anyone over in the States want to give the President a couple of lessons about the Nuremberg trials?
Australia is stuck between a rock and a hard place with this one, and we have now, perhaps unknowingly, openly demonstrated a military alignment with the US against China, as White points out: “Australia’s welcome of these proposals is a clear indication we’ve now aligned ourselves in support of the United States in its growing military confrontation with China – it’s that stark. I’m not at all sure the government realizes that that is what they have done. But of course the Americans do, that’s why they want it.” Recent comments from China about Australia being “caught in the crossfire” (People’s Daily) and a re-assuring heads up from Song Xiaojun, a former Chinese army strategist that “Chinese missiles can reach Australia” aren’t comforting.
It seems that tension is brewing, and my fear, which I’m sure others share is that the Asia Pacific is a soon-to-be mixture of mistakes and repeated histories – a new Middle East with more than a few similarities to the Cold War.
Al Jazeera, November 16, 2011
Obama’s Address to Parliament, November 17, 2011
Sydney Morning Herald News Review November 12-13, 2011
Sydney Morning Herald News Review November 19-20, 2011
The Australian September 13, 2010