Editor’s Note: A couple of months ago, we proposed a merger of Australia with America. This, we felt, would be great for both America & Australia and it would be good for the world. We compared it to the Louisiana Purchase by President Thomas Jefferson. This week, President Obama called Australia as America’s strongest ally and announced a new area of American presence in Australia. Naturally, we are very pleased. But we have tried hard to maintain an analytical framework in describing this event.
With these stirring words, President Obama announced the most far reaching initiative of his foreign policy last week. Such an embrace was first reserved for England, America’s mother country and its bulwark in Europe. The next country to get such an embrace was Israel, America’s rock in the Middle East. Today, these regions are mature and are unlikely to pose significant global challenges to the United States.
Asia-Pacific is completely different. It is a vibrant region that will become stronger economically and politically in the next two decades. The region is an engine of growth for America and the world. And unlike the Eurasian land mass, the region is dominated by sea lanes and oceans, the theater best suited for America’s might.
Just as post-WWII Europe faced the specter of a militarily dominant Soviet Bear, today’s Asia-Pacific faces the looming visage of a gigantic Chinese Dragon. The Soviet threat to Europe was mainly military. The Chinese threat to Asia Pacific is both military and economic. The Soviets were essentially a nouveau power without any history of cultural, financial or military influence over Europe. China, on the other hand, claims centuries of cultural, financial and military domination over Asia Pacific.
America cannot remain a global power without being The Pacific Power. The American Dollar cannot be the world’s reserve currency without America as the protector of the world’s highest growing economic region and the unquestioned guarantor of world’s commercial sea lanes. This is why China has devoted its resources to making America less relevant in Asia-Pacific. Rather than calling America by name, China often uses the term “outside powers” to describe America an interloper in Asia.
America has finally woken up to the challenge posed by China. With last week’s visit to Australia, the Obama Administration has taken the first step towards reestablishing America’s locus standi in Asia. To have a locus standi geographically, you need to be local. In Europe, England gave America its local credentials. The ethnicity was common, the cultures were linked, and so the presence of America in England was natural. England was separated from Europe by the English channel. This allowed America’s presence in Europe to be local without being intrusive. With this island base, America influenced continental Europe for the better.
Australia delivers to America in Asia Pacific what England delivered in Europe several decades ago. Australia has a kindred culture and its ethnicity is common to America’s. Australians identify themselves with Americans rather than with Indonesians, Vietnamese or other Asian people. Australia is as local yet as separate from Asia as England is with Europe. Australia gives America its local credentials in Asia. With this island base, America can influence Asia Pacific without being intrusive.
( A Toast to America & Australia – src NYT)
America’s presence in Australia is a game changer for China. China was well on its way to becoming the unquestioned hegemon of Southern Pacific financially and militarily. This is why China brazenly proclaimed its own “Monroe Doctrine” in Asia Pacific. Recently, Chinese behavior with smaller Asian countries had become similar to Soviet Union’s behavior in Eastern Europe. The best illustration of this comes from the New York Times:
- “If these countries don’t want to change their ways with China, they will need to prepare for the sound of cannons,”
wrote the unapologetically nationalistic Global Times, referring to the
750 islands and spits of land in the South China Sea, known as the
Spratly Islands, which are also contested by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan
China tried to neutralize America just as Hitler tried to neutralize England. In May 2009, a senior Chinese official proposed splitting up the oceans between American and Chinese spheres. This was in a meeting with Admiral Timothy Keating, the then Chief of the Pacific Command of the US Navy:
- In Admiral Keating’s own words, the Chinese officer said to him “You,
the US, take Hawaii East and we, China, will take Hawaii West and the
Indian Ocean. Then you will not need to come to the western Pacific and
the Indian Ocean and we will not need to go to the Eastern Pacific. If
anything happens there, you can let us know and if something happens
here, we will let you know.”
We wondered at that time whether Chinese leadership was Just Drunk or Delusional. With its move of last week, the Obama Administration has finally answered the Chinese. Not only has the Obama Administration rejected any notion of Chinese hegemony in the Pacific, it has staked American power to check the dominance of China over the smaller Asian countries.
(Chinese provinces – src wikipedia) (src – NYT)
Look at the map of China and the region. The US presence in England was no threat to core Russia or the Russian motherland which was located far away from England at the other end of Europe. But the US presence in Australia is a spear aimed directly at core China, the entire southern coast of China. This is an unforeseen and grave danger for China. This is why Chinese strategists are so stunned and angry.
The American presence in Australia is welcomed by all the other countries in the region just as America’s presence in England was welcomed by all western European countries. Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam will feel more secure with America’s local presence. Philippines felt so secure that it responded to Chinese threats with a drill in which,
- “hundreds of American and Philippine Marines scurried from rubber
dinghies and stormed into the adjacent jungle [of disputed Spratly Islands] with machine guns blazing”.“The mere deployment of missiles or sound of cannons will not scare us
from protecting our own territory,” General Sabban said as the drill got
Does any one believe that the Philippine military would have braved such a response without America’s shield?
America’s local presence in the Pacific will provide the umbrella Asia needs to become peacefully prosperous and the center of global commerce just as America’s local presence in Europe allowed European nations to become peacefully prosperous decades ago.
This week’s events demonstrate vision, courage and the determination to stake America’s power for the good of the world. Kudos to President Obama. This will prove to to be the Signature Initiative of the Obama Presidency.
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