Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

Pointed message to China [The Age]


Now that the ‘tide of war’ has receded in the Middle East, the US turns its attention back onto the Asia-Pacific. For the first time in a while, the US stands up to openly criticise China as President Obama continues to make ‘pointed’ messages like the one made in APEC (see Obama Puts Pressure on China as U.S. Asserts Asia Influence, Bloomberg Nov 13 2011).

This time it’s in Australia. But it’s compounded with action – especially so after the announcement of a US Marines presence in Darwin, one the Chinese sees as a growing web of links to contain China. Hence, the Chinese feelings are likely to be ‘hurt’ by this gesture as the US pledges it will use every ‘element of American power‘ to champion ‘security, prosperity and dignity’ for the region. Despite Chinese reservations, Australian foreign minister Kevin Rudd made rather clear the Aussie right to self-determinism:

”Let’s just be very blunt about it: we are not going to have our national security policy dictated by any other external power. It’s a sovereign matter for Australia. We don’t seek to dictate to the Chinese on what their national security policy should be.”

This balancing act Australia has to play is not straightforward. Through the ANZUS treaty, Australia and the US have been formal allies since 1951. Today it relies on American hard power as an important part of its long-range strategic shield. On the other hand, it has to hedge this relationship of security with the relationship of economic opportunity with China.

– – –

Pointed message to China
Michelle Grattan, Dylan Welch and Daniel Flitton
Source – The Age, published November 18, 2011

Close allies: Julia Gillard and Barack Obama leave the House of Representatives after the President’s address yesterday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

BARACK Obama has used the last day of his Australian visit to deliver a pointed message to China, pledging to use ”every element of American power” to pursue security, prosperity and dignity for all in the Asia Pacific.

A day after the announcement of an increased American military presence in Australia drew a sharp response from Beijing, the President gave a sweeping outline of his vision for an expanded US role in the region.

Now that ”the tide of war” was receding elsewhere, America was enhancing its presence in the Asia Pacific and re-engaging with regional organisations, he told a joint sitting of Parliament in Canberra.

”After a decade in which we fought two wars that cost us dearly, in blood and treasure, the United States is turning our attention to the vast potential of the Asia-Pacific region,” Mr Obama said.

He said the US would continue efforts to build a co-operative relationship with China – including greater communication with its military – even as it spoke ”candidly to Beijing about the importance of upholding international norms and respecting the universal human rights of the Chinese people”.

On Wednesday, after Julia Gillard and Mr Obama unveiled the expanded US-Australia military partnership, China’s reaction was strong. “It may not be quite appropriate to intensify and expand military alliances and may not be in the interest of countries within this region,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said.

Yesterday the response was more muted when Mr Liu was asked about Mr Obama’s speech in Canberra. ”We think that when countries are developing relations between themselves, they should consider the interests of other countries and of the region, as well as regional peace and stability.”

But there was a diplomatic stir in Canberra after China was not represented in the audience for Mr Obama’s speech – an event attended by almost every other diplomatic mission.

A Chinese embassy spokeswoman last night told The Age a Chinese diplomat had asked to attend the speech in place of ambassador Chen Yuming, who is away on leave in China, but that Australia had refused the request.

”The embassy asked the organiser whether our charge d’affaires could attend and was told the invitation was strictly non-transferable,” she said.

Mr Obama’s visit received wide media coverage in the US, with The New York Times and other newspapers prominently reporting the plan for an expanded military alliance and China’s sharp reaction.

After including a visit to the Australian War Memorial on his final day

in Canberra, Mr Obama flew to Darwin, where he appeared with Ms Gillard at the RAAF base and about 2000 Australian troops gave him a standing ovation. Continuing his embrace of Australian vernacular, Mr Obama led a chant of ”Aussie Aussie Aussie” and said: ”I enjoyed that. You are all true blue.”

He said he was proud to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the ANZUS alliance and couldn’t think of a better group to do it with. ”You are the backbone of our countries, some of the toughest people in the world.”

Earlier, in his address to Parliament, Mr Obama said a proposed reduction in US defence spending would not come at the expense of the Asia Pacific.

”We will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region. We will preserve our unique ability to project power and deter threats to peace.”

Within weeks, the last American troops would leave Iraq and ”our war there will be over”, while in Afghanistan a transition had begun so coalition forces could draw down.

”The tide of war is receding, and America is looking ahead,” he said. ”So let there be no doubt: in the Asia Pacific in the 21st century, the United States of America is all in.”

The address was enthusiastically received by both sides of politics. MPs jostled to shake the President’s hand as he moved round the chamber.

But grumbles over the new US focus are being felt across the region. Indonesia, after responding coolly to the extra US troops on its doorstep, was privately critical of Australia’s handling of the announcement, having been given notice in a formal briefing just a day before the President arrived.

But Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd last night insisted the government had been ”very assiduous” in briefing Indonesia and China. The Chinese had reservations but the government would not be changing its policy, Mr Rudd told the ABC.

”Let’s just be very blunt about it: we are not going to have our national security policy dictated by any other external power. It’s a sovereign matter for Australia. We don’t seek to dictate to the Chinese on what their national security policy should be.”

Addressing Parliament before Mr Obama, Ms Gillard said the expanded military partnership with the US ”will see our alliance remain a stabilising influence in a new century of regional change”.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said the Coalition would be happy to see another Australian-US joint facility established so the new arrangements – which will build to up to 2500 marines here for six months a year – could become more permanent. He had a meeting with Mr Obama during which he congratulated him on the death of Osama bin Laden.

Alan Dupont, of the Centre for International Security Studies in Sydney, said Australia was becoming more important to the US because of geography. The two countries were in a ”strategic embrace” and he expected the number of US troops in Australia to grow, providing a secure bastion for the US to intervene in hot spots around the world.

Rod Lyon, of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said while Mr Obama had been criticised for his tone on China, he had made no implicit threat to Beijing. With

JOHN GARNAUT, AAP

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Filed under: Australia, Greater China, Influence, International Relations, Politics, Public Diplomacy, Soft Power, Strategy, The Age, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, Trade

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