In relation to the recent boost in American troops being stationed in Australia, one would expect to hear very different views espoused by Australia’s foreign minister who ardently supports the US, and the nationalistic arms of the Chinese Government.
Actually, once you cut through the rhetoric, you’d be surprised by how much they have in common.
President Obama touches down in Australia today, the visit coming as Australia has agreed to allow more US troops to utilize military facilities near the northern Australian city of Darwin, giving the US easier access to the South China Sea. Note however, that this does not mean the construction of US bases, rather, it means that US forces will be able to use Australian facilities. This is more due to domestic political concerns in Australia than concerns over Chinese displeasure.
The move is widely regarded as being designed to counter expanding Chinese influence in Asia, while taking the strain off US bases in Japan.
Naturally, the first place I looked for a response was the Global Times – which contrary to popular belief, doesn’t represent the mainstream view of the Chinese government, rather, the more nationalistic views of some factions of the government.
An important distinction which makes the response in the Global Times actually rather encouraging. Global Times editorials tend to include a hint of menace, which came in this line here:
“Australia surely cannot play China for a fool. It is impossible for China to remain detached no matter what Australia does to undermine its security. There is real worry in the Chinese society concerning Australia’s acceptance of an increased US military presence. Such psychology will influence the long-term development of the Australia-China relationship.”
Which is par for the course in a Global Times editorial. What’s encouraging is the follow up to this piece, which actually outlines the realities of the situation quite nicely –
Some Australians have been arguing that China does need Australian resources to fuel its own economy, and thus the two countries rely on each other. It is true that China does not have many cards to play to respond to Australia. The US military presence in Australia will not change matters in the short-term.
So firstly, this has no short term significance and there isn’t actually anything China can do. The fact that they admit this is encouraging. They also say that it’s understood that Australia has a tough time balancing its relationships between China and the US. Some interesting lines came in the conclusion of the piece:
“Australia should make endeavors to defuse, rather than increase, misgivings between the US and China. This will bring greater interests to both Australia’s interests and to regional peace. In this regard, Australia can be a huge force for good.”
What’s interesting is how similar this is to lines spoken by Australia’s mandarin-speaking foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, when he was the Prime Minister. When he first spoke in China in his capacity as Prime Minister, he talked about Australia’s potential role as mediator between the US and China. Unfortunately for the Chinese, he also spoke about human rights in Tibet, which made them disinclined to support that proposition.
But here, it would seem, is evidence that they’re receptive to the idea, but only on their terms. That’s unlikely to happen any time soon given that the US and Australia have much more similar ideas on how China should be developing than China does, but it’s something of a vindication for Rudd nonetheless.