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The Great Game Down Under: America Pokes Tiger, Cautiously

The new US activism in Asia is intended to be bold, but not rash.  That at least is how we are reading the tea leaves at Via Meadia.

There’s no doubt that the announcement of new US deployments in Australia will not please Beijing — especially when paired with Australia’s decision to sell uranium to India.  It’s hard not to read that as the tightening of the web around China.

But it could have been worse, from Beijing’s point of view.  Much worse.  The President’s tough words for China were carefully hedged, saying that it’s time for the country to follow “international norms” and “play by the rules” but at the same time repeating that the United States welcomes “a peaceful and prosperous China.

More substantially, deployments in Australia are the least provocative way for the US to raise its Asian profile.  Australia has excellent trading relations with China and has no interest in seeing a confrontation between Washington and Beijing.  It is not eager to be the spearpoint of an anti-China front, and China knows this.

Oz is also a very long way from Beijing.  . The United States has troops in regions which are much closer: Almost 30,000 in South Korea and more than 40,000 in Japan. If President Obama really wanted to be provocative, he would visiting Hanoi this week and announcing closer military relations Vietnam.  And while Secretary Clinton was in Manila, she would be signing an agreement for US forces to return to its cold war era bases in the Philippines.

While I was in China last month, people frequently asked me whether the US had a policy of “engagement” or of “containment” with China.  My answer then was that our policy was engagement, but the option of containment was there.  It is on a shelf in the closet, I said; we know where it is, we know how it would work, and we can get it down if we have to.  We prefer to avoid going that route and sticking with engagement, but the option is real.

That remains true, I think, after the President’s trip to Australia.  The Obama administration has pointed to the closet where we keep the containment policy, but it hasn’t actually brought it out yet.  The deeper relationship with Australia is intended to ward off the need for a more generally aggressive regional policy rather than as the opening salvo in a campaign of expansion and encroachment.

Containment is still on the shelf, and it is still up to China what happens next.

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  • Milpundit

    It’s both engagement and containment simultaneously. Every arms sale to Taiwan is a tacit admission that the US worries about a cross straight invasion. Our forces in Korea, Japan and our PACOM engagement strategy with key allies, including India, all have the effect of restraining an expansionist China.

    To view our relations China as either engagement or containment, is a mistake.

  • Kris

    “Engagement, if you want it.”

  • vokoyo









  • Kris

    vokoyo, non ieiuno Sabbato?

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