Many Australians are republicans, hoping to replace the Queen of England as their head of state someday with an elected or appointed Australian. Maybe that will happen, but whether it is a republic or a monarchy Australia looks set to keep playing the Game of Thrones.These days America and Australia just can’t get enough of each other. President Obama announced in November that up to 2,500 U.S. marines would be stationed in the northern Australian port city of Darwin. Today, the Washington Post reports that the two countries are planning to deepen military ties even further. According to the Post, this “major” expansion will possibly include drone flights from a coral atoll in the Indian Ocean and increased U.S. naval access to Australian ports.Much ink has been spilled of late discussing the Obama administration’s so-called “pivot to Asia”. Yet the Post article implies the Obama administration is not simply pivoting to Asia; it is pivoting within Asia:
The Pentagon is reviewing the size and distribution of its forces in northeast Asia, where they are concentrated on Cold War-era bases in Japan and South Korea. The intent is to gradually reduce the U.S. military presence in those countries while enhancing it in Southeast Asia, home to the world’s busiest shipping lanes and to growing international competition to tap into vast undersea oil and gas fields.
A lot of the overheated, “inexorable rise” commentary about China overlooks the fact that it remains in somewhat of a geopolitical straightjacket. As these recent agreements with Australia demonstrate, the more China tries to assert itself, the more receptive countries like Australia (and Singapore and the Philippines) become to an increased U.S. presence in the region. Beijing has yet to figure out a way to increase its room to maneuver without upsetting its neighbors. In the meantime, Washington continues to take advantage of this wariness as it works toward developing a stable Asia-Pacific community, dominated by no country, and open to the kind of liberal trading order which benefits U.S. interests.Yet the move from the north to the south of Asia can also reassure China about US intentions. A US posture oriented toward Australia is defensive in nature and clearly aimed at reassuring neighbors rather than threatening China. The US is stepping up its presence in Asia and settling in for the long haul — but it isn’t trying to strangle China or threaten its growth.Maybe the Australians can communicate this message to Beijing; it is certainly in their interests to try.