On the eve of Obama’s trip to South-East Asia to re-ignite the “Cold War” the US is telling their lacky Australia to “toe the line”
Just one week after winning a second term Barak Obama is about to make a trip to Thailand, Burma, and Cambodia to bolster support for US competition in the region against China.
Normally such a trip to countries like Burma where there is still a long way to go in human rights and economic reforms would not be made by a US President.
However Long standing US government principles are being tossed aside in the interests of increasing US influence in the region, reminiscent of the “Cold War” days of the 1960s.
Obama has put the new Chinese Administration on notice that his coming term will be one of competition in winning the ‘hearts and minds’ (read handouts) of the nations surrounding China.
However just a few days before Obama is due to arrive in Bangkok and attend the US-ASEAN and East Asia Summits in Cambodia, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, accompanied by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will visit Australia for an annual meeting of ministers (AUSMIN).
But the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Dr. Campbell has told the Australian press the US administration is far from happy about Australian defense spending budget cuts and Australia must pull its weight and not freeload on the US.
Dr. Campbell highlighted US anger at Australia saying “I’ve signaled that it is important. We count on Australia in so many ways. This is one of the topics that we’re going to be engaged closely on”.
This is not the first time a US administration has publicly shown their displeasure at Australia, with the deputy Secretary of Defense under the Bush administration Richard Armitage voicing concerns about Australia’s defense budget and ability to work with the US.
However this time round voices on the Capital and Pentagon in Washington are murmuring that the Australian defense spending cuts threaten Australia’s credibility as an alley to the US – “Australia is freeloading on the American taxpayer”.
US officials believe they are doing Australia a favor by stationing US marines and air force in Darwin and Australia is taking advantage.
For the record, Australia’s defense budget has dropped to 1.56% of GDP compared to 1.8% last year. Ironically the US unease with Australian cuts occurs at a time when the US is doing the same thing.
Australia actually wants a further US escalation of commitment and during Hillary Clinton’s visit to Australia will showcase its Techport Maritime Defense Centre facilities with the hope of getting a lucrative contract to service the US Pacific Fleet.
However this may be unlikely as US law prohibits major ship repairs from being undertaken outside the US.
Only voyage repairs can be done, which are currently undertaken with other allies in the region closer to China, Singapore and Japan. It’s a “pipedream” for Australia as the country has never done well in sharing the spoils of war with the US.
Australia did very poorly in obtaining business contracts in Iraq after the invasion, and even though the country did it’s fair share of the fighting in WWII had to almost beg for a term on the UN Security Council earlier this year.
From Australia’s point of view the US interest in stationing troops in Australia is a windfall. Mineral exports to China and US troops spending on the Australian mainland is good for the economy. It’s also innovative outsourcing for defense needs until the US has woken up.
Just two weeks after Australia’s Premier Julia Gillard launched the Australia in the Asian Century policy paper, the region is watching the US browbeat Australia into submission once again. Hardly a sign that Australia is a truly independent country.
On the wider regional stage, the Obama administration is going for “first strike” against China in what promises to be an unofficial “cold war”. Asian nations will this time around take advantage of the major powers attempts to shift detente with their long shopping lists.
Prof. Murray Hunter is one of the frequent contributors for The 4th Media.