We Went All The Way With LBJ. Do We Have To Do The Same With Obama?
American news bulletins invariably carry a story about US troops being deployed to some trouble spot.
On a stopover in Hawaii yesterday I was watching the local TV news. It included a story about an Hawaii based US brigade about to be deployed overseas. What caught my attention was the fact that this 200 strong contingent of marines - an advance guard for a force of 2,500 soldiers - was heading to...Darwin.
The story candidly described how this military deployment was really all about sending a message to the Chinese.
Of course, this decision to base American troops in Australia was well publicised during President Obama's visit to our shores last November.
I found it disturbing then that we are being drawn so overtly and conspicuously into a power play which surely cannot serve our national interests.
I find even more worrying the more recent revelations that Australian officials have been discussing handing the Cocos Islands over to American aerial operations by surveillance drones.
This comes on top of announcements that Australia plans to give increased access for the US Air Force to Northern Territory air bases and US ships and submarines to our WA naval base, HMAS Stirling.
The Cocos islands lie 3,300 kilometres to the north west of Australia - they are closer to Indonesia than they are to our mainland.
Defence analyst, Alan Dupont, last week told the Lowy Institute, "our defence relations with the region are (now) totally overshadowed by the US alliance."
He went on to say, "this is now pointing to a different order of relationship (with the United States) of the kind we probably haven't had since the Second World War..."
It's that significant.
Australian territorial sovereignty is not something we should be handing over to another power, no matter how important an ally they have been in the past or might be at some time in the future.
Like it or not, our economic and strategic interests lie in Australia maintaining a non provocative position in Asia. Anyone who has travelled in Asia over the years knows the level of suspicion held about our attitude to our Asian neighbours even 40 years after the end of the White Australia policy. In those overtly racist years we made no pretence about who we wanted living here and where our trading interests lay - they were with Britain, Europe and the United States.
Today we have shed both our monoculturalism and our dependence on the old world for our economic survival - and we are the better for it. Our biggest trading partner is China. So why do we feel the need to pull its whiskers like this?
Consider these facts:
- China is the number one purchaser of our exports (26.4%).
- China is the number one exporter of goods to Australia (19.2%).
- The United States is the 6th largest purchaser of our exports (3.7%).
- The United States is the 2nd largest exporter to Australia (12.1%).
- Total trade (imports plus exports) has China ranked number one and the US is number three. However, total trade with China is more than three times greater than with the United States.
It seems odd to me that we have decided to send such a provocative message at precisely the time China is able to flex its economic muscles.
It just doesn't make sense. But there is little doubt that China will understand the significance of the arrival of 2,500 American servicemen and women as a permanent presence in our country.
If we go ahead and place the Cocos Islands at America's disposal they will certainly have got the message.
The question is, how will China respond? There are other countries from where they can buy their coal and iron ore.