The US military will appear in the north of Australia in 2012, and by 2016 there will be 2500 Marines, as well as a base of long-range aviation and port infrastructure. The Australian group will complement the US 28000-strong contingent stationed in South Korea, and the 50-strong group in Japan - the largest in the region
However, the bases in northern Australia are located no more than 100 kilometers from the busy sea lanes in Southeast Asia, and the disputed oil fields in the East China sea claimed by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan. “Where there is oil, there are Americans, and where the Americans are, there is their military might,” said PIR Center Senior Advisor, Gennady Evstafiev.
Beijing has reacted immediately. Chairman of the State Council Wen Jiabao delivered a statement in which he warned the ‘outside forces’ against intervening in a dispute over oil and islands in the South China Sea. The level of the prime minister, from which these words sounded, indicates how much this issue is sensitive for China.
Of course, the USA could not help but predict such a reaction. In his speech before Australian parliamentarians Obama noted that the current decision is not aimed at isolating China. According to him, “the USA will seek opportunities for expanding cooperation with Beijing, including through the development of contacts between the military, to promote understanding and avoid miscalculations.” However, Obama’s conciliatory rhetoric is unlikely to suit China.
Generally speaking, the current deployment of the US forces in Australia is a manifestation of the US long-term policy of China’s deterrence. And the growing importance of South-East Asia in economic and political terms, Evstafiev notes. Besides oil here are the most important trade routes along which the cargo passes to the amount of $5 trillion a year.
China, as a growing force, represents a challenge to American dominance in the region. In the longer term the potential confrontation can increase between the USA and China in this region, and it is quite natural that Washington is building up allied efforts there, the expert emphasizes.
Similar concerns are also expressed by foreign experts and politicians, believing that such a change in US diplomatic policy could have serious consequences for the balance of power in the region, comparable to the regional ‘cold war’. The Indonesian Foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa told reporters: “I would not like to be a witness to the fact that this policy would have provoked a reaction creating a vicious cycle of increasing tension."
Mark J. Valencia, a senior research fellow with the National Bureau of Asian Research, said the New York Times: “I do not think the Chinese are delighted. And I am not very optimistic about how everything will develop and what the outcome will be.”
On November 19, on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, the East Asia Summit will be held, at which the members of ASEAN will meet with leaders and ministers of the United States, China, Russia, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand. Despite the fact that the focus will be on economic issues, the meeting will somehow or other be held under the sign of the US-China confrontation in the region associated with the Australian initiatives of the United States. The exchange of views, which is scheduled between Obama and Chinese Prime Minister, is unlikely to relieve tension. The problem is strategic.