Alarmism about Australia-US-China relations not based on the facts

The recent Pentagon-funded think-tank report by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) discussing options for future redeployments of US forces across the Asia-Pacific actually says quite different things to what much of the Australian media are reporting it says.

Letter to The Australian

Friday, 03 August 2012
(not published)

Most discussion about options to perhaps redeploy US forces to Australia are way off track.

Those worrying need to study some geography, oceanography and history.

US air and ground combat forces have regularly trained in northern Australia for six decades, often for long periods.

Because this has mainly occurred outside the Sydney-Melbourne-Canberra triangle, the apparent novelty of the recent Pentagon-funded CSIS options paper is exciting the type of feverish speculation down south that had largely stopped in northern Australia by the mid 1980s.

The current flurry of uninformed comment also misses that locating a USN carrier strike force in Perth was discussed in only the most speculative terms.

As an option among many that might (not will) need to be pursued, far off in the future — but only if strategic circumstances changed, the massive funding needed was somehow available (which it isn’t), and Australian approvals were likely.

As the paper discusses, but again only as an option, relocating a US Marine Air-Ground Task Force from Okinawa to Australian bases in northern Australia (outside Chinese missile range and closer to some regional contingencies) is far more likely one day, but again only if numerous conditions could be satisfied.

But no actual use of Australia made it to the conclusions or recommendations of the CSIS paper.

Finally, in grand strategic terms, a mature stance that reconciles China as Australia’s major trading partner with the US alliance as the cornerstone of our security and regional stability is nowhere near as difficult over the long term as various alarmists keep claiming.

For example, in microcosm, we sold mainland China huge quantities of wheat all through the 1960s when Austraia did not diplomatically recognise the mainland regime and while we were actually at war in Vietnam against Chinese-backed forces.

No democracies have gone to war with each other since 1812. Once China eventually democratises the grand strategic challenge for Australia, the whole region and the US will become even easier.

There would be no ideological need for a democratic China to be a military threat to its near or far neighbours, or for peer-strategic military competition with the US.

The wider region’s only problem concerns the period before Chinese governments become truly accountable to the Chinese people in particular, and to an international system based on the rule of law generally

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