Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Investing in U.S. Power in Asia

Last week, the United States seized the initiative in Western Pacific diplomacy. A flurry of agreements and summit meetings sharply challenges the People’s Republic of China, whose recent actions in the East and South China Seas have alienated much of the region. The expansion of U.S.-Australian defense cooperation, embodied in the announced rotation of additional American forces through Darwin, on Australia's northern coastline, is a keystone of this renewed commitment to the region.

An expanded American footprint in Australia brings pressure to bear on the China’s energy and raw material lifelines.

The United States’ relations with Australia mirror the U.S.-U.K. special relationship in Europe. There are deeper, more wide-ranging security links between Washington and Canberra than any other Asian security treaty ally. They include an agreement facilitating the sharing of defense technology, intimate intelligence ties and joint engagement in virtually every major war since World War II. The joint decision to increase the American presence builds upon this foundation of shared interests, allowing accelerated responses to regional crises and developments, including both military challenges and natural disasters.

At the same time, this expanding relationship will likely raise concerns in Beijing, even as Chinese leaders seemingly fail to see how they have antagonized their neighbors. An expanded American footprint in Australia brings pressure to bear on the China’s energy and raw material lifelines, which flow through the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. It also reassures other nations in the region that they will not be left to face the Chinese colossus alone.

What is unclear is how long this renewed effort will be sustained, especially in the face of projected budget cuts. Whatever the president’s intentions, fewer American resources, including reduced military capabilities, will dilute America’s ability to remain focused on Asia. For all the strength of this gesture, how the U.S. counters the inevitable Chinese military, diplomatic and economic responses will be a key determinant in whether this strategy is ultimately successful.
By Dean Cheng research fellow in the Asian Studies Center of the Heritage Foundation.

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