Last November, President Obama made a visit to Canberra, Australia todiscuss an expansion of US troop presence in the region. Obama and PrimeMinister Gillard reached an agreement which would allow up to 2,500 Marinesto spend six-month stints in the port city of Darwin on Australia’s northerncoast. Yesterday, the first contingent of 200 Marines arrived in Darwin.Both the US and the Australians have been exceedingly careful to frame thismove as an extension of long-standing mutual interests, not a strategic moveaimed at confronting anyone in particular. However, various analysts agreethat a prime factor in this move is the rise of China’s military and theirseeming willingness to throw their weight around in the SouthChina Sea:
This year, Chinese ships or planes began taking more forcefulaction. Officials in the Philippines say Chinese forces entered Philippinewaters or airspace six times, including once when a Chinese frigate fired inthe direction of a Philippine fishing boat. Vietnam has reported thatChinese ships cut the cables of two exploration ships carrying out seismicsurveys.
In addition to the Marines now being deployed to Darwin, there is also talkof other moves in the region including a possible drone base on islands controlled byAustralia:
The US is also planning to station warships in Singapore and toboost its military presence in the Philippines.In the latest indicator of the regional push, Australian and US officialshave said the Cocos Islands could be an ideal site for US surveillanceaircraft, including unmanned, high-altitude Global Hawk drones that couldconduct spy flights over the South China Sea.
Needless to say, the Chinese are not thrilled about any ofthis:
Global Times, a subsidiary of the Communist Party’s flagshipnewspaper, People’s Daily, wrote Tuesday that the United States was tryingto “form a gang” against China’s territorial claims on the South ChinaSea.
A joint report issued by the Brookings Institution yesterday suggests thattensions are on the rise between the US and China (pdf). Not surprisinglyone major source of Chinese distrust is US promotion of democracy and humanrights abroad:
On the U.S. side, China’s undemocratic politics with humanrights violations and opaqueness makes its government less trustworthy,despite the improvement in China’s economic and social life in the post-1978reform years. The Chinese leadership regards this U.S. attitude asconsistently hostile in that it is designed to undermine Beijing’s ownauthority and legitimacy. It is therefore hard for Beijing to believe thatthe Americans are sincere in stating that they want to see a strong andprosperous China.
China is right that friction with the US is inevitable. Their communistsystem will never be considered an acceptable alternative to democracy byfreedom-loving Americans no matter how much our economic interests align.