US President Barack Obama arrived in Australia today for a long-delayed visit. It is reported that Obama is going to announce an expanded US military presence in Australia. The move is widely seen as a renewal of the US-Australia alliance to keep China in check.
It is also interpreted as a choice made by Australia between the US and China, the two largest Asia-Pacific powers. Prime Minister Julia Gillard refuted the interpretation Tuesday, saying that "it is well and truly possible for us, in this growing region of the world, to have an ally in the US and to have deep friendships in our region, including with China."
Nevertheless, both Chinese and Australian media outlets know that this is merely diplomatic parlance. Some Australians worry that this unfriendly move will harm their country's relationship with China, its largest trade partner.
Apparently, Australia aspires to a situation where it maximizes political and security benefits from its alliance with the US while gaining the greatest economic interests from China. However, Gillard may be ignoring something - their economic cooperation with China does not pose any threat to the US, whereas the Australia-US military alliance serves to counter China.
Australia surely cannot play China for a fool. It is impossible for China to remain detached no matter what Australia does to undermine its security. There is real worry in the Chinese society concerning Australia's acceptance of an increased US military presence. Such psychology will influence the long-term development of the Australia-China relationship.
Some Australians have been arguing that China does need Australian resources to fuel its own economy, and thus the two countries rely on each other. It is true that China does not have many cards to play to respond to Australia. The US military presence in Australia will not change matters in the short-term. It remains to be seen how Australia will behave in the future and how China is going to respond.
But one thing is certain - if Australia uses its military bases to help the US harm Chinese interests, then Australia itself will be caught in the crossfire. Australia should at least prevent things from growing out of control.
China values its friendship with Australia, and people here understand Australia's difficulty in seeking the balance between two powers. However, there is a certain line that neither side should cross. Australia should cherish its friendship with China and show this, not merely spout soothing words.
Australia is nimble at navigating between great powers. We believe Australia has the wisdom of dealing with the US-China game and guarantee its own prosperity and security.
Australia should make endeavors to defuse, rather than increase, misgivings between the US and China. This will bring greater interests to both Australia's interests and to regional peace. In this regard, Australia can be a huge force for good.