China Wary of U.S.-Australia Ties

China Wary of U.S.-Australia Ties


During his recent visit to China, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr indicated the two countries were close to agreement on holding annual ministerial leadership talks. This is a positive development – dialogue is always welcome, especially considering the economic links China and Australia have built over the last decade or so.

However, it’s important to recognize a basic disagreement between Canberra and Beijing that no amount of talking can overcome. During Carr’s visit, the Chinese made it very clear their view that the Australian-U.S. alliance – the bedrock of Australian security since the 1950’s – is a relic of the Cold War.

This couldn’t be more wrong. The alliance is a crucial stabilizing feature in a region characterized by multiple sources of instability, of which China is an important source. The alliance needs to be strengthened, not dispensed with. Such a development is in the interests of the overwhelming majority of states in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Asia-Pacific is an increasingly rich, but far from stable region.  The sources of instability are many, and China is a central actor in the story.

The most immediate concern is North Korea. The Chinese relationship with North Korea is a complex one. Analysts debate the extent of Chinese leverage over North Korea, but although Beijing has arguably restrained Pyongyang at times, former Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen was probably correct in stating in December 2010 that Beijing has played an important role in “enabling” North Korea’s “reckless behavior.

Ultimately, notwithstanding its professed concern for regional stability, China hasn’t stopped North Korean foreign policy adventurism and most significantly, its nuclear program.  The unprovoked North Korean sinking of the South Korean military vessel the Cheonan in 2010 was followed by an attack on Yeonpyeong Island in South Korea that same year. Despite the loss of life and heightening of regional tensions, the Chinese government refused to condemn either action by North Korea. Just last month, the region was treated to an apparent attempt to extend Pyongyang’s ability to deliver nuclear weapons via the test launch of a “missile.” Beijing has begun to exert pressure on Pyongyang. But a particularly tough official statement by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai in late Aprilis too little, and much too late.

On the other major pressing security issue in the region, which relates to maritime disputes, China is effectively adopting a stalling strategy that seeks to prevent a resolution until it is powerful enough to seek a settlement on its terms.  In the South China Sea, the Chinese have continued to spar with the Philippines and Vietnam. In the East China Sea, the Chinese are at loggerheads with the Japanese and the South Koreans. Significantly, the territorial disputes have defied resolution even as economic interdependence has increased. 

The high hopes that the Obama administration initially invested in a productive working relationship with China haven’t been realized. China is now increasingly willing to flex its muscles toward the U.S., the state that the Asia-Pacific region has taken its cue from since 1945.

To cite one example, at the Copenhagen climate negotiations in late 2009, the Chinese came to the view that a binding and verifiable international agreement advocated by the U.S. was anathema to China’s national interests. They subsequently played a major role in scuttling an agreement. The reported Chinese diplomatic snub of Barack Obama was compounded by the failure of the U.S. to achieve the verifiable agreement that it sought, undercutting American prestige. In commenting on the failure of the talks, the Chinese Ambassador for Climate Change, Yu Qingtai, drew the ominous lesson that “the developed countries need to make up their minds whether they want to pursue confrontation or co-operation with China.

Fast forward to March 2011, and in her testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on U.S. foreign aid policy in the Asia-Pacific, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton stated bluntly that: “We are  in competition for influence with China. Let’s put aside the humanitarian, do-good side of what we believe in. Let’s just talk straight realpolitik. We are in competition with China.”

As the global financial crisis has played itself out since 2008, China’s relative power has surged. Predictably, it has flexed its muscles, asserting its regional interests. The question of how to deal with an increasingly strong but potentially revisionist China is the central foreign policy question for all regional states. Australia faces a particularly acute dilemma of balancing a strong economic relationship with China with the imperative of strengthening its security alliance with the United States. A pro-active policy that appropriately anticipates rather than reacts to China is therefore required.

Thus, even as the ministerial talks proceed, the Australian foreign policy establishment must ask itself a simple question: What will Chinese goals be as it interacts with Australia?

Almost certainly, one of the top goals will be to drive a wedge between Australia and the United States. In future talks we should expect continued and systematic Chinese critique of Australia’s security relationship with the U.S.

More generally, high-level talks with China are to be welcomed, but they aren’t a substitute for wise policy. To ensure that regional stability is maintained, the region needs Australia to continue strengthening its longstanding policy of bolstering alliance ties with the U.S. As Chinese power rises, a counterweight is required. Beijing doesn’t agree, but at least as far as the rest of the Asia-Pacific region is concerned, a strengthened Australian-U.S. alliance is indispensable.

Nicholas Khoo is lecturer in the Department of Politics, University of Otago, New Zealand. David Martin Jones is associate professor at the School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland, Australia. They are the authors (with Michael Rainsborough Smith) of the forthcoming book, 'Asian Security and the Rise of China: International Relations in an Age of Volatility' (Cheltenham: Edward  Elgar, 2012).

May 29, 2012 at 12:57

The military alliance with the U.S has been very profitable for Australia lately. We now have a intelligence sharing agreement with the U.S equal to only Britain. The military/diplomatic advantages of such a deal cannot be overstated to a small nation like Australia.

Can China do any better? Haha in their dreams.

China is more of an enemy to Australia not an ally. That’s why it imprisoned an Australian citizen businessman for spying without even telling us about it. China has no respect for Australia. And yet they dream of having us an ally, dream on.

Australia’s increasing chinese Australian population will be a strong diplomatic ally in the future. China dreams of buying us out are just that, dreams.

John Chan
May 28, 2012 at 14:54

I merely protest when China is portrayed unfairly, but you already call me bad and want me to shut up? You surly have the British hubris while they were in HK.

As the old folks say, friend likes you who need enemy. Please spare us the morality.

John Chan
May 28, 2012 at 14:37

British imitates the Romans, and the American born out of the British; predatory imperialism is in the blood of Anglo-Saxon-American and the Fascist Japanese, they will not let anybody in peace until they totally enslave the victims like the Romans dealt with the Carthaginians.

You are dead wrong; Scarborough Shoal is only the thin edge of the wedge for the predatory imperialist Westpac to crash China. USA is thousands miles away on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, nobody has the capability to post threat against the USA, why is USA doing in the Asia Pacific with 7 carrier battle groups and all other deadly weapons?

Aussie is always on the American side to pressure China to give in. Both Canada and Australia play a very effective Mutt and Jeff show with the USA to subdue the victims.

Australia needs to do more than moral talk in order to convince others that they care about peace. JohnX, you need to know China’s national anthem.

May 26, 2012 at 12:54

John Chan wrote: “Last time the Japanese only managed to bomb Darwin due to logistic difficulties, after the Japan-Australia Defence Pact, the Japanese can take off from Darwin and bomb Sydney, Melbourne, Wellington or Manila even without refuelling.”

Don’t you learn anything from that?

You can gain more with friendship than with violence.

Mate, how many times do I have to smack you and other Chinese posters over the head with that logic?

The 20th Century gained nothing from two world wars and yet China is still panting at the mouth for a third. For F*s suck, let it go, territory gained is not worth the blood spilled.

May 26, 2012 at 12:48

John Chan wrote: “On the other your hand you are contradicting yourself; China is the one benefiting Australia with trades, while USA is one stationing troops in Australia and making Australia as leashed lackey. So why is Australia befriending the one humiliating it but hostile to the one benefiting it?”

You are mistaking the difference between money and friendship. One is earned and the other given for services rendered.

The US earned the Aussies friendship, China just trys to buy it.

May 26, 2012 at 12:41

Really, I live in the year 2012 and can you please tell me what country my nation has made claims over or what territory that is under anothers EEZ that my country has made claims on?

Listen John Chan, I made the name John before you ever posted. Though after a while, you were posting all the time and I only posted every so often. So a poster made the point that John could be confused with John Chan and even though I couldn’t see how it could be confused, I changed my poster name.

I changed my name to suit the other and make it clear. Now, lets understand that becoming JohnX (X=mystery) rather than John is a a miniscule change, but it also stopped me from being an A-hole all the time when I posted.

Maybe you should learn to relax as if you are trying to change others opinions about China, then sorry but you are failing and only making it worse for them. If you are simply trolling like I believe then I am sorry, but not all Chinese are bad and dont deserve you acting as thier ‘troll’ spokesman.

To the diplomat editors, ‘this needs to be said and not just to him, but all Chinese posters, ‘I understand that you are angry, but just relax and we will get through this century without a war.’

May 26, 2012 at 12:27

John Chan wrote: “Nobody will respect China if they can take advantages of China, be it territory or else with moral high ground.”

I am sorry that you feel this way, maybe its a cultural issue.

My country believes that “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar” as well as “a little lost is a lot gained”.

Maybe China needs to learn these as well and give up everything within another nations EEZ to also gain more from them later. (I dont mean territory but friendship)

I am sorry that you are so aggressive about others, but maybe you need to take a deep breath and just let it out.

John Chan
May 26, 2012 at 09:59

Canadian massacred First Nation natives with action instead merely talking like CCP propaganda lines. We all know that Canadian true intention, bashing China to divert attention of its atrocity against the First Nation natives.

John Chan
May 26, 2012 at 09:52

Canadian built the cluster bombs for the USA during the Vietnam war, those bomblets are still killing and maiming the young, the adults and the olds in Vietnam, Cambodia and Loa. The number of people killed and maimed by those Canadian built cluster bombs way exceed the number of Vietnamese killed by the Japanese in WWII.

What is the true color of Canadian, orange, red, blue, purple or white?

May 26, 2012 at 06:52

Separation by race, much like US, was practiced not too distant ago.

You have to wonder how color blind it was when Japanese was classified ‘white’. Guts! only for a few fistful of $$$ more.

May 26, 2012 at 03:37

@John X.: Well said! Unfortunately the chinese generation of leaders after Deng is somewhat incompetent. They’ve shown their true color to the whole world too soon. It’s too late for them to “conceal their intention”.

May 26, 2012 at 03:31

@Icomefromchina: I’ve heard of the standard CCP propaganda line before. It’s quite similar to what the Japanese had at the beginning of WW2. Does that ring a bell? We all know china’s true intention.

John Chan
May 26, 2012 at 01:01

Of course it is true that “China observes non-interference principle; it treats all nations large and small as equal, and with respect.” comparing to the behaviour of the Westpac.

The current international framework was set up by the imperialist West to serve the interests of the imperialist West and to maintain the existing unfair world order for the imperialist West. Claiming a skewed entity as neutral is hypocrisy.

Nobody will respect China if they can take advantages of China, be it territory or else with moral high ground. With USA’s backing, Philippines and Vietnam are treating China with contempt. China just stands firm against aggression, if Philippine and Vietnam do what they do to China to USA, they all get demolished long time again, even Australia will send troops to expel them if Australia is in China’s shoes. With such firm demonstration of power, everybody is calling USA a friend, and USA is bragging “Why Asia needs USA.”

Soft power and appeasement will never establish mature relationship.

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