US President Barack Obama, fresh from the APEC summit in Honolulu, flew to Canberra and Darwin in Australia and then to Bali, Indonesia, last week to confront China with an olive branch in one hand and a sword in the other.
In an address to the Australian parliament, Obama sought to assure China — and other Asian nations — that the US’ intent was peaceable.
“The United States will continue our effort to build a cooperative relationship with China,” he said, since all nations “have a profound interest in the rise of a peaceful and prosperous China.”
“We will seek more opportunities for cooperation with Beijing, including greater communication between our militaries to promote understanding and avoid miscalculation,” he added.
Obama has sought for months to persuade China’s leaders that the US is not trying to “contain” their nation’s spreading influence.
In Bali, at a gathering of political leaders from 18 Asia-Pacific nations, Obama reiterated that assurance, but was also vigorous in advocating maritime security, a code word for keeping open the international sea lanes through the South China Sea.
His stance drew nods of assent from most of the leaders assembled. Those sea lanes are vital to Asian economies because more shipping flows through them annually than uses the Suez and Panama canals combined.
The US has insisted on freedom of navigation through the South China Sea because US warships frequently sail though those waters between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Indeed, some US officers contend that whoever controls the South China Sea controls the rest of Asia.
In contrast, Chinese spokesmen said that Beijing had been “consistent and clear” in its position, having repeatedly asserted that China has “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea.
Moreover, Beijing argues that disputes should be resolved through bilateral negotiations between China and other nations — enabling it to bring to bear its full power against weaker neighbors one by one.
However, the US has insisted that negotiations should include every nation with interests in the South China Sea, including Taiwan, the US, Japan and South Korea.
Obama, who met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) at Wen’s request on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit, presumably reiterated the US position, even though the Chinese press said their conversation focused on economic issues. Wen also met with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍).
However, even as he proffered an olive branch to China, Obama sought to add muscle to US security relations in the region. During a stop at a military base in Darwin, Australia, the president met with Australian soldiers and US marines.
“We are celebrating the 60th anniversary of our great alliance,” he said. “And we couldn’t think of a better group to do it with than you. All of you are the backbone of our alliance. It’s an honor to be here with Australia’s legendary Diggers. You are some of the toughest warriors in the world and so are another group of folks here today — our extraordinary United States marines.”
Accompanied by Gillard, he said: “Here in Darwin and northern Australia, we’ll write the next proud chapter in our alliance. As the prime minister and I announced yesterday, some of our marines will begin rotating through these parts to train and exercise with you, and to work as partners across the region for the security we all want.”
Later, in Bali, US officials disclosed that Washington would provide 24 refurbished F-16C/D jets to the Indonesian Air Force to patrol the southern shores of the South China Sea. In addition, the US would also provide 12 Black Hawk helicopters to Brunei. Those versatile aircraft can be used against pirates at sea.
Further, Obama conferred individually with leaders from Singapore, Malaysia and India. Before meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, considered a current and future rival of China, Obama said he was pleased that India and the US could “work together on a wide range of issues, such as maritime security or nonproliferation.”
Obama also announced that he had asked US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to visit Myanmar next month to explore reconciliation between the US and the government there. Although US officials were cautious in briefing the press, it was clear that Washington was seeking to douse Chinese influence in a nation on its southern border.
Perhaps most importantly , Obama assured Asian leaders that he would see to it that the forthcoming budget cuts in Washington would not affect the US security posture in Asia, even as the defense budget takes its share of hits.
Richard Halloran is a commentator based in Hawaii.
Late last month, Beijing introduced changes to school curricula in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, requiring certain subjects to be taught in Mandarin rather than Mongolian. What is Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) seeking to gain from sending this message of pernicious intent? It is possible that he is attempting cultural genocide in Inner Mongolia, but does Xi also have the same plan for the democratic, independent nation of Mongolia? The controversy emerged with the announcement by the Inner Mongolia Education Bureau on Aug. 26 that first-grade elementary-school and junior-high students would in certain subjects start learning with Chinese-language textbooks, as
There are worrying signs that China is on the brink of a major food shortage, which might trigger a strategic contest over food security and push Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), already under intense pressure, toward drastic measures, potentially spelling trouble for Taiwan and the rest of the world. China has encountered a perfect storm of disasters this year. On top of disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, torrential rains have caused catastrophic flooding in the Yangtze River basin, China’s largest agricultural region. Floodwaters are estimated to have already destroyed the crops on 6 million hectares of farmland. The situation has been
For the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), China’s “century of humiliation” is the gift that keeps on giving. Beijing returns again and again to the theme of Western imperialism, oppression and exploitation to keep stoking the embers of grievance and resentment against the West, and especially the US. However, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that in 1949 announced it had “stood up” soon made clear what that would mean for Chinese and the world — and it was not an agenda that would engender pride among ordinary Chinese, or peace of mind in the international community. At home, Mao Zedong (毛澤東) launched
The restructuring of supply chains, particularly in the semiconductor industry, was an essential part of discussions last week between Taiwan and a US delegation led by US Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Keith Krach. It took precedent over the highly anticipated subject of bilateral trade partnerships, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) founder Morris Chang’s (張忠謀) appearance on Friday at a dinner hosted by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for Krach was a subtle indicator of this. Chang was in photographs posted by Tsai on Facebook after the dinner, but no details about their discussions were disclosed. With