During his first China visit recently, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr received an earful from the host nation over the country’s enhanced strategic ties with the US. With US President Barack Obama’s increased focus on the Asia-Pacific region in the US’ foreign and strategic priorities, Australia has become even more important from a US perspective. As part of this new priority, the US intends to base facilities in the country’s north and west for the deployment of US troops and other military assets.
There are also reports that Australia’s Cocos Island in the Indian Ocean might be developed into a base for US surveillance and other activities. There is no doubt that all these developments are designed with a perceived Chinese threat in mind, even though this is formally denied.
China is obviously not happy, believing that Australia is becoming part of a US strategy to contain the communist giant, and Carr was told in no uncertain terms that China was not impressed with what it considers a throwback to the Cold War era.
Australia’s foreign minister had to do some explaining, not only to Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪), but also to Lieutenant General Wei Fenghe (魏鳳和), deputy chief of general staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, as well as to Wang Jiarui (王家瑞), international liaison director of the Chinese Communist Party. This was a way of conveying the intensity of China’s concern at government, military and the party levels.
In Carr’s words: “The most objective way of saying it is, my three Chinese partners today invited me to talk about enhanced Australian defense cooperation with the United States. I think their view can be expressed that the time for Cold War alliances have long since past.”
Putting forth Canberra’s viewpoint, Carr said: “An American presence in the Asia-Pacific region has helped underpin stability there and created a climate in which the peaceful economic development — including that of China — has been able to occur.”
Obviously, Carr’s explanation did not cut much ice with the Chinese. Australia will now be viewed with even greater suspicion as part of a giant containment ring that includes Japan.
Even though China is now Australia’s largest trading partner, their relationship leaves much to be desired. Ironically, the relationship started to deteriorate sharply under Mandarin-speaking former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, who described himself as “a brutal realist on China.”
He offended the Chinese leadership by publicly advising them to hold dialogue with the Dalai Lama. And it was under him that Australia’s 2009 White Paper on defense highlighted China as an increasing threat to regional stability, recommending a significant increase in Australia’s defense profile, including a doubling of its submarine fleet.
The tensions increased when Australia granted a visa to exiled World Uyghur Congress president Rebiya Kadeer to visit Australia in 2009.
On top of it all, China was unhappy because its concerted efforts to invest in Australian resource companies were denied, in some cases, on the grounds of national interest. The same argument has prevailed more recently against the Chinese communications giant, Huawei Technologies Co, which is seeking to build Australia’s National Broadband Network.
In its worldwide search to secure resource materials for its economic development, Australia is for China a huge and tempting quarry, not to speak of its vast agricultural lands. China is hungry to get a hold on it for two reasons.