G'day, mates. In an effort to reassert American power in the Asia-Pacific region, the Obama administration announced this week that it is establishing a permanent military presence in Australia. The initial plan is to send 250 Marines to Australian bases, and gradually increase troop strength to 2,500. Foreign policy experts are interpreting the move as part of the administration's ongoing efforts to counter China's rise. But will this really make much of a difference?
Obama is sending a clear message to China: The U.S. and Australia insist this has nothing to do with China, says Peter Hartcher at The Sydney Morning Herald, but "they're being diplomatic." The Marines will be "like a tripwire that an invader would set off," triggering an American military response in defense of an attack against Australia. It's a lot like the U.S. forces that have been based for decades in Japan and South Korea. When it comes to China, the U.S. and Australia are clearly "working for the best, but preparing for the worst." Beijing knows that — and you can bet the Chinese won't be happy.
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This is meaningless if we scale back elsewhere: In theory, this is a great way to "reassure friends and allies in the region worried over an increasingly assertive China," says Bruce Klingner at The Foundry. But "a strategic 'pivot' toward the Western Pacific" only works if we resist slashing our military's budget, as some in Washington want to do. China won't be scared of 250 Marines if broad defense cuts "undercut America's ability" to back up these soldiers up with overwhelming force if and when the need arises.
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Plus, this move could backfire: "I'm all for playing hardball with China," says Anne Penketh at The Hill, but this might be the wrong time. "Right now, America needs the Chinese more than they need us." Obama is hoping Beijing will help tighten sanctions on Iran — "probably the administration's biggest foreign-policy headache." Putting even a small military presence in Australia could hurt Obama by making China even more reluctant to cooperate with us.
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