US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta … “The United States military is rebalancing and brings enhanced capabilities to [the Pacific] region.” Photo: AFP
AUSTRALIA has thrown its support behind a ”rebalancing” of American military might in the Pacific region, which promises to deepen strategic rivalries with China.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith yesterday spoke of the ”positive impact” of the United States on regional security, just hours before the US presented its most detailed plan of how it will bulk up military might into the Pacific region while making budget cuts elsewhere.
Chinese analysts said the US and Australian comments would provide more ammunition to those in China who argued that the US was using its allies to ”contain” China’s rise.
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But, they said, the civilian Chinese leadership was unlikely to be drawn into a new verbal spat with the US or Australia as it continues to play down diplomatic incidents – including the arrest of an alleged American spy – in an attempt to smooth the road to a once-a-decade leadership transition later this year.
”By 2020, the navy will reposture its forces from today’s roughly 50-50 split between the Pacific and the Atlantic to about a 60-40 split between those oceans,” US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told Asian officials at a conference in Singapore yesterday.
”That will include six aircraft carriers in this region, a majority of our cruisers, destroyers, combat ships and submarines,” he said.
”Make no mistake – in a steady, deliberate and sustainable way – the United States military is rebalancing and brings enhanced capabilities to this vital region.”
Mr Smith spoke at the same Shangri-La conference in Singapore, en route to Beijing, making his first visit as Defence Minister.
A new book – The Kingdom and the Quarry: China, Australia, Fear and Greed, by David Uren – has revealed the existence of a secret chapter in Australia’s 2009 Defence White Paper that contemplated war with China.
Mr Smith yesterday dismissed the possibility that American military and economic power would ”somehow be rapidly eclipsed overnight as a result of the new distribution of power to Asia”.
”In Australia’s view, the United States has underwritten stability in the Asia-Pacific for the past half-century and will continue to be the single most important strategic factor in our region for the foreseeable future,” he said.
But the US announcement is one more step towards a militaristic rivalry between the world’s two largest powers.
”The strategic rivalry between Beijing and Washington is becoming more profound,” said Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at the People’s University of China.
”At least into the next generation we will continue to see strategic rivalry becoming more profound and more widespread.”
Andrew Davies, director of military operations and capabilities at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said there was too much economic integration between China and the US to allow a Soviet-style cold war to develop between the two powers.
But, he said, the strategic rivalry was becoming more militaristic.
Beijing and Washington have managed to smooth over a series of diplomatic incidents in recent months.
In recent days it has emerged that the personal assistant to a vice-minister at China’s Ministry of State Security has been detained in China on charges of spying for the US.
Last month the US gave political refuge to the Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng.
In February China’s most famous policeman, Wang Lijun, sought refuge in another US diplomatic mission, precipitating the purge of a Politburo member, Bo Xilai.