US President Barack Obama announced his decision to send 2,500 troops to be stationed in Australia in a speech before the parliament in Canberra Nov. 17—a move widely seen as a counter-balance to China‘s growing power in the Asia-Pacific region. China’s People’s Daily warned in an editorial: “If Australia uses its military bases to help the US harm Chinese interests, then Australia itself will be caught in the crossfire.” Obama’s announcement symbolically comes on the 60th anniversary of the Cold War-era Australia-New-Zealand-United-States (ANZUS) defense treaty. Obama did hold previously unscheduled and seemingly amicable talks two days later with Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit on the Indonesian resort island of Bali. But Obama’s Australia move also comes days after a congressional advisory panel, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, warned of Beijing’s growing military presence in Asia.
Australia is now in the position of having China as its biggest trading partner and the rival US as its biggest security partner. News analyses all mention the conflict over the South China Sea—claimed in its entirety by both the People’s Republic and Taiwan, while four Southeast Asian countries declare ownership of parts of it, and Vietnam and the Philippines accuse Chinese forces of increasing aggression there. The sea is a conduit for more than one-third of the world’s seaborne trade and half its traffic in oil and gas. Major oil deposits are believed to lie below the seabed. Despite Beijing’s efforts to keep it off the agenda at Bali, the dispute in fact became the meeting’s focus. Manila proposed a “zone of peace” in the disputed areas, in which the claimants would jointly administer natural resources. (AFP, Nov. 19; Global Post, Nov. 18; AP, The Guardian, BBC World Service, Nov. 16)