While the Bush administration continues to push and celebrate significant successes for democracy in the Middle East, China is on an opposing mission in Asia, where it continues to block the spread of freedom.
The most recent target of Chinese diplomatic pressure is Australia, America’s most reliable ally in the Pacific — or in the world, for that matter. Less than a week after China announced its new “Anti-Secession” law, by which Beijing claims the right to attack democratic Taiwan if it sees fit, a Chinese official demanded Australia amend its 50-year-old alliance with the United States.
Australians fought beside Americans in every war of the 20th century — from World War I through World War II, Korea, Vietnam and both Gulf wars. The war in Vietnam was just as controversial in Australia as it was in the United States, but the Aussies never abandoned their friends in America.
Australia has not flinched from our alliance in the 21st century. When the Indonesian military began its scorched-earth operations against East Timor in September 1999, Australia deployed a peacekeeping force there even as the much larger Indonesian army continued to conduct its punitive operations. Because of Australia’s immediate and strong response, the United States had to deploy only a handful of technical specialists to help out in East Timor.
Canberra invoked the alliance when the United States was attacked on Sept. 11, and Australia has participated in every campaign of the war on terrorism, including Iraq and Afghanistan. The war has not been without cost to Australia: In October 2002, Al Qaeda-linked terrorists blew up a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia, killing 92 Australians. Other Australians, soldiers and civilians alike, have lost their lives fighting alongside Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan and other battlefields of the war on terrorism.
Australia also shares with the United States a critical security interest in defending democracies in Asia. In August 2001, then-deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage visited Canberra and later commented that he could not imagine Australia not supporting the U.S. in any major conflict in Asia — even in Taiwan.
Ever since, Beijing has sought to drive a wedge between Canberra and Washington. On the very day China passed its so-called “anti-secession” law, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s top Pacific policy official, Mr. He Yafei, told an interviewer from The Australian, “If there were any move by Australia and the U.S. in terms of that alliance [ANZUS] that is detrimental to peace and stability in Asia, then it [Australia] has to be very careful,” adding that this was “especially so” in the case of Taiwan.
Beijing’s message was clear: Australia had better not help the United States to defend Taiwan — or else.
Australia’s foreign ministry immediately released a statement that Australia had no intentions of amending any facet of the treaty with America and that the alliance remains strong. But there is more going on here than indirect threats from old men in China’s foreign ministry. China is one of Australia’s largest trading partners with about $20 billion dollars a year trade both ways, and Beijing has suggested a bilateral free-trade agreement was possible to further sweeten the pot.
That China would challenge an American alliance as strong as our relationship with Australia sends a clear signal that the Chinese are ready to test the extent of their new and growing power in the region and, perhaps, the resolve of the United States and Australia. In the last four years, as China has emerged as the economic superpower of the Asia-Pacific region, it increasingly has sought opportunities to challenge American power in the region and replace the United States as the dominant diplomatic presence.
The Chinese also have begun to effectively translate their trade and investment clout into political influence. China now gives military assistance to the Philippines, another long-time ally of the United States, and props up dangerous, despicable regimes in North Korea, Burma and elsewhere.
It is right that the Bush administration take pride in its accomplishments toward democratization in the Middle East. But it needs to keep an eye on China, too. It has dropped the ball in the Far East in recent weeks. The Chinese have picked up that ball and begun to run with it.
First appeared in The Asian Wall Street Journal