US Outsources Diplomacy to a Reluctant Oz

Canberra once again called on to play the US’s deputy sheriff in Asia

We are now coming off US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's second day of blitzkrieg in Australia, where she is showing her potential presidential charm and vision of dividing up the world just as the allies did at the end of World War II.

Clinton now wants to basically outsource US cooperation with India to Australia so the US can work to clean up the mess in Pakistan created by clandestine missions and murder-by-drone of innocent people. She can't afford Pakistan asking why the US is giving assistance to its rival India, so she innovatively came out with the "outsourcing and encirclement of China" by proxy plan.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her Defense Minister Stephen Smith seemed thrilled to be called upon to play deputy sheriff again, and agreed to increase US marine numbers stationed in Australia from 400 to 2,500 by 2014. They also agreed to a spy satellite tracking station to be established in the north, but were hesitant about allowing more US ships into Australian ports, in the hope that holding out will get Australia service contracts for the Pacific Fleet in Adelaide. Watch this space!

Defense Minister Stephen Smith is on such a high that in a press conference he claimed that the US had listened to his advice about the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean.

Meanwhile all the backbiting and unhappiness about Australian defense budget cutbacks have been smoothed over by Smith and US Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich after Asia Sentinel and others reported US unease last Sunday. Fortunately for all, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Asian Affairs Kurt Campbell had a bout of amnesia and suddenly recalled that budget cuts were NOT on the agenda.

This is all going on while the Chinese leadership is in transition at a time when Australia is acting like a school kid with the teacher out of the classroom. Last year's Australia-United States Ministerial meeting riled China and Australia seems to be taking delight when the US is in town of rubbing salt into the wound as far as China is concerned, which is not at ease with the Australia-India defense tie up-scaling. This is going to take a lot of explaining by Australian diplomatic officials to the Chinese over the coming year to eliminate the tension Australia caused with their rash behavior with the Hillary show this week.

China’s new leadership now has to deal with an Australia where another former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had been "advising the US to reserve the military option against them," according to Wikileaks cables.

It's just not China that is uneasy. Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, the original visionary about Australia needing to stamp its place in Asia, couldn't bear all the placating between Clinton and Gillard and stepped to warned Gillard that she is making the same mistake as the conservative, self-styled deputy sheriff, former Prime Minister John Howard, in just falling over for the US without regard for the regional consequences.

Australia's blind obedience to the US has compromised the region's perception of the country's independence. At the Keith Murdoch Lecture in Melbourne Wednesday Keating said that Australia had been "traded down in the big stroke business" from the days it once played a key role in the creation of the APEC Forum. "Even states like Indonesia are dubious of us (Australia) because they do not see us making our way in the world or their world other than in a manner deferential to other powers, especially the US,” Keating said.

Meanwhile, Obama is getting ready for his Asian trip and ready to go all out for it. Expect a pep talk to Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra about boosting US-Thai military cooperation. Thailand is expected to join the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will fly in from Australia on Thursday to seek to solve a few issues about Thailand's disappointment with lack of benefits arising non-NATO ally status before Obama arrives on Sunday. There are a number of covert matters which the US wants, such as access to the Utapao airbase, from which the US Air Force bombed Vietnam from 1978 to 1972. Maybe a new initiative or two will be announced in the trade area to get trade relations back on track.

On November 19 Obama will then travel onto Burma to meet President Thein Sein, who is perceived as a potential US ally, given the country's desire to become less dependent on China. Obama's last stop is on 20th November in Cambodia to attend the 7th East Asia Summit where he will meet with Asean leaders and work on stemming the close Cambodia-China alliance, where China is now Cambodia's largest aid donor, through the EAS platform.

Obama is in a region where China sees itself as a natural leader, and has earned this position through hard work. Obama is coming right up nose to nose against China, which increases the stakes and risks escalation into what could be metaphorically called a cold war without the political dogma.

However the United States is no longer the incumbent in the region and cannot dominate the game through aid. In fact Obama has many fiscal problems at home he has to face upon his return. The rules are different now, and second time around, the Asian region is much wiser. As a consequence his strategy is one of high risk.

What we are about to see is Obama at his best, just like an Olympic 100-meter gold medalist before the start of the final. Suave, focused and confident, and a powerful persuader.

However China is yet to play any cards in retaliation and people forget China is the home of Lao Tzu and Sun Tzu. China is good at their game now with their newly installed young technocrat generation, with a capable resources behind them. For the sake of the US, let's hope Obama has some contingencies up his sleeve.

It seems that this trip is also about Clinton, the statesperson her aspirations to become the first woman president of the United States. However Australia's persona to the region is in a shambles. The art of diplomacy is totally missing from the Australian psyche.

One must also ask: Did Clinton do a sting operation on Australia?

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