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Asia and the Australia-US alliance


What challenges lie in wait for Australia-US relations in the aftermath of the federal election? Although the alliance relationship has been historically close, the Asia-Pacific region is one issue over which Australia and the US appear to have divergent approaches.

Dr Satu Limaye, director of the Washington-based East-West Center, recently spoke at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute's (ASPI) Global Forces 2010 conference dinner on 18 August about the challenges and opportunities for bilateral relations presented by the rise of Asia. Dr Limaye observed many similarities in the respective foreign policy and strategic outlooks which characterise the long-standing alliance between Australia and the US. Some of these include:
  • Afghanistan
  • similar voting patterns in the United Nations
  • a continuing interest in the Middle East, and
  • close bilateral and multilateral engagement in the Asia-Pacific region.

However, the rise of Asia - and China in particular - tends to be viewed differently by Australia and the US, with the former seeing these developments as an economic opportunity, and the latter viewing them as a key strategic challenge.

It was suggested by Dr Limaye that contrary to the popular paradigm of a perceived American decline in the Asia-Pacific region, an elevated US presence and an ever-expanding Chinese sphere of influence can be expected to become the trend in the foreseeable future. He went on to claim that while the US sees Asia as critical to solving global problems, Australia tends to perceive Asia as a provider of economic prosperity and the US as the key security guarantor in the region and beyond.

With respect to Australia-US relations after the federal election, Dr Limaye singled out several areas of mutual interest which could require further management and closer coordination between Australia and the US. These include:

  • Afghanistan
  • overseas development assistance (ODA) in the Asia-Pacific region
  • continued strategic and intelligence dialogue, including in the non-government sectors
  • the maritime domain, including the Indian Ocean Rim
  • the enhanced capacity of Australia to play a greater role in the region given its defence spending, and
  • the United Nations system, particularly if Australia continues to pursue and succeeds in winning the UN Security Council bid for a two-year temporary seat.

Dr Limaye concluded that further collaboration between Australia and the US on these and other key shared strategic interests might pave the way towards a greater fulfilment of Australia's ambitions and capacity at the global and regional level.

The question is, will the incoming government see it this way, and will this be sufficient incentive for it to further energise the Australia-US alliance? The 60th anniversary of the ANZUS alliance in 2011 will inevitably place a spotlight on the alliance relationship and thus provide an opportunity for re-evaluation.