Politics can be a deliciously self-defeating field. For the US-Australian alliance, one born out of desperate insecurity on the part of Canberra, a dramatic change in the White House was always going to cause a shudder. A Clinton presidency was presumed to be inevitable and, on taking place, a no-fuss affair, one which was to continue President Barack Obama’s “pivot” towards the Asia Pacific, and against China.
This has made a satrap Australia vulnerable to the grand political designs of the United States. Caught in the cross hairs of conflict, Canberra can do its little bit to disentangle itself from the overly enthusiastic eye of Washington in the region while maintaining a merry dance with China.
That aspect has been something of a dream. Instead of maintaining a degree of sobriety in the matter, various local commentators and policy wonks were hoping that Australia would, alongside the United States, be able to contain China’s belligerence. The large question was how best to do so.
In July this year, the opposition Labor’s Defence spokesman Stephen Conroy decided to stoke the fires by insisting that China had been shown by the International Court of Justice to be a regional bully boy. On ABC radio, he observed that China had been “engaged in an aggressive, at times, bullying performance, and has now been called out by the international court.”
Conroy’s hawkish solution was simple. “Australia should authorise its forces to both sail and fly…