The always informative and thought provoking Richard Fernandez recently attended a public discussion of the role of the US in Australia’s defense posture. He gives us an eye opening synopsis at the Belmont Club. It is ALL worth reading and is highly recommended to your attention.
I attended a debate on the question of whether “The US Alliance is our [Australia’s] best defence” at the City Recital Hall in Sydney. For the affirmative were US Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich and Katherine Ziesing, the editor of the Australian Defence Force Magazine.
Facing them were Professor Zhu Feng, Deputy Director of the Centre for International and Strategic Studies at Peking University and — the big surprise — retired Major General Jim Molan for the negative. Molan was the Chief of Operations in Iraq during 2004 and 2005. Molan is rumored to have the ear of the opposition, who are tipped to defeat Kevin Rudd when elections are held in a few month’s time.
The opening was delivered by Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich who was every inch the charming advocate for United States. He was funny and eloquent and thus armed almost managed to pull off depicting the situation in the Pacific as if there were no tensions with China worth mentioning. The main problems, Bleich said, were fundamentally ones of growth arising from increased resource competition, driven by a burgeoning prosperity and threats from non-state actors who were intent on harm “because they hate our way of life”. But where Beijing was concerned, Bleich emphasized, there was no rivalry as such.
Unfortunately for Bleich this sunny impression was rudely shattered by Professor Zhu Feng, who when his turn came to speak described his nervousness at having to fly over so many US military bases ringing China on his way to Sydney. He described without hesitation or equivocation the deep suspicion in China at what he perceived was the military buildup in the Pacific which many Chinese saw as “containment”. In stark contrast to Bleich’s humorous delivery, the Professor warned that Beijing would take a dim view of any attempts to reopen US bases in the Philippines and indeed, any further attempt to add to the cordon of steel that the Chinese leadership felt was stifling them.
The next speaker for the affirmative, Katherine Ziesing, was the first to emphasize that Australia was wholly dependent on sea lanes of communication which it was powerless to secure. That — and she looked at Zhu — was why defense was not provocation. She reeled off statistics describing the vast tonnages that flowed through the South China Sea and the straits between China and Japan and noted that without the United States, Australia would not have a snowball’s chance in hell of guaranteeing its own security. Hence, she closed, an alliance with America is Australia’s best defense.
Molan, as I knew, could be as good a speaker as Bleich. And he was. He began by demolishing every Leftist characterization of America; he described the US Armed Forces as the finest and most moral fighting force on the face of the planet. And having cleared the underbrush with fire and scythe he delivered his punchline: in all this — through the Cold War to the Present — Australia had been a free rider and every prospect of remaining a free rider. Turning to the audience he said isn’t that what most of the world wants to do? Fight to the last American soldier? You know it’s true, he said. You could hear a pin drop. And this attitude is not worthy of Australia, he added.
The rest of the debate was anti-climatic, expended in watching the speakers, including Professor Zhu, fend off the strange and bizarre questions put to the panel by the World Socialist Alliance or the Free Julian Assange movement some of whom refused to shift from the microphone when their time was up. There was a moment of comic relief when Professor Zhu was asked who China was relying on to stop North Korea and he readily answered, “the United States.” Everybody relied on the United States, he said, adding that even China prospered under its benign hegemony. But the time had come, Zhu reiterated, to give China its due, a message he emphasized over and over again.
Go read the whole thing, it is well worth your time.