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Trump Pushes Australia Toward China

8 February 2017

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Professor Emeritus

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The phone call last week between Mr. Trump and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in which the president denounced a refugee deal made between the United States and Australia under President Obama, showed Australians that they can no longer trust America. As a result of Mr. Trump’s approach, Australia will drift away from America and move closer to China.

Mr. Obama’s ineffectual “pivot to Asia” undermined confidence among Australians that Washington had the resolve to resist Beijing’s ambitions, or the finesse to do so without provoking a war. Mr. Trump is making that worse.

No one in Australia wants this to happen. Australia has benefited as much as any other country from the peace and stability that American leadership has brought to Asia. No country feels closer to America in its core values.

But China has become extraordinarily important to Australia economically. China is by far the biggest market for Australia, the destination for more than 30 percent of its exports, and the trade balance remains strongly in Australia’s favor. Sales to China are five times that to America.

As its economic clout has increased, China has become more assertive politically, seeking to displace the United States as Asia’s leading power. It has built China-centered regional economic institutions like the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, and challenged American military superiority with forays into the East and South China Seas and by bullying American allies in the region.

We Australians have looked to Washington to respond. We have hoped that a deft display of American resolve would deflect or deter China’s challenge to the regional order without provoking the kind of confrontation that would force Australia to choose between our biggest trading partner and our closest ally.

These hopes began to erode with Mr. Obama’s attempts to contain China’s assertiveness. He discouraged countries from joining China’s infrastructure bank, but they signed up anyway. He looked weak when his administration talked tough about Chinese actions in the South China Sea but responded only with timid freedom-of-navigation operations that China ignored.

And worst of all, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, pitched by Mr. Obama as a showcase of America’s resolve to lead in Asia, ended up doing just the opposite when he couldn’t sell it to Congress.

Read the full/original article by Professor Hugh White in the New York Times.

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