While it has been reported Americans searching for “Move to Australia” and “Move to New Zealand” have spiked since the Trump triumph in the White House election race, those that do move down under may not escape the reach of Trump’s presidential arm and the tidal waves he creates in Asia. In fact Australia may yet play a rather central mitigating role in the Asia-Pacific if Trump’s statements about trade, security and geopolitics are to be taken seriously.
Why? Well because according to former Australian Ambassador to the United States, Kim Beazley, Australia is “members of the only alliance his team unreservedly approves of”. In more specific terms this alliance is the ANZUS treaty, a 1951 agreement between the United States, Australia and New Zealand, to co-operate on military matters in the Pacific Ocean region.
It seems Trump also holds Australia in relatively high esteem and considers it one of America’s allies that have not only supported the super power in all major conflicts but who have also not taken advantage of the relationship. As recently as March the Financial Review reported that Donald Trump’s advisers has told Ambassador Joe Hockey that Trump viewed the US-Australia alliance as a “special relationship”. This is far more assurance than European leaders have received, with Trump previously indicating a desire to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Kim Beazley told Australia’s 7:30 Report: “…great pressure is about to come on us… And because some of his initiatives are going to seriously disturb people, in the east Asian and South-East Asian area, they’re going to look to us to play some sort of mitigating role. They won’t say that overtly but they’ll come to us privately and they’ll be wanting to hear from us privately on what we intend to do about it. When Trump comes in, in a couple of months, we’re gonna have to really sit down and think through how we handle our responsibilities here because running away is not an option.”
So just what areas may Australia find itself mitigating the relationship between the US and Asia-Pacific nations?
Trump has suggested he may charge countries like Japan and South Korea for military protection, and his lack of commitment to regional security is of concern to these nations and others that have been trying to deal with matters such as China’s incursions into the South China Sea.
Australia’s long-term strategic alliance with the world’s greatest military nation may help secure a US presence in the region, with a 25 year agreement that was put in place by former Australian Prime Minister and US President Barack Obama in 2011 to increase the number of US Marines rotating through Darwin. This was part of the Obama administration’s long-term “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific and while there were initial concerns that the deal and increased US presence could cause tensions with China, their presence may now be welcomed if the US withdraws elsewhere.
Australia’s largely mediating stance may also be welcome when it comes to the delicate manner in which the matter of territorial waters needs to be resolved with China, the Philippines and Vietnam. While Obama handled the matter sensitively, Trump’s statements about China’s assertions have been provocative to date, labelling the Chinese base in the South China Sea “a military island”.
Trump has indicated he wants to scrap the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and raise trade barriers against the regions’ more competitive producers, particularly China whom he has threatened with a 45 per cent tax on goods. While Australia’s shares tanked, along with the rest of Asian markets, at the news of the Trump win and there have even be predictions of a global recession, Trump has cut deals in Australia before and may yet be persuaded that American engagement in the region is a platform for economic growth and their own enduring interests. Australia itself has had a free trade agreement with the US since 2005.
Australia’s Labor Senator Penny Wong said it was not just in Australia and the world’s interests for America not to retreat into isolationism, but their own as well.
“United States engagement in the region has been a key factor in security in this region, stability in this region, which has been a platform for the economic growth we have seen over many years in this region,” she said.
Australian Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull said Trump will be hit with the realities of America’s national interests when he takes office. “The importance of its alliances, the significance of the global prosperity that is underpinned by America’s commitment to the rules-based international order especially, of course, in the Asia-Pacific,” he said.
Australia may not bring the might and resolve of other great powers but it is known for its considerable restraint, consideration, professionalism and tact, and a valued relationship with the United States that other Asia-Pacific nations may yet wish to draw on. Whatever role Australia takes, it is clear, as Beazley said, that running away is not an option.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent