A good summary of the state of play as at the end of the APEC meeting in PNG, from Paul Kelly:
In a major bonus for the Morrison government, the US has made a naval commitment to Australia’s immediate region not seen since World War II: a warning to China that its days of easy gains against a distracted Western alliance should be over.
The network of strategic, economic and infrastructure deals emerging from the Asian summit season reveals a Western alliance system — the US, Australia and Japan — in an assertive push back against China’s regional influence.
The conflicting appeals by US Vice-President Mike Pence and China’s leader, Xi Jinping, expose a rivalry now naked, intense and sure to deepen. The push back against China is driven, above all, by one instinct — to ensure China’s military gains in the South China Sea when a complacent America was asleep at the wheel are not replicated closer to Australia.
The decision that Australia and the US will be involved at the invitation of Papua New Guinea in an expansion of the pivotal naval facility at Manus Island reveals the fight-back stand of the Trump administration and the re-engineering of Australia’s alliance with the US to meet the rise of China.
Australia’s transformed priorities in the region are developmental, nation-enhancing and strategic. As the metropolitan power, Australia will work with the US and Japan to combat China’s Belt and Road agenda in the Pacific. This means limiting China’s financial sway as a prelude to limiting its military expansion.
It is ironic, of course, that on the international scene Australia and her Asia-Pacific allies are getting more active together to counter China’s regional and global reach, including the Belt and Road initiative, while on the domestic scene the People’s Republic of Victoria is signing up to the said initiative under secret terms. Why this southern state that is closer to Antarctica than it is to Beijing needs to be involved in China’s economic-cum-strategic vision to bind the rest of Asia, the Middle East, Europe and northern Africa to her transport and logistics network remains a mystery. The fellow Silk Road travellers on the Australian left aside, it’s good to see that after the eight years of Obama’s confused and confusing “pivot to Asia”, the West is waking up to the fact that China, while not necessarily an enemy, is not a friend either, and its international influence in trade, commerce, finance and defence is far from benign or of indifference to liberal democracies.
Meanwhile, Andrew Bolt asks “Why has China failed to fail… yet?” It’s a good question and an interesting discussion, because for all the three decades’ worth of predictions about political evolution or an economic collapse, the Chinese Communist Party has been very skillful at holding the whole show together. When you consider a whole range of problems – not the least the rotten domestic financial system that has so far underpinned the economic expansion – the Middle Kingdom seems like a house of cards, albeit very sturdy ones. But China has been pretty good historically at going on even when it appears weak to outsiders. The difference is that this time the weak China is actually quite strong.