November 15, 2014

China v America: Brinkmanship and Statemanship

By Ely Ratner

Journalist(s) John Garnaut

After Barack Obama's Air Force One touches down in Brisbane on Saturday, and the American president fulfils the day's G20 obligations including the prime ministerial barbecue, Obama will make his way to Queensland University and deliver the sequel to the  heralded "pivot" speech  that he famously made to a joint sitting of the Australian Parliament House.

Much has changed since the world's most powerful man last came to Australia, in December 2011, to reveal his "rebalancing" of military and diplomatic heft to the Asia-Pacific. The underlying strategic logic, however, has not. In the eyes of senior Australian, American and Japanese officials, in the space of three years China has shifted gears from occasionally testing boundaries, norms and institutions when they do not suit to relentlessly challenging the regional rules-based order.

Since Obama's last visit, the People's Liberation Army unveiled new weapons systems designed to challenge the US Navy in "blue waters" far from home; incursions into Japanese-administered waters became a daily norm and deep anti-western solidarity was forged with Vladimir Putin's Russia. The vessels from the Russian Pacific Fleet that have followed Putin to waters off Queensland, for example, are the same ones that joined the PLA Navy for unprecedented drills in May this year. And the "freedom of navigation" rules those visiting Russian ships are working within - painstakingly established by the Americans and Soviets to avoid catastrophic miscalculations in air and sky during the Cold War - are the same ones that Chinese  Air Force fighters challenged during those joint Russian drills with two Top Gun-style close intercepts of Japanese surveillance planes ("with afterburners blazing," says a senior Japanese official).

Read the full article at The Sydney Morning Herald.

  • Ely Ratner