Issue 1 | Providing Context to the Indo-Pacific
By Gordon Flake from Perth USAsia Centre | 17 Feb 2017
There are reasons to feel positive about Australia-US relations but broader issues across the region remain a concern.
By any measure the first few weeks of the Trump Administration in the United States have been highly volatile and have commanded corresponding public and media interest in Australia. Political developments in the White House continue at the speed of twitter and show no signs of slowing.
However, when it comes to U.S. relations with Australia and the broader Indo-Pacific I am seeing reasons to have some hope.
The decision of Secretary of Defense James Mattis to visit Japan and Korea just two weeks into the Administration was welcomed by those key U.S. allies.
In his first phone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping, President Trump eased concerns of an immediate break in U.S.-China relations.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s early visit to the United States helped cement personal ties and provided an opportunity for a unified response to the recent North Korean missile launch.
Even the reportedly less than cordial phone call between Prime Minister Turnbull and President Trump resulted in apparent respect for Australia’s interests and an outpouring of support for Australia in the U.S. Congress (read excellent analysis on that development by Professor Simon Jackman at the USSC)
There have been three developments in recent weeks that have not received the same level of attention as the Washington echoes of “what did the President know and when did he know it?” but which I am certain will have serious long-term implications for Australia.
- President Trump’s decision to unilaterally withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement. This will have lasting impact on U.S. economic leadership in the Indo-Pacific and on Australia’s national interest.
- Jakarta’s gubernatorial elections in Australia’s closest neighbour have taken on outsized importance as sensitive issues of religion have raised the stakes for Indonesian democracy.
- North Korea’s decision to test a ballistic missile on 4 February in contravention of United Nations Security Council Resolutions….followed by reports of a political assignation and palace intrigue…serves as a stark reminder of the very real threats to the peace and economic stability of the Indo-Pacific.
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