Forget Vietnam - Send for the marines

By Geoffrey Murray
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, November 21, 2011
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US hegemony [China Daily/ By Li Feng]

The fall of Saigon in 1975 saw the United States largely withdraw from a 25-year military struggle "to contain Asian Communism" (for which read China) stretching from Korea to Vietnam. Now, in 2011, the Marines are back!

Behind all the talk of a TransPacific Partnership (TPP) as a template for future region-wide economic cooperation lie broader geopolitical issues summed up by President Barack Obama's pledge to restore Southeast Asia to a prominent place on his political agenda.

Previously, the approach was via "ASEAN+3", involving the 10 Southeast Asian nations along with China, Japan and South Korea. Given the economic and geopolitical realities essentially that gave China the central role.

The TPP, however, brings in the US and countries like Australia and New Zealand, and China has not been slow in describing it as a mechanism to limit or even exclude it - the old cold war 'containment' in a new guise. It recalls previous American attempts at regional counterbalance military alliances through SEAT0 (Southeast Asian Treaty Organization) and ANZUS (bringing together the three countries mentioned above).

Humiliating defeat in Vietnam and public disillusionment with Asian military adventures saw Washington turn away from the region.

However, conflicting territorial claims in the East and South China Seas between China and its neighbors encourage it to return as the regional powerbroker while providing an "insurance policy".

ASEAN's invitation to Obama to attend the East Asia Summit for the first time was implicit recognition of this. As one Indian commentator put it colorfully: "If you are in a cage with an 800-pound gorilla [China], you should at least invite another one in to provide balance.'

Little wonder China has reacted strongly (imagine if Chinese warships started patrolling the Californian coast!) as, from India to Australia via Myanmar, this new, higher American profile becomes evident.

Don't miss:
[John Ross]Realities behind the TransPacific Partnership
Australia first: During his visit Down Under President Obama announced plans to station 2,500 marines in Darwin. A small number, perhaps; but highly symbolic, as this town was in the forefront in halting the seemingly inexorable advance of the Japanese military juggernaut in WWII and now provides a good springboard for the US military to react quickly to events in Southeast Asia again.

One recalls the 1960s, when President Lyndon Johnson sought allies for the war in South Vietnam, Australia - nervous that Communism was replacing Japan as the main threat to its security - was enthusiastic, the late Prime Minister Harold Holt even declaring: "All the way with LBJ".

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