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How US imperialism is shaping Australia’s regional approaches

Written by: (Contributed) on 31 May 2022


Within hours of the Australian Labor Party winning recent federal elections the Biden presidential administration presented Australia with a major diplomatic challenge, potentially escalating regional diplomatic tensions with China. The endorsement of the US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) regional bloc the same weekend has also presented Canberra with an alternative trade organisation to accommodate. The US has already clearly set the agendas for what they expect a compliant Australian government to follow. References to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) diplomatic meeting hosted by Japan, two days later, has also presented the incoming ALP federal government with a massive US-created agenda spanning issues usually associated with defence and security provision and economic considerations for 'US interests'

Before the celebrations of the ALP federal election victory had even died away, the US issued the incoming administration of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese with an ultimatum; their support was required for US-led regional planning. The attendance of Anthony Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong was required for the 'Quad' summit hosted by Japan, billed as the new 'US-led Asia-Pacific economic bloc aimed at countering Chinese regional dominance'. (1)

The high-level diplomatic meeting, which included the US, India, Japan and 'key regional partners in the 13-member economic alliance', took place, seemingly, in a cordial manner. (2) Behind the scenes, however, it was accompanied by the IPEF endorsement, consolidating 'the Biden administration's most ambitious attempt to build economic ties with Asian nations'. (3) The move, an attempt to reassert traditional US hegemonic positions following the legacy of the Trump administration and their foreign policy blunders, was noted by a White House spokesperson for a policy which 'collectively represented about forty per cent of global GDP'. (4) The Australian component in the new move would appear to be a $470 million foreign aid partnership and a new special envoy for the region 'in addition to a $525 million plan to boost ties with Pacific countries', together with other responsibilities. (5)

It was, therefore, not surprising to find the Quad meeting had a distinct focus upon the South Pacific nations. (6)

The moves, however, have to be seen in the context of other considerations, which have far-reaching implications for the Biden administration and their regional allies. While Biden has waxed lyrical about resetting strong diplomatic links with the ASEAN regional trade body, many of the organisation’s members are apprehensive; they, 'have made it clear they do not want to take sides in the escalating power fight between Beijing and Washington'. (7)

The ASEAN leadership, likewise, has taken steps for over a decade to directly distance the organisation from controversy toward successive US presidential administrations. In 2011, for example, the initial plan for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), was conceived at the ASEAN Summit. Negotiations began the following year at the later ASEAN Summit, which included Australia, New Zealand, Japan and China; India was not included. Following years of preparation, the RCEP was finally established in January, 2022, following the signing of official documentation by fifteen member countries in the Asia-Pacific region; it has been noted it is the largest trade bloc in history. (8)

It was soon noted by representatives of the Biden administration that they regarded the RCEP as 'Chinese dominated'. (9) The sense of urgency by the Biden administration toward countering the RCEP during the past five months formed a conspicuous part of their Cold War regional diplomacy. Those countries associated with the RCEP, furthermore, have taken a position of diplomatic silence, presumably as they have no wish to be seen to take a hostile line toward the US.

Throughout the high-level diplomatic talks in late May the Biden administration placed great emphasis upon Taiwan, which they have assessed as under threat from China. In recent years the US has escalated arms sales to the small island regarded by China as merely a renegade province. It has also been noted the US diplomatic position toward Taiwan has included 'letting US officials meet openly with counterparts and pressing the island's inclusion in international organisations'. (10) The fact the US relies upon Taiwan for an estimated 92 per cent of its most advanced semi-conductors was, nevertheless, played down; 'US interests', remain an important consideration.

The moves also took place in conjunction with calls from the UK to expand NATO provision 'to become more active in confronting Chinese expansionism in the Asia-Pacific'. (11) A number of strategically-placed countries across the wider region remain members of the British Commonwealth. The right-wing Johnson government in the UK has already provided an outline of a new 'global NATO … to expand its reach to boost Indo-Pacific security', although to what extent these sabre-rattling moves have been specifically designed to deflect attention away from Johnson's sex-life and after-hours drinking patterns, has yet to be established. (12) He is a man with considerable baggage, of which he has no intention of discussing or even acknowledging openly.

While the so-called western alliance relies upon frantic 'fiddling' and crying 'wolf', China's economy continues to grow; it presents a formidable challenge to US-led hegemony. Serious commentary about the under-lying economic factors surrounding these US-led defence and security initiatives, for example, have already noted 'all western nations increasingly resemble the chronic debt and deficit economies of Western Europe. Long term, those economies are sclerotic and stagnant, and so are their societies'. (13) It has also been noted global debt, as a percentage of GDP, has already risen from 269 per cent to 348 per cent since the global financial crisis over a decade ago. (14) Throughout the recent US-led high-level diplomatic talks there was no reference to Australia even considering an independent foreign policy as a precaution against being drawn into problems not of their own making; perhaps, however, the matter should now be placed firmly on future agendas, before real-war scenarios actually take place in the Indo-Pacific region.

1.     Albanese signs up to new US-Asia alliance, Australian, 24 May 2022.
2.     Ibid.
3.     Biden deepens US-Asia links, Australian, 24 May 2022.
4.     Ibid.
5.     Albanese signs, op.cit., Australian, 24 May 2022.
6.     See: Albanese's day one: change the climate, Australian, 25 May 2022.
7.     Biden pledges funds to reset ASEAN ties, The Weekend Australian, 14-15 May 2022.
8.     See: Wikipedia – The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
9.     Biden hits China with Asia-Pacific bloc tackle, Australian, 24 May 2022.
10.   Biden sticks to policy on Taiwan, Australian, 25 May 2022.
11.   Strategic partnerships crucial, Editorial, the Weekend Australian, 21-22 May 2022, which has included a high-level diplomatic statement from UK Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss.
12.   UK push for 'a new global NATO', Australian, 29 April 2022.
13.   Strategic partnerships crucial, op.cit., Weekend Australian, 21-22 May 2022.
14.   Challenges for Albanese, Australian, 25 May 2022.



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