Uneasy in Asia

From the November 2002 Trumpet Print Edition

Blood is thicker than water, or so the saying goes. This seems to be so in the case of the United States and Australia, which both have their roots in Western Europe. Despite its geographic location, which places it firmly in the Asian sphere, Australia has recently turned more pointedly toward the U.S. for friendship and security in an increasingly uneasy environment.

Australia has stepped up alongside its American friend both militarily, as in the case of deployments in South Asia and elsewhere, and economically, through increasing trade agreements. Australian Prime Minister John Howard has even proposed a bilateral free trade agreement between the two nations.

Although Asia continues to be Australia’s largest trading partner (accounting for 57 percent of Australia’s merchandise exports), major differences in religion, history, culture and economics make Australia something of an awkward fit in the Asian fold. Add to this the continual ethnic rivalry and increasingly frequent incidents of terrorist violence in Asia—most recent and drastic being the bombing that killed over 180 people and injured several hundred, many of these Australians, in Bali, Indonesia—and it becomes clear why Australia, particularly under its current government, has been looking to strengthen its ties with its old familiar friend, the United States.

Another major consideration of Australian security is its tiny population relative to the rest of the region (its closest neighbor, Indonesia, has over 230 million compared to Australia’s 19 million).

Australia supports the U.S. more than it does any other country in Asia. Prime Minister Howard embraced America after the September 11 attacks, invoking an Australia-New Zealand-U.S. (anzus) defense treaty and declaring the attacks to be an attack on Australia as well. He also committed Australian troops to the U.S.-led attack on Afghanistan.

An indication of the extent of the Australian swing toward the U.S. is contained in a recently released government report on its foreign affairs. “The ‘White Paper’ is a policy document, which is usually produced every five years. The last report produced in 1997 ranked the United States equally with Japan, China and Indonesia as countries where Australia had substantial interests. This year’s paper ranks no other country in order of importance to Australia—other than the United States” (Inter Press Service, Aug. 2).

The recent loss and injury of Australian citizens as a result of the Bali bombing has sent significant shock waves through the nation. Indonesia is right on Australia’s front doorstep. The fear is, will the next terrorist act be within Australia’s shores? Time will tell whether strengthening its ties with the U.S. will provide it the additional security it is hoping for, or whether this will make it a greater target for further terror.