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Australia Is Worried About America’s Ability to Lead

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Can the Indo-Pacific sustain its economic dynamism, the rules-based order under which it has prospered, while balancing a China’s rising strategic and geoeconomic power? And can it do so with an inward-focused and unreliable United States? That, in a nutshell is the accurately assessed Pacific predicament a new Australian white paper on foreign policy — the government’s first in 15 years — seeks to address.

The white paper sees “a contested world” with rising nationalisms and competing visions of world order from authoritarian state-centered capitalism, amid rapid technological change. And it rather euphemistically describes the uncertainty of Washington’s regional role: a “US debate about the costs of sustaining its global leadership.” At the same time, it sees “major powers ignoring or undermining international law.” Generally, this is a back-handed reference to China, but in this case, one wonders.

The white paper grasps well the likely consequences of an “America First” policy toward Asia — notwithstanding President Donald Trump’s recent 12-day Asia trip aimed at underscoring continuity in U.S. policy: “Without a strong U.S. economic and security engagement, power is likely to shift more quickly” from West to East, it astutely points out.

To address these multiple challenges, the white paper suggests, in effect, a double-hedging strategy: Intensify cooperation with like-minded nations to sustain a rules-based order and shape Chinese behavior; work to keep the United States engaged in the region; and all with the hope that its cooperative efforts will cushion........

© Foreign Policy