Why Australia Bet the House on Lasting American Power in Asia

Speaking Thursday, Mr. Morrison said the reinforced security alliance with the United States and Britain, which will include collaborations on artificial intelligence and other emerging technology, reflected the needs of a more dangerous dynamic in the Asia-Pacific region.

“The relatively benign environment we’ve enjoyed for many decades in our region is behind us,” he said, without directly mentioning China. “We have entered a new era with new challenges for Australia and our partners.”

Some security analysts argued that China’s recent retaliation against Australia over its harder line — slashing imports of coal, wine, beef, lobsters and barley, along with detaining at least two Australian citizens of Chinese descent — appeared to have pushed Australia in the Americans’ direction. In response, China may extend its campaign of economic sanctions. Australia seems to have calculated that Beijing has little interest in improving relations.

“I think the fear of doing this would have been much more palpable even three or four years ago, maybe even two years ago,” said Euan Graham, an Asia-Pacific security analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies who is based in Singapore. “But once your relationship is all about punishment and flinging of insults, frankly, then that’s already priced in. China doesn’t have the leverage of fear, of being angry, because it’s angry all the time.”

A looming question, according to critics of Australia’s steadfast faith in the United States, is whether Washington will measure up. Ever since President Barack Obama announced a “pivot to Asia,” speaking before Australia’s Parliament in 2011, America’s allies have been waiting for a decisive shift in resources and attention. For the most part, they have been disappointed.

Dr. Graham said that the submarine deal would temper some of that criticism. For other allies like Japan and South Korea, he said: “It answers that question that the U.S. is still engaging in its alliance network in this part of the world.”


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