In an appearance at the University of Virginia Tuesday, Australia's ambassador to the United States, Kim Beazley, discussed the importance of the United States' new strategic pivot to the Asia Pacific.
In November, President Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard unveiled an agreement allowing 2,500 U.S. Marines to be deployed to a base on Australia's northern coast, even as it draws down its forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and closes four bases in Germany by 2015.
Beazley, who spoke in the Dome Room of the Rotunda as a guest of U.Va.'s Center for International Studies, said the U.S. decision to move away from the flash points of the Cold War and old relationships in Europe and the Middle East was a course of action Australia has advocated for "really, forever."
He called the shift "one of the most exciting developments from the Australian point of view and one of the most exciting in American foreign policy."
The U.S. is "catching up on a major shift in global geopolitics," especially in the East Asian sphere, where there is huge economic growth – and not only in China, he said. "It's India rising. It's Vietnam rising. It's South Korea rising; And Japan still holding its own."
But he added a note of caution. "Every single country in Southeast Asia has a maritime dispute with its neighbor," and there are numerous unresolved border disputes. He said those countries, which were at one time economically "backward," are now focused on internal security and are in a position to afford armed forces capable of projection. They are, he said, "conducting the early phases of an arms race."
To further illustrate the importance of the Asia Pacific, Beazley noted it is home to what he called the "main artery" of world trade. "Fifty percent of global trade passes through the south East Asian archipelago," a zone Beazley called "vital to the happiness and prosperity of the globe."
He spoke as part of U.Va.'s Ambassadors' Speaker Forum, which continues April 3 with Ireland's ambassador to the U.S., Michael Collins. He will discuss his country's economy and the European Union financial crisis at 2 p.m. in the Dome Room.
— by Jane Kelly