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Reasons to go to Darwin

The US and Australia say the new deployment of 2,500 US Marines to a base in Darwin on a rotational basis is intended to modernise the US posture in the Asia-Pacific region and to allow participation in "joint training" with Australian counterparts in military activities, as well as in preparing to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the region.



Obviously, quite a lot of people are still wondering whether the US has a hidden agenda. The following are 10 plausible reasons why US Marines will go to Darwin:

1. To help make the Labour government more conservative than the Conservative opposition. Remember John Howard, when he was prime minister, taking pride in Australia being "America's deputy sheriff" and his Conservative government supporting the US in invading Iraq. Now what can a future Conservative prime minister do to win back the badge of "America's deputy sheriff"?

2. To help Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd revive his ambitious but moribund Asia-Pacific Community initiative, so the Aussies can help lead Asean from down under, while the US is trying to lead Asean "from behind".

3. These Marines are actually diplomats in disguise, as part of the Obama administration's "forward-deployed diplomacy" to help create a "more mature" regional architecture under "US leadership", like in the trans-Atlantic arrangements.

4. They are intended to give additional credence to the repeated claims of the Obama administration that the US is a "Pacific power" (but not necessarily a Pacific nation).

5. On the side, they can provide remote security assurance to US-owned Freeport-McMoran's gold and copper mine in West Papua. Local employees and miners of Freeport have been unhappy lately about low wages and poor working conditions in the world's largest gold and copper mine.

6. To give the international media, as well as the Indonesian media, a new hot issue to grill President Obama when he was in Bali for third Asean-US Leaders Meeting and the 6th East Asia Summit (EAS). Otherwise there would have been nothing new for President Obama to tell the media. We already knew he intended to bring up "maritime security (which means the disputes in the South China Sea), to upset China, and non-proliferation (which means North Korea and Iran), but not Israel, for discussion in the EAS.

7. The deployment of the Marines is intended to counter the growing Chinese influence in Timor-Leste, which is about 700 kilometres north of Darwin. An influx of Portuguese-speaking Chinese has turned upside-down the otherwise tranquil nightlife in Dili.

8. The US Marines will force Asean to admit Timor-Leste into the organisation as soon as possible, even though there is still no consensus.

9. Taiwan - the de facto ally of the US - has refused to let the US use its military facilities in Itu Aba/Taiping Island - the largest island in the disputed Spratlys in the South China Sea. Hence, the second best choice of Darwin. In response, there is a rumour that the US Defence Department has forbidden Taiwan from deploying US-made ground-to-air missiles on the disputed island.

10. The US 7th fleet, which includes the world's most powerful aircraft carrier, the George Washington, as well as US forces in Japan, South Korea and Guam, are insufficient to help guarantee that the rise of China will remain "peaceful" and that there will be "harmony" in the disputed South China Sea. Hence the need to bring in the reinforcement of US Marines to the base in Darwin.

Termporn C is an Asean citizen who lives in Jakarta.


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