Military exercises 'sobering message' for Asia-Pacific region, experts say
The curtain came down last week on one of the biggest military exercises held in the Southern Hemisphere — Talisman Sabre.
Some 30,000 troops, including observers from 13 countries, took part in the "war games" which began on July 22.
Talisman Sabre is part of a bigger story, said Joseph Camilleri, emeritus professor at La Trobe University, Melbourne, and a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia.
"Joining Australia and the United States are South Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, the UK, France and Germany. As US allies, they are all contributing, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, to a multilayered US-led 'Indo-Pacific strategy' whose clear aim is to contain China and preserve US regional and global dominance," he told China Daily.
"Talisman Sabre has a sobering message for the Asia-Pacific community. We are on a slippery slope which can only lead to the increasingly dangerous militarization of the region.
"We need to steer the ship in a different direction. The Asia-Pacific community, its governments, and its peoples must call for both the Pacific and Indian Oceans to be declared Zones of Peace, and for existing nuclear weapons-free zones to be strengthened and new ones to be established.
"Importantly, it is time for increasingly provocative displays of firepower to be replaced by innovative and sustained confidence-building, conflict resolution, peacekeeping, and mediation efforts," he said.
Alison Broinowski, a former diplomat and president of Australians for War Powers Reform, described the exercises as "a display of military capacity, increasingly aimed at China. It is also a showcase for the arms industries, mainly American".
"The US always wants a coalition for its wars, and its planned next one is against China. Australia appears to be putting our 'sovereign' territory in the line of fire if the US goes to war against China, as a proxy target. We could face the prospect of being Asia's Ukraine."
"Australia has one last chance to seek peaceful cohabitation with our Asian region. Allowing the US to choose our enemies for us will not achieve that," said Broinowski.
The joint exercises have been going on for 18 years, mainly with Australian and US troops, but this year they have involved many countries and heralded a flurry of diplomatic activity in the Pacific.
Japan's Self-Defense Force test-fired missiles from foreign soil during the joint exercises this time, although the Japanese Ministry of Defense stated on its website that "as a general rule, the Constitution does not permit armed troops to be dispatched to the land, sea, or airspace of other countries with the aim of using force".
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was also in Papua New Guinea on July 27 where he reiterated Washington's claim that the US is not seeking to build a permanent base, but a signed agreement allows Washington to be free to refurbish the country's ports and airports for military and civilian use and to stage US forces and equipment.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held bilateral talks in Tonga on July 26, the first time a US secretary of state had visited the tiny Pacific kingdom.
On July 27, Blinken was in New Zealand for talks with his counterpart Nanaia Mahuta, where the door was opened for possible New Zealand involvement in the AUKUS(Australia-United Kingdom-United States) nuclear military alliance.
It was made clear that New Zealand, due to its anti-nuclear stance, would not be involved in the nuclear submarine program, which Australia has signed up for but is now looking increasingly uncertain.
The AUKUS agreement has seen opposition in the US Congress over the sale of nuclear submarine technology to Australia, as well as in Australia.
Broinowski, the former diplomat, said Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has "failed to listen to the growing opposition to AUKUS in Australia" and elsewhere.
"Australians are concerned that AUKUS will involve nuclear-capable submarines, aircraft, and torpedoes being based in Australia, with no control by the Australian government over what they may do," she said.