US President Barack Obama's plan to deepen the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific region is already creating tension among ASEAN nations.Mr Obama will arrive in Bali on Thursday evening where the East Asia Summit and ASEAN meetings are being held, while Prime Minister Julia Gillard will arrive on Friday.But both leaders will fly into Bali amid already rising tensions following the announcement on Wednesday of an expanded US-Australian military partnership.
The announcement caused an immediate reaction on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit, already underway in Bali, with China and Indonesia criticising the plan. The head of International Relations at the University of Indonesia, Professor Hariyadi Wirawan, said the move would be counterproductive in terms of efforts to foster peace in the Asia-Pacific region.
He said it would create further tension among ASEAN nations. A number of ASEAN members are already engaged in disputes over the South China Sea. "ASEAN countries that have problems with China, such as Vietnam and the Philippines, will welcome the move, possibly tearing ASEAN apart," Prof Wirawan said.
Outspoken Indonesian politician T.B Hasanuddin criticised the announcement and called on the US president to explain the decision to ASEAN countries. He also said it would create new tensions among the 10-member bloc. The plan allows for increased US air presence in the region and will eventually see up to 2500 US marines stationed in the Northern Territory.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told reporters at ASEAN on Wednesday night that the build-up of US forces in Australia could "provoke a reaction and counter-reaction that would create a vicious cycle of tensions and mistrust". Darwin is about 800km from Indonesia.
The announcement was a prominent feature in Indonesian newspapers on Thursday. A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Liu Weimin, said China was actively promoting peaceful international development and called on other nations to adopt the same attitude. "Whether it suits the common interests of countries around the region and the whole international community remains under question," he said.