By Bates Gill
The Australia-US relationship encompasses a broadening range of common interests, but the durability and purpose of that relationship will be tested by the single-most important geostrategic dynamic of our time: the emergence of the Indo-Pacific region as the global centre of gravity.
In facing the opportunities and challenges presented by the rise of the Indo-Pacific in all its dimensions politically, economically, militarily and more can we expect the Australia-US relationship to be stronger or weaker 10 years from now, and what are the implications of that outcome for Australia, the US, and the Indo-Pacific region?
A part of the answer lies in assessing key aspects of the relationship today and determining their direction for the future.
Economically, our relationship is stronger than ever.
Importantly, the US is Australia's No 1 export market for services (and the largest source of services imports). It is Australia's second largest source for imports and Australia was among the US's top 15 export destinations last year.
More than 500,000 Americans travelled to Australia in the 12 months ending January, an increase of 5.6 per cent over the previous corresponding period, the fourth-largest source of visitors to Australian shores.
The most remarkable economic figures involve investment: the US is far and away the largest investor in Australia, with a total stock of well over $600 billion, accounting for nearly 30 per cent of foreign investment in Australia, much of it targeting the energy sector. Australia has similarly impressive numbers, investing more than $430bn in the US, representing a third of Australian investment abroad and making it the ninth largest foreign investor in the US.
Toting up the bilateral trade and investment figures, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said recently that "the United States remains our single-most important economic partner".
The prospects look very good that these figures will continue to grow as will the mutual benefit of Australia-US economic ties especially as the US economic recovery continues.
Our nations are likewise deepening security ties. The two defence establishments already work closely together through intelligence-sharing, exchanges of military and intelligence personnel, joint planning, exercises and other operational activities, and strategic consultations.
There is strong support in both countries to expand this cooperation: in addition to the annual rotation of US Marines in Darwin, both Canberra and Washington are working to transfer advanced space surveillance capabilities from the US to Western Australia.
Looking ahead, the two countries will continue to explore ways to increase US access to Australian facilities, such as airfields in the Northern Territory and to naval bases such as HMAS Stirling in Western Australia.
Coming in to force last year, the US-Australia Defence Trade Co-operation Treaty greatly facilitates sharing of defence technologies, expertise and services (Washington has only one other such defence trade agreement, with Britain).
With an eye to bolstering Australian capabilities while enhancing the interoperability of US and Australian forces, the 2013 AUSMIN joint statement noted that the two will emphasise co-operation on "combat and transport aircraft, helicopters, and submarine systems and weapons, with special focus on future submarine efforts".
As such, Australian defence procurement plans will include a range of US equipment and technologies, assuring close collaboration in this field for many years.
Most important, the two countries share today a long-term strategic commitment to expanding their engagement in the Indo-Pacific engagement aimed at strengthening regional institutions, assuring regional stability, expanding free trade, and promoting economic development. These shared strategic aims, supported by the robust and growing foundation of AustraliaUS bilateral relations, point to a future of deepening partnership for this special relationship because it is so clearly in their joint interests to do so.
This is good news not only for Australia and the US.
With many challenges ahead for the region including uncertain economic times, increasing geostrategic tensions, and the burgeoning impact of a growing middle class the Indo-Pacific will likewise benefit from greater economic, diplomatic and defence engagement of the US, a presence which is welcomed and encouraged not only in Australia but also in countries across the region.
That this increased engagement can be accomplished in close partnership with Australia, a leader in the emerging IndoPacific, will be all the more welcomed and encouraged.
This article originally appeared in The Australian.