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Diário de Notícias, Portugal

Tough Luck, Lajes – Obama’s from Hawaii

By Leonídio Paulo Ferreira

Translated By Nuno Rosalino

26 November 2012

Edited by Lydia Dallett

Portugal - Diário de Notícias - Original Article (Portuguese)

Hawaii’s closer to China than it is to the Azores, and that just says it all: Asia before Europe. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that America now has a president born so far east — after all, Obama limited himself to doubling down on the strategic bet on the Pacific. However, it should be noted that it was Nixon, the only tenant of the White House born in California, who guessed that the future was in that direction. Who doesn’t remember the trip to China in 1972, when China was still a slumbering dragon?

Forced to cut its military spending, the United States is reducing its investments in Europe. Russia isn’t the threat that the Soviet Union was. Portugal suffers from this lack of interest, as do Germany and Italy. But the case of Lajes is tragic, due to the importance of the air force base to the Azorean economy.

And it really is all about money. Just consider with whom the Americans have been doing business as of late. Nowadays, China and Japan are much more important trading partners than Germany, the United Kingdom or France. Trading between China and the United States is now at triple the value of trades between Germany and America.

With money comes power, and China’s already the second largest economy in the world. If the Chinese military budget remains at a quarter of America’s, it will grow by over 10 percent. The Chinese could then try to transform the waters between the Aleutian Islands and Borneo into an area off-limits to Americans during a possible crisis.

If there’s a war in the Pacific, no one has more to lose than China. The United States, while also keeping up economically, makes it a point to maintain its military superiority — hence the attention being paid to Asia, where Obama is now making his fifth trip. Even more significant was the secretary of defense’s trip in June to Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines, during which the reopening of old bases, such as Clark Air Base, was discussed. After all, the troops in Japan, South Korea and Guam wouldn’t be enough to counteract the Chinese.

The world is changing, and this change is depicted by two recent predictions. On the one hand, the OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] estimates that in four years China will be the foremost economic power in the world — not the United States. On the other, the International Energy Agency predicts that by 2020 the United States will replace Saudi Arabia as the top oil-producing country. In other words, China will take America’s place, and America will take Saudi Arabia’s!

The aftermath will need to be reviewed as much as it was when the Soviet Union crumbled. Aside from continuing to prop up Israel against Iran, even America’s interest in the Middle East seems to be fading. The United States has already pulled out of Iraq.

Gone are the days when the Lajes Air Field was of use to America; when it was used to aid Israel during the Yom Kippur War, or, more recently, when it was used for support during the operations against Saddam. How short memory is. Just think of the American presidential elections; the foreign policy debate between the president and Romney could almost be summarized in one word: China. Oh, right: Hawaii is 5,000 miles away from Beijing, but it’s 7,000 away from Lajes.



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