China’s rise a threat to se­cu­rity


Aus­tralia needs a new de­fence strat­egy to de­ter, and if nec­es­sary, de­fend it­self against an in­creas­ingly pow­er­ful, ag­gres­sive China, two of the na­tion’s most ex­pe­ri­enced strate­gists have warned.

For­mer se­nior De­fence of­fi­cials Paul Dibb and Richard Bra­bin-Smith say the na­tion faces an in­creased prospect of a threat from a ma­jor power for the first time since World War II.

Pro­fes­sors Dibb and Bra­binSmith, from the Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity, say their main con­cern is the rapid growth of China’s eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence in the re­gion and its am­bi­tious pro­gram of mil­i­tary mod­erni­sa­tion and ex­pan­sion.

“China is de­vel­op­ing mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties that could come to threaten us di­rectly,” they say.

Their warn­ing comes af­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull pushed Chi­nese Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang in a meet­ing yes­ter­day in Manila on cre­at­ing a legally bind­ing code of con­duct in the South China Sea, where Bei­jing’s mil­i­tary build-up has sparked in­ter­na­tional ten­sions.

Ten­sions with China have also flared over talks be­tween Aus­tralia, In­dia, the US and Ja­pan to re­store the Quadri­lat­eral Se­cu­rity Di­a­logue, which was de­vised last decade to try to con­tain China.

In a pa­per to be pub­lished in Canberra tonight by the Aus­tralian Strate­gic Pol­icy In­sti­tute, the for­mer De­fence of­fi­cials say Aus­tralia’s strate­gic out­look is de­te­ri­o­rat­ing.

“China’s ag­gres­sive poli­cies and its use of co­er­cion are grounds for con­cern that it seeks po­lit­i­cal dom­i­na­tion of coun­tries in our re­gion, in­clud­ing South­east Asia,” the au­thors say.

“There’s a real risk that South­east Asia is be­com­ing a Chi­nese sphere of in­flu­ence.”

They add that, in the South China Sea, Bei­jing’s con­struc­tion of mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties — in­clud­ing airstrips for fighter air­craft and longer-range strate­gic bombers — has ef­fec­tively brought China’s mil­i­tary pres­ence more than 1200km closer to Aus­tralia’s north­ern ap­proaches.

“This … in it­self should be a mat­ter of con­sid­er­able con­cern for our de­fence plan­ning,” they say. The au­thors say the Aus­tralian De­fence Force’s readi­ness needs to be sharp­ened through higher train­ing lev­els to en­able rapid “surge” ca­pa­bil­i­ties, in­creased stocks of mis­siles, more main­te­nance spares, a ro­bust fuel sup­ply sys­tem and mod­ernised op­er­a­tional bases, es­pe­cially in the north of Aus­tralia.

To in­crease warn­ing time, it will be vi­tal for Aus­tralia to con­tinue to have high lev­els of in­tel­li­gence col­lec­tion and anal­y­sis across the re­gion.

Pro­fes­sors Dibb and Bra­binSmith are for­mer deputy sec­re­taries in the De­fence De­part­ment. Pro­fes­sor Dibb was the main au­thor of the 1987 de­fence white

‘It’s China that could come to pose se­ri­ous chal­lenges for Aus­tralian de­fence pol­icy’ PAUL DIBB AND RICHARD BRA­BIN-SMITH DE­FENCE STRATE­GISTS

pa­per. Their new pa­per, “Aus­tralia’s Man­age­ment of Strate­gic Risk in the new era”, will be launched by for­mer chief of the De­fence Force An­gus Hous­ton.

Aus­tralia’s de­fence pol­icy, as set out in suc­ces­sive white papers, has been based on an as­sump­tion that no na­tion in the re­gion has the ca­pa­bil­ity to mount an in­va­sion.

Cir­cum­stances have changed, the au­thors say, and that is soon likely to no longer be the case.

The au­thors stress that it’s im­por­tant not to des­ig­nate China as inevitably hos­tile to Aus­tralia, and to recog­nise that there would be con­straints on the ex­pan­sion of its mil­i­tary in­flu­ence. “Be­yond the short to medium term, there would be in­trin­sic dif­fi­cul­ties in op­er­at­ing in wa­ters po­ten­tially dom­i­nated by In­dian anti-ac­cess ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and there’s po­ten­tial, too, for In­done­sia to de­velop sig­nif­i­cant sea-de­nial ca­pa­bil­i­ties,” they say.

But they say Bei­jing’s ag­gres­sive poli­cies to­wards the South China Sea and else­where are grounds for con­cern that it seeks po­lit­i­cal dom­i­na­tion over coun­tries in its re­gion, in­clud­ing coun­tries in South­east Asia and in­clud­ing Aus­tralia.

“It’s China, there­fore, that could come to pose se­ri­ous chal­lenges for Aus­tralian de­fence pol­icy,” they say.

The au­thors say Bei­jing is steadily erod­ing Aus­tralia’s strate­gic space and a cri­sis could de­velop rapidly, with rel­a­tively lit­tle warn­ing time to pre­pare the de­fence force to deal with it.

The long­stand­ing view that the na­tion would have a decade or more of de­te­ri­o­rat­ing in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions to pre­pare for a con­flict looks in­creas­ingly shaky.

In­di­vid­ual South­east Asian coun­tries are drift­ing into China’s or­bit and ASEAN has proved in­ca­pable of pro­tect­ing its ter­ri­to­rial in­ter­ests in the South China Sea, the au­thors say.

China’s mil­i­tari­sa­tion of the South China Sea, by build­ing ar­ti­fi­cial is­lands on reefs and set­ting up mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties on them, has brought its power-pro­jec­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties 1200km closer to Aus­tralia’s north­ern ap­proaches.

They say Aus­tralia needs to de­velop an “anti-ac­cess and aread­e­nial” ca­pa­bil­ity that will en­able it to dom­i­nate its north­ern and west­ern ap­proaches — in­clud­ing, if nec­es­sary, the straits of South­east Asia — to ex­ploit China’s mil­i­tary weak­nesses when op­er­at­ing at a dis­tance from home.

Such sys­tems in­volve the co­or­di­nated use of weapons such as sub­marines, air­craft, mines and mis­sile sys­tems to make it too costly for an en­emy to en­ter or op­er­ate in a con­tested area. It’s how China hopes to keep pow­er­ful US air­craft car­rier groups far from its own shores.

Once Chi­nese naval forces are far from their home bases, they’ll be vul­ner­a­ble to at­tack by sub­marines, the au­thors say. They warn that were China to ac­quire a mil­i­tary base in the South­east Asian ar­chi­pel­ago, the strate­gic con­se­quences for Aus­tralia would be se­ri­ous. Aus­tralia also needs to re­build ca­pa­bil­i­ties that have been run down in the past 15 years be­cause of a pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with op­er­a­tions in Afghanistan and the Mid­dle East, the au­thors say.

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