Se­cu­rity, sta­bil­ity of Asia-Pa­cific re­gion in best in­ter­ests of Aus­tralia

Global Times US Edition - - ASIANREVIEW - By Kang Jie The au­thor is an as­sis­tant re­search fel­low at the China In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. opinion@glob­al­

As a mid­dle power of in­creas­ingly di­verg­ing strate­gic iden­ti­ties, the ide­ol­ogy and con­cept of Aus­tralia be­longs to the West, while its se­cu­rity and eco­nomic well-be­ing are un­doubt­edly linked to Asia. Aus­tralian strate­gists worry that the se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment is en­ter­ing a long tran­si­tional pe­riod full of un­cer­tain­ties: US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s am­bigu­ous diplo­macy, the de­cline of Amer­i­can mil­i­tary pri­macy along­side an un­cer­tain Asia-Pa­cific strat­egy and the ex­pan­sion of Is­lamic State across South­east Asia.

Th­ese un­cer­tain­ties have trig­gered in­tense de­bate over Aus­tralia’s for­eign and de­fense pol­icy in academia, deep­en­ing ties with the US and en­hanc­ing Indo-Pa­cific se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Aus­tralia, Ja­pan, In­dia and Sin­ga­pore, cre­at­ing a kind of new “Eastern NATO.”

Some Aus­tralian schol­ars be­lieve they must con­tinue to deepen ties with the US to re­sist mount­ing Chi­nese “as­sertive­ness.” Only by strength­en­ing Aus­tralia’s al­liance with the US and deep­en­ing in­ter­ven­tion can Aus­tralia en­cour­age an in­de­ci­sive US to main­tain its com­mit­ments.

Ross Bab­bage, a for­mer se­nior de­fense of­fi­cial and founder of the Kokoda Foun­da­tion which en­joys a close re­la­tion­ship with the Aus­tra- lian Depart­ment of De­fence, once called upon Aus­tralia to com­pletely re­con­fig­ure its de­fense strat­egy in or­der to de­ter China or in his pre­vi­ous par­lance to pre­pare to “rip an arm off” China.

The 2013 Aus­tralian De­fense White Pa­per noted, “The gov­ern­ment does not be­lieve that Aus­tralia must choose be­tween its long­stand­ing al­liance with the United States and its ex­pand­ing re­la­tion­ship with China; nor do the United States and China be­lieve that we must make such a choice.” How­ever, the US-Aus­tralia mil­i­tary al­liance grows in­creas­ingly ev­i­dent as Aus­tralia be­comes a cru­cial pivot for in­tel­li­gence, lo­gis­tics and ro­ta­tion of US forces in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion.

In 2011, Aus­tralia opened three bases to the US mil­i­tary. In 2014, then US pres­i­dent Barack Obama and then Aus­tralian prime min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott signed the Force Pos­ture Agree­ment. The 25-year agree­ment made Aus­tralian bases avail­able to US Air Force fighters and bombers and in­creased a US Marine Corps gar­ri­son to 2,500.

In 2016, Aus­tralia sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased its de­fense bud­get, procur­ing more F-35 fighters and up­grad­ing its Co­cos Is­lands base in the In­dian Ocean. Boe­ing P-8 Po­sei­don pa­trol air­craft can take off and mon­i­tor Chi­nese sub­marines in the South China Sea from th­ese is­lands west of the Strait of Malacca. At the same time, Aus­tralia’s in­tel­li­gence as­sets play a vi­tal role in Amer­i­can Asia-Pa­cific in­tel­li­gence net­works.

In ad­di­tion to con­sol­i­dat­ing the US-Aus­tralia al­liance, Aus­tralia is seek­ing to strengthen se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion with other US part­ners.

The idea of an Indo-Pa­cific “strate­gic arc” coined in the 2013 Aus­tralian De­fense White Pa­per is grad­u­ally re­plac­ing the “Asia-Pa­cific” as the most fash­ion­able re­gional strat­egy con­cept in US pol­i­tics and academia.

With the rel­a­tive de­cline of US mar­itime pri­macy, the US feels that it must fol­low the ex­am­ple of the Bri­tish em­pire in find­ing re­gional part­ners will­ing to “share re­spon­si­bil­ity” and main­tain its dom­i­nance over the re­gional and global or­der. Aus­tralia, Ja­pan and In­dia are core mem­bers of that arc.

In re­cent years, high­level mil­i­tary ex­changes, joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises and mil­i­tary tech­nol­ogy ex­changes con­tinue to in­crease be­tween the three coun­tries and the US.

While a deeper in­volve­ment in the US-led mul­ti­lat­eral se­cu­rity sys­tem os­ten­si­bly en­hances Aus­tralia’s cer­tainty over its fu­ture se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment, it also in­creases the risks of in­volve­ment in con­fla­gra­tions. Aus­tralia’s se­cu­rity, diplo­matic and eco­nomic in­ter­ests in the re­gion are dif­fer­ent from those of the US, Ja­pan and other coun­tries, es­pe­cially its re­la­tions with China.

China is Aus­tralia’s largest trad­ing part­ner. The two coun­tries do not have any ter­ri­to­rial sovereignty dis­pute. The “China threat” the­ory prop­a­gated in cer­tain sec­tions of the Aus­tralian media is un­doubt­edly a ma­li­cious fab­ri­ca­tion.

As an im­por­tant mem­ber of Asian eco­nomic cir­cles, Aus­tralia is in­creas­ingly de­pen­dent on the se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity of the en­tire Asia-Pa­cific re­gion. Aus­tralia should ad­vance its strate­gic think­ing be­yond the Cold War to avoid be­ing mis­led by the voice of ex­ag­ger­ated strate­gic un­cer­tainty.

Aus­tralia should not base its diplo­macy and de­fense on the self-ful­fill­ing prophecy of Sino-US strate­gic com­pe­ti­tion. Bal­anc­ing dif­fer­ent strate­gic iden­ti­ties to of­fer a bridge for com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween tra­di­tional and emerg­ing re­gional pow­ers could be con­ducive to re­gional strate­gic sta­bil­ity while also work­ing in Aus­tralia’s own best in­ter­ests.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Liu Rui/GT

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