The relationship between Australia and China is becoming more antagonistic as China expands its influence, and projected power, southwards. Australia has always felt reasonably secure, based on its isolation, but China’s obvious ambitions to control the South China Sea,together with technologies that bring Australia into range of the Chinese military, are changing that secure feeling. Australia feels threatened, and it’s taking steps to project its power northwards to deter Chinese advances.
An Australian defense review in 1986 concluded that Australia was “one of the most secure countries in the world…distant from the main centers of global military confrontation”. A new review, published in April 2023, starkly changes that perception. This latest study concluded that Australia’s “strategic circumstances are now radically different”. It adds that concerns about China demand a radical makeover of Australia’s defence strategy. More bluntly, as Australian officials often are, one defence insider said, “if we get to the point where we have an amphibious landing group approaching Darwin, we’re already buggered.” Bec Shrimpton of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute argues that long-distance power projection represents the most logical form of deterrence.
The Australian government has wasted no time in addressing the findings of the latest report. In fact, they anticipated it by entering into AUKUS; the tri-lateral pact under which the UK and the US will supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. So determined was the Aussie government to address the Chinese threat quickly, and thoroughly, that it risked seriously annoying the French government with whom it had a long-standing agreement to buy French conventional submarines. Those submarines would just not have the range, or the fire power, for the projection of force required.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Australian people seem to support this massive change in military strategy; over three-quarters of Australians believe that it is somewhat, or very likely that China, their current biggest trading partner, will pose a military threat to them in the next 20 years. That seems to reflect the words of the defence insider, cited above, “if we get to the point where we have an amphibious landing group approaching Darwin, we’re already buggered”. Darwin is the closest Australian city to the South China Sea, and to China itself.
There are people who believe that AUKUS will only antagonize China, which they think will respond with restrictions on trade and other, relatively benign, reactions……at least initially. Meanwhile, Beijing will certainly continue its takeover of many areas south of its borders. That means those efforts are creeping nearer and nearer to Australia’s north coast.
It is about time we all understood that the Chinese regime firmly believes that its destiny is to rule the world. I fully realize that sound fanciful and paranoid but, as the old saying goes, “just because your paranoid, doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen”. The only way to stop China’s megalomaniacal ambitions is to make it too uncomfortable and risky for them to proceed. To hope they might suddenly become good international citizens, respectful of others, is not only a pipe dream, it is naïve and very dangerous. Go Australia.
The financial cost of Australia’s new initiative will be huge, especially for a country with a relatively small population of 26 million. However, the alternative “we’re already buggered” situation is untenable and unacceptable.
Australia should be grateful that its politicians seem to have a grasp of reality that extends beyond the next election campaign, or even the next media headline. It is refreshing, when you live in a country, like I do, that is becoming more myopic by the day.
Whatever it costs, Australia should stay on its current path of projected power, or risk eventually becoming another province of China.