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TAIPEI — Australia released its 2013 Defence White Paper on May 3 outlining various defense challenges and goals the nation faces.
One area of surprise is the paper’s claim that “Australia welcomes China’s rise.” This should serve as a reality check for those in Washington who believe that Australia will serve as a key contributor to the Pentagon’s future AirSea Battle plans against China.
It is clear that economic issues are playing a significant factor in Australia’s future defense strategy. One might consider it a survival strategy.
Though the paper indicated Australia is going forward with the purchase of the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter and that it welcomed the opportunity to work with the U.S. on its Asia Pivot, there are also indicators that suggest that the country must face facts: in terms of trade for Australia, China’s continued economic growth has helped “to offset the economic troubles” of the U.S.
Australia’s geographic station places it in a critical and yet uncomfortable position vis-à-vis its long friendship with the U.S. It has a long history of placating the U.S., fighting side-by-side in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan, and yet today the U.S. faces a serious contender for Australia’s future survival and prosperity – China.
Though the report indicates that the Australian government does not believe that it “must choose” between China and the U.S., it “does not approach China as an adversary.”
“The relationship between the United States and China, the region’s and the globe’s two most powerful states, will more than any other single factor determine our strategic environment over coming decades.”
Further, “China’s continued rise as a global power, the increasing economic and strategic weight of East Asia ...[is] an area of increasing strategic significance. In aggregate, these trends are shaping the emergence of the Indo-Pacific as a single strategic arc.”
The government’s policy is aimed at encouraging China’s peaceful rise and ensuring that strategic competition does not lead to conflict. China’s economic transformation is changing the regional global strategic balance and is a major contributor to global strategic weight shifting to the Indo-Pacific.
“This will inevitably affect the strategic calculations and posture of regional countries and is changing the balance of military power in the western Pacific.”
As an indicator of Australian efforts to face the blunt reality of China’s rising military machine, the report cites Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s visit to Beijing last month, when it was agreed to designate their bilateral relationship as a “strategic partnership.”
As a result of the trip, Australia and China will conduct annual dialogues at the “leaders-level” with two new ministerial-level dialogues: the Foreign and Strategic Dialogue and the Strategic Economic Dialogue.
These will be in addition to the longstanding Defence Strategic Dialogue held annually between the Department of Defence and the People’s Liberation Army. Australia is one of the few countries that have a strategic dialogue at the four-star level with China.
“Our joint commitment to develop our defence relationship further is articulated in the Australia-China Defence Engagement Action Plan. The Plan includes initiatives to enhance our maritime engagement, peacekeeping cooperation, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief engagement, working-level activities, academic exchanges and senior level dialogue.”