Australia, the United States and China: the debates continue

Parliament house flag post

Australia, the United States and China: the debates continue

Posted 16/06/2014 by Geoff Wade

Australia, the United States and China: the debates continue

The Prime Minister’s recent visit to Washington, where he urged the Americans to continue their ‘pivot to Asia’, occurred at a time when a range of other voices across Australia is expressing diverse thoughts on how Australia might further adjust its symbiotic relationships with both the US and China. 

Perhaps most prominent among these is Malcolm Fraser, whose new book Dangerous allies engages energetically with this long ongoing and increasingly intense debate. Described by the Australian National University’s (ANU) Hugh White as ‘the most radical position argued by a former Australian prime minister on a strategic question since Billy Hughes in the 1930s’, Mr Fraser holds that Australia has become too compliant with the US’s strategic interests and requirements. He therefore urges reducing our dependence on this alliance in order to avoid becoming involved in a potentially disastrous war with China.  

Hugh White also fears a US war with China, but addresses the issue differently. He notes that Australia’s future depends on both America and China and, rather than urging Australia to look after its own interests by divorcing from the US, suggested in his 2012 volume The China choice: why America should share power that the US should ‘remain in Asia on a new basis, allowing China a larger role but also maintaining a strong presence of its own’. Supporting this stand is former Prime Minister Paul Keating who launched The China choice, while averring that the future of Asian stability cannot be cast by the application of US military force. Instead, Mr Keating urged the US and Australia to recognise the legitimacy of the current Chinese Government as well as its prerogatives as a great power. Mark Thomson   of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) meanwhile represents another side of opinion when he argues that ‘the best strategy for Australia will almost always be to work with the United States in executing the strategy it chooses for itself’. Ever the diplomat, Richard Woolcott suggests that a national debate on the subject is necessary. 

These standpoints are reflected in the ongoing debate about the US ‘pivot to Asia’ and Australia’s appropriate attitude thereto.  Mr Fraser, as part of his thesis, criticises Australian support for the American pivot into the western Pacific as a strategic error that commits Australia to a growing US-led containment of China, noting that ‘military encirclement was necessary in relation to the Soviet Union but China is quite a different story’.  On the need for the US to abandon the pivot, Hugh White broadly agrees with Mr Fraser.  Other opinions on this issue, suggesting that the pivot is both long-term and sustainable, can however be found across Australia. Somewhere in the middle sits former diplomat Geoff Miller whose welcoming yet sceptical attitude concludes that ‘there may be advantages in a less than whole-hearted or fully effective US pivot to Asia’.   

Intimately threaded through these debates is the integral question of Australia’s appropriate engagement within the Anglosphere (or ‘Five-Eyes’) security community, comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US. The debate between Hugh White and ASPI head Peter Jennings encapsulates the dichotomy, with Jennings opining that the Anglosphere should remain firmly at the centre of Australia’s strategic policy, and White proposing that recalibrations are imperative. Overall, White concludes, ‘the big division in the debate, including in our Anglosphere debate is between those who take China’s challenge to the status quo seriously, and those who think it can be ignored or faced down at low cost’. 

Firmly ensconced in the latter camp is ANU strategic analyst Paul Dibb who, beyond questioning the assumed military threat which China constitutes, asks on what basis further space should be made for a power which many regional states fear. Another ANU researcher, John Blaxland, also describes the enthusiasm of the Southeast Asian states, within such an environment, for the US to continue its strong engagement with the western Pacific as a counter to China’s power, and asks why Australia should act otherwise. There are also suggestions that a larger game is in play, with China actively trying to break the Australia-US alliance in an effort to assert a regional hegemony.  

Meanwhile Australia’s corporate titans urge untrammelled relations with China, exhorting an expansion of economic relations, generally isolated from any reference to strategic issues or regional power plays. ANZ head Mike Smith’s recent comments are unusual in tying the economy with strategic issues. 

These debates will inevitably continue across Australia, but what is obvious is the superficial understanding of China and its imperatives among many commentators.  Regardless of how we perceive great power rivalry in our region, what remains clear is the need for Australia to develop a larger cadre of China specialists—persons literate not only in the Chinese language but also in the cultures and history of the Sinosphere. US diplomat Kurt Campbell has argued a similar imperative for the US. Only thereby will debate and understandings deepen and will we be better equipped to respond to the ever-changing environment to Australia’s north.


Thank you for your comment. If it does not require moderation, it will appear shortly.
Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print

FlagPost

Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament


Parliamentary Library Logo showing Information Analysis & Advice

Archive

Syndication

Tagcloud

refugees asylum immigration Parliament Australian foreign policy elections climate change social security women welfare reform taxation Indigenous Australians Australian Defence Force welfare policy school education higher education private health insurance health financing emissions trading Senate Australian Bureau of Statistics employment people trafficking Asia statistics Middle East illicit drugs gambling health reform federal election 2010 income management Medicare disability Sport United Nations industrial relations constitution transport Australian Public Service politics criminal law Afghanistan health forced labour environment aged care aid Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency World Anti-Doping Agency United States federal budget Carbon Pricing Mechanism dental health regulation food Fair Work Act voting law enforcement electoral reform public service reform OECD Australian Electoral Commission WADA child protection poker machines Australia in the Asian Century steroids National Disability Insurance Scheme detention 43rd Parliament slavery health system domestic violence parliamentary procedure International Women's Day accountability defence capability multiculturalism ASADA Australian Federal Police governance labour force people smuggling debt international relations New Zealand Australian Crime Commission pharmaceutical benefits scheme Human rights crime China leadership Census election results UK Parliament Papua New Guinea banking corruption pensions children's health Aviation federal election 2013 foreign debt gross debt net debt Senators and Members ALP Newstart Parenting Payment Youth Allowance sea farers Australian economy violence against women vocational education and training military history by-election political parties High Court skilled migration mental health Federal Court terrorist groups science social media Higher Education Loan Program HECS federal state relations youth paid parental leave same sex relationships coal seam gas customs planning doping health risks Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling sex slavery Special Rapporteur Northern Territory Emergency Response social policy Rural and regional trade unions Foreign affairs election timetable Indigenous royal commission Productivity United Kingdom firearms public policy Population ADRV terrorism transparency research and development welfare ASIO intelligence community Australian Security Intelligence Organisation carbon tax mining employer employee renewable energy regional unemployment fishing European Union family assistance United Nations Security Council forestry food labelling Drugs welfare systems Indonesia children Constitutional reform local government codes of conduct terrorist financing homelessness Parliamentary remuneration money laundering Trafficking in Persons Report energy social inclusion paternalism nutrition ODA Defence sitting days electoral divisions Southeast Asia administrative law universities TAFE Ireland citizenship asylum seekers early childhood education Canada Financial sector national security fuel disability employment Tasmania integrity standards NATO Australian Secret Intelligence Service sexual abuse World Trade Organization Australia public health housing affordability bulk billing water health policy Governor-General US economy export liquefied natural gas foreign bribery question time speaker superannuation public housing expertise climate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry Pacific Islands reserved seats new psychoactive substances synthetic drugs UNODC carbon markets animal health middle class welfare constitutional recognition of local government referendum consumer laws PISA competition policy US politics language education baby bonus Leaders of the Opposition citizen engagement policymaking Australia Greens servitude Trafficking Protocol forced marriage alcohol entitlements ministries Hung Parliament social citizenship maritime Iran ANZUS regional students school chaplains federal budget 2011-12 salary Medicare Locals primary care Building the Education Revolution marine pollution sustainability prisons police deaths in custody electoral margins electoral pendulum electoral redistribution redistribution NSW redistribution WA redistribution ACT electoral boundaries ASEAN Sustainable Development Goals Double dissolution Senators safety vehicles MYEFO Pathology tertiary education Taiwan Xi Ma meeting family violence government financial advisers financial planners Financial System Inquiry Murray Inquiry China; Economic policy; Southeast Asia; Africa housing Speaker; House of Representatives; Parliament High Court; Indigenous; Indigenous Australians; Native Title ACT Indigenous education Norfolk Island External Territories emissions reduction fund; climate change child care funding refugees immigration asylum procurement Indigenous health e-voting internet voting nsw state elections 44th Parliament 2015 ABS Age Pension Death penalty capital punishment execution Bali nine Bali bombings Trade EU China soft power education Fiji India Disability Support Pension Antarctica Diplomacy by-elections state and territories Bills anti-corruption fraud bribery corporate ownership whistleblower G20 economic reform innovation Members of Parliament Scottish referendum Middle East; national security; terrorism social services Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2013 online grooming sexual assault of minors ACT Assembly smoking plain packaging tobacco cigarettes Asia; Japan; international relations Work Health and Safety Migration; asylum seekers; regional processing China; United States; international relations fiscal policy Racial Discrimination Act; social policy; human rights; indigenous Australians Foreign policy Israel Palestine asylum refugees immigration political finance donations foreign aid Economics efficiency human rights; Racial Discrimination Act employment law bullying Animal law; food copyright Australian Law Reform Commission industry peace keeping contracts workplace policies same-sex marriage disorderly conduct retirement Parliament House standing orders prime ministers First speech defence budget submarines workers Somalia GDP world heritage political engagement leave loading Trade; tariffs; safeguards; Anti-dumping public interest disclosure whistleblowing Productivity Commission limitation period cancer gene patents genetic testing suspension of standing and sessional orders live exports infant mortality honorary citizen railways disciplinary tribunals standard of proof World Health Organisation arts international students skilled graduate visas temporary employment visas apologies roads Italy national heritage NHMRC anti-dumping Rent Assistance obesity evidence law sacrament of confession US presidential election international days DFAT UN General Assembly deregulation Regulation Impact Statements small business Breaker Morant regional engagement social determinants of health abortion Members suspension workplace health and safety marine reserves hearing Victoria astronomy resources sector YMCA youth parliament Korea rebate Australian Greens presidential nomination Racial Discrimination Act political parties preselection solar hot water Financial Action Taskforce Horn of Africa peacekeeping piracy Great Barrier Reef Stronger futures political financing political education Social Inclusion Board early childhood National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care Murray-Darling Basin sanctions Norway hospitals republic President Barack Obama Presidential visits qantas counselling Korean peninsula Work Choices biosecurity hendra environmental law federalism federation preselection therapeutic goods Therapeutic Goods Administration plebiscites computer games pests suicide nuclear COAG Ministerial Councils floods ADHD stimulant medication advertising electricity extradition conscience votes poverty preventative health rural health coastal erosion Parliamentary Budget Office work-life balance

Show all
Show less
Back to top