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.

Add your comment

[Click to expand]

We welcome your comments, or additional information which is relevant to a post. These can be added by clicking on the ‘Add your comment’ option above. Please note that the Parliamentary Library will moderate comments, and reserves the right not to publish comments that are inconsistent with the objectives of FlagPost. This includes spam, profanity and personal abuse, as well as comments that are factually incorrect or politically partisan. We will close comments after three months.




Captcha
Generate a new image
Type characters from the image:

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 climate change immigration Australian foreign policy parliament social security welfare policy elections welfare reform school education Australian Defence Force health financing higher education emissions trading indigenous Australians women private health insurance people trafficking Employment illicit drugs gambling health reform federal election 2010 Australian Bureau of Statistics statistics United Nations Asia Afghanistan disability income management Middle East Medicare sport health forced labour United States federal budget Industrial Relations Carbon Pricing Mechanism politics dental health criminal law transport aid child protection environment poker machines Australia in the Asian Century Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency steroids World Anti-Doping Agency National Disability Insurance Scheme detention aged care 43rd Parliament slavery health system Law Enforcement Australian Federal Police Fair Work Act Australian Public Service governance labour force people smuggling debt taxation international relations constitution New Zealand food WADA Australian Crime Commission pharmaceutical benefits scheme corruption pensions public service reform children's health Aviation foreign debt gross debt net debt defence capability parliamentary procedure Senate Senators and Members ALP ASADA Newstart Parenting Payment multiculturalism Youth Allowance sea farers terrorist groups science social media Higher Education Loan Program HECS federal state relations accountability Papua New Guinea youth paid parental leave same sex relationships coal seam gas customs planning federal election 2013 Australian Electoral Commission doping OECD crime health risks International Women's Day Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling sex slavery Special Rapporteur Northern Territory Emergency Response social policy terrorism transparency research and development Mental health welfare ASIO intelligence community Australian Security Intelligence Organisation carbon tax mining High Court military history electoral reform employer employee renewable energy regional unemployment fishing European Union Federal Court family assistance skilled migration banking United Nations Security Council Australian economy forestry food labelling vocational education and training Drugs UK Parliament 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 human rights paternalism integrity standards NATO Australian Secret Intelligence Service sexual abuse World Trade Organization Australia public health China housing affordability bulk billing political parties water productivity health policy Governor-General US economy trade unions domestic violence export liquefied natural gas foreign bribery firearms question time speaker superannuation public housing election results by-election expertise public policy climate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change leadership voting Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry regulation Pacific Islands reserved seats new psychoactive substances synthetic drugs UNODC carbon markets animal health middle class welfare ADRV Census Indigenous constitutional recognition of local government referendum consumer laws PISA competition policy royal commission US politics violence against women language education baby bonus Leaders of the Opposition citizen engagement policymaking Australia Greens servitude Trafficking Protocol forced marriage Population rural and regional 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 Bills anti-corruption fraud bribery corporate ownership whistleblower G20 economic reform innovation Members of Parliament Scottish referendum early childhood education 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 national security 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 Southeast Asia Israel Palestine asylum refugees immigration political finance donations foreign aid disability employment Economics efficiency human rights; Racial Discrimination Act employment law bullying asylum seekers 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 election timetable sitting days First speech defence budget submarines workers financial sector Canada Somalia United Kingdom GDP Tasmania world heritage political engagement leave loading Trade; tariffs; safeguards; Anti-dumping public interest disclosure whistleblowing Productivity Commission limitation period universities Ireland 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 nutrition anti-dumping Rent Assistance obesity evidence law sacrament of confession US presidential election international days DFAT UN General Assembly deregulation Regulation Impact Statements administrative law small business Breaker Morant regional engagement social determinants of health abortion Members suspension workplace health and safety marine reserves hearing TAFE Victoria astronomy resources sector YMCA youth parliament Korea fuel 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