Saturday 24 Oct 2020 | 00:52 | SYDNEY
Saturday 24 Oct 2020 | 00:52 | SYDNEY

Australia Asia strategy emerges


Rory Medcalf


7 October 2011 20:30

Does Australia have a strategy for dealing with the new Asia, especially the rise of China and India? This question is central to the Australian Government's recently-announced Asia policy review. Either we have a plan, in which the case the review can test, inform and refine it, or we don't, in which case the review is a logical first step to crafting one.

It is one thing for commentators and independent analysts to assert that Canberra has no real plan when it comes to navigating the strategic, economic and cultural shoals of an unfamiliar Indo-Pacific Asia. But what is more challenging is to provide an accompanying set of precise and realistic recommendations on what is to be done. Which is why it is a pity that not more of Australia's experienced and senior policy-makers (especially those recently out of government service) are willing or able to inject their insider perspectives into the public debate. 

One honourable exception is this thoughtful essay by Scott Dewar, a former adviser to Kevin Rudd and one of the nation's leading Asia policy experts. Also worth a read is some of the commentary beginning to emerge internationally about Australia's future choices, including this piece by Ernie Bower of CSIS that suggests the Australian debate so far is built on questionable assumptions about Chinese stability and governance. Those assumptions are definitely worth close examination – and not only because Australia's future may depend upon it.

I also think the debate in Australia has tended to downplay the role that a rising India will play in our future strategic, economic and societal calculations. This point was made clear in the recent Australia-India Roundtable held at the Lowy Institute. And it is explored in depth in Grand Stakes: Australia's Future Between China and India, my chapter in the 2011-12 Strategic Asia volume, published by the US National Bureau of Asian Research and launched in Washington, DC last week.

In this publication, my first major contribution to Australia's gathering Asia strategy debate, I argue that the contours of a rudimentary Australian security strategy for dealing with the giants are becoming clear. It involves both economic and societal engagement alongside three kinds of strategic hedging against the uncertainties of future Chinese power: stronger Australian maritime forces; a closer US alliance; and a web of security ties with multiple Asian powers, including India.

One big question is whether our leaders have the political will and courage to make the hard decisions needed to transform all of this into something enduring and properly resourced. Another is how smart and subtle they – supported by all of Australia's policy community - can become at putting it into practice.

Photo by Flickr user NASA Goddard Photo and Video.