Tuesday 20 Oct 2020 | 17:55 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 20 Oct 2020 | 17:55 | SYDNEY

The debate over China strategy


Sam Roggeveen


22 June 2011 12:42

The battle for Australia's future China policy has been rejoined today, with Lowy Institute Senior Fellow Alan Dupont launching his Policy Brief, Living With the Dragon: Why Australia needs a China Strategy.

The Interpreter has debated this issue exhaustively over the last 12 months, particularly through the prism of Hugh White's Quarterly Essay and then Ross Babbage's recommendations on Australian defence policy.

Dupont directly takes on both these writers. Here he is on Babbage's proposal for a substantially stronger ADF to counter China's military growth:

Building a defence force primarily to counter China's anticipated force-projection capabilities, or declaring an intent to destabilise China internally as part of a harder deterrent posture, are beyond Australia’s modest defence capabilities and would needlessly jeopardise the stable, long-term relationship with China in which all Australian governments have invested heavily over the past three decades. Operationalising such a policy would require a substantial increase in defence spending that would be costly, difficult to sell politically and would seriously distort the structure of the ADF...

...diplomacy and smart power are far more likely to yield results than a strategy based primarily, or exclusively, on hard power... Japan, South Korea and India are influential regional players who share much in common with Australia, as evidenced by the growing strength of our bilateral security ties with these three Asian democracies. They will prove receptive strategic partners should China choose the path of conflict over cooperation.

And here's Dupont on Hugh White's proposal that the US should relinquish its strategic primacy in Asia in favour of a concert of powers:

The absence of any serious discussion about the attitudes and strengths of Asia’s middle powers is a major weakness of much contemporary China analysis, exemplified by ill-considered calls for Australia to support a ‘Concert of Asia’ as the preferred mechanism for managing Asia’s affairs...

...One obvious problem with this formulation is the dubious assumption that Asia’s smaller states, including Australia, would readily agree to have their individual or collective interests adjudicated by the large powers. This runs counter to the whole thrust of Asian regionalism over the past two decades, with its emphasis on the empowerment of small states...

The obvious retort to this argument is that middle powers might not like a concert arrangement, but they will like the alternative even less. I'll try to press Alan Dupont on this in an interview to appear on The Interpreter later this week.

Photo by Flickr user Oldtasty.