Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 02:17 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 02:17 | SYDNEY

Facing the hard choices on China


Sam Roggeveen


6 February 2008 09:31

Given the moderate and sober tone of Hugh White’s latest post (and, indeed, of everything he writes), it’s easy to overlook the potential radicalism of his position. This is not necessarily a criticism, but as Hugh said in an earlier post, Australian policy has ‘drifted’ into a more pro-China orbit, and drift won’t do. Australia’s defence and foreign policy communities need to face the kinds of issues Hugh raises squarely and honestly, so that we make actual decisions about our strategic future, rather than just drift into it. So what does Hugh recommend, exactly?

First, Hugh says the erosion of America’s capability to defend Taiwan against China is ‘no bad thing’, by which he presumably means that he would prefer to see the island fend for itself against China. There may be good national interest reasons for us (and the US?) to adopt such a policy, but I’d like to hear more about it. Should it be our explicit policy, or should we merely plan not to come to Taiwan’s aid?

Second, Hugh hints that Australia’s ‘interests and objectives’ with regard to China will become less aligned with those of Washington over time. Again, Hugh is careful not to push his argument too far, but the consequences of what he proposes are potentially momentous. Can he imagine a future in which, due to our interests in China, the US alliance would become just one of Australia’s foreign associations, rather than by far the most important one? Again, I ask in the spirit of inquiry rather than critique, though I'm inclined to think this would be a bad thing for Australia.

One last point about the issue that started this discussion, the sale of Australian catamaran hull designs to the Chinese navy: I agree it would be a bad idea to sell over-the-horizon radar technology that could help China find US carriers in the Pacific, but then why is it OK to sell them technology that might help them actually sink those carriers? I never said the sale of catamarans ought to be at the top of our agenda, but nor should it be ignored.