Australia should stay vigilant against China

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BDN - In a joint press conference during Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Australia on February 2, 2017, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop seemed to hint that Australia might divert in its South China Sea policy since she has not mentioned the South China Sea issue and the Arbitral Tribunal’s Award.

Australia seems to show its closer relation with China through boosting economic cooperation, especially after US President Donald Trump announced the US’s withdrawal from TPP and the Philippines’ changes under the Rodrigo Duterte administration. However, Australia needs to stay vigilant because of China’s big ambition.

Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper clearly found that China was strengthening military modernization by enhancing its growth capability. Particularly, China has developed its navy capacity to go beyond “the first chain of islands” in the Asia-Pacific. China has also built up the “blue water navy” force which can go as far as the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. China’s ambition is to develop its capability of defending their sea routes and get the US navy stay away from this task.

China often explains that its military modernization aims at self-defense but the gap between self-defense and attack is very thin. China has never changed its ambition in the region: dominating the Asia-Pacific region as the US does with the Western hemisphere. Accordingly, China will exert efforts to increase power gap with big neighboring countries in the region like Japan, India, and Russia and surpass medium powers like Australia. China wants to be the strongest country in Asia that no country can threaten. Though China denies its pursuit of war and invasion of other countries but this possibility cannot be eliminated. It’s easier to see that China wants to be the “master” to impose the law and restriction that neighboring countries must follow like the way the US is doing with countries in America.

How does this affect Australia? Australia has more advantages against China’s increasing strength than other countries in Asia thanks to its geographical distance – crossing a large sea. For example, in the World War II, Japanese militarists occupied several countries in East Asia but they did not reach Australia. Therefore, Australia seems to be less worried about China and calmly stood outside watching the US-led allies restraining China.

If so, Australia needs to reconsider its view on China. First, it’s not the matter of China’s military threat at present but in the future. Currently, China is not capable of developing its strength and is not an urgent threat to neighboring countries. What should be said here is that how Australia perceives about China after decades of China's economic growth and use of the huge financial resource from the growth to build its army with high-tech, sophisticated weapons. The Chinese army has as many weapons as the US force does and can be on par with the US, and even has more advantages than the US because the Chinese military force is larger while the US army is more than six thousand miles away and China is right at the “backyard”. In other words, the Chinese military has stronger attack capabilities.



Image: Internet

Secondly and more importantly, Chinese strategists are paying increasing attention to Australia because of oil. China’s production and consumption depend heavily on oil imported mainly from the Middle East and transported via sea-lane. China wants to develop oil pipeline and railways through Myanmar and Pakistan but sea transport remains an easy and cheaper choice. This is one of the reasons for China to develop “blue-water navy” to defend its sea route to the Middle East. However, China has to face with geographical difficulties in assuring its sea routes, particularly the route connecting the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. Chinese ships can go via the Malacca strait or the Lombok strait, or Sunda via Indonesia to the Indian Ocean and the Northwestern Australia. China seems not like going via the Malacca strait because the US military is present on the way in Singapore, where Chinese strategists call “the Malacca dilemma”. That’s why China wants to use the two straits via Indonesia. This means China will maintain its military presence in the sea areas off the Northern Australia. China is also worried about the Australian military’s power capability and will seek ways to prevent Australia from blocking the Lombok and Sunda straits and threatening China’s maritime transport in the Indian Ocean.

Clearly, despite saying that the visit to Australia aimed at boosting economic cooperation, Wang Yi made a step to neutralize Australia’s capabilities of affecting China’s maritime transport and its emergence capability.

Thuc Nguyen