At the present time for Australia the rise of China is not yet complete, but that is not to say Australians should be complacent to the challenges that its rise will bring. Nothing is more certain however, than as China rises it will draw Australia into regional political dynamics in a more comprehensive way. The impact will be akin to the way that Australia was essentially dragged into acknowledging that it existed in the sphere of Asia rather than Europe, by the advance of the Japanese in World War II (WWII). China, as its rise and influence become exponentially greater, will at the end of the day, demand responses from Australia that show whether we are ‘with’ them or ‘against’ them. This is what powerful nation-states do as they seek to establish their maximum potential and sphere of influence in geo-strategy, and they have done it since time-in-memoriam. China’s demand with regard to alliances in the region, will not be dissimilar to what the Americans demanded of Australia and many other Western nations in the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster. Whilst the decisions that will be required by China will surely not have the suddenness that the Americans demanded under the Bush/Cheney stewardship, they will over time however, want decisions and actions that offer proof of Australia’s immediate and future intent.
To be sure, China will increasingly want to know where Australia stands on contemporary issues that the region is beset with such as immigration, global warming, supply of resources and food bowl issues to name but a few. These however, will only be the tip of the iceberg. Most importantly, China will, without doubt, want to know where Australia stands on strategic alliances. This is what nations give the utmost importance to when they become ‘developed’ and amass the capabilities to influence and then act extramural to their own borders, which China is now undertaking in a focussed and determined way. China will claim its place in the debates, whether they are one-off or develop into bigger concerns in the coming years, and interact with and/or object to happenings when they arise and it will do so with the power that the situation requires. Why would it not? All of the powerful nation-states prior to it have and in the past two hundred years the Americans, French and English have excelled at it.
In the grand scheme of things, whilst all of these issues are relatively simple to deal with in the face of what is to come for Australia the really big ticket issue that China will incrementally demand of Australia—and want forthright and decisive decisions about—is where does Australia stand with regard to the western Pacific? China will particularly want to know how its expansion from being a localised power to a regional power is seen by Australia, and in particular how Australia would re-act given any American re-entry into the region after China’s initial push for influence. These are the two most pressing questions China will want to know and will exert corresponding pressures to gain answers, not unlike what the Americans did in Southeast Asia during the 1960s. This time of reckoning is fast approaching for Australia and it is pertinent to ask, are we prepared?
The simple answer to the major question that is being posed is ‘No.’ Taking a step back in time to the beginning of the Pacific phase of WWII is provides an insight into what happens when a country is not prepared for a coming storm. For Australia, in the first instance, with regard to WWII, this was a relatively distant event—a war in Europe—which amounted to a problem that was to develop but was thought not to be of an immediate danger. Then came an attack on Pearl Harbor, and not long after that an attack on Darwin. This thrust Australia into the thick of things and signalled the beginning in earnest of the Pacific theatre of WWII: Australia was shocked and dumbfounded by the velocity and cascade of events. Which brings us to the point of what did Australia have to offer at this point in the war? Australia had personnel and little else, no weapons of real worth or infrastructure to meet the needs of a coming war. The palpable fear of the time centred on the very real possibility in the minds-eye of Australians, and moreover due to the ferocity of the attacks on Darwin which comprised 200-plus raids, that Australia had little available to defend itself should the Japanese press their advantage.
The coming storm for Australia is that as China rises, it will clash with America in one way or another in the Pacific. America will not accept China’s ‘intrusion’ into the region and China will no longer accept the status quo of America strategically ‘owning’ the region. An example of the animosity the China-America situation reflects in the international arena can be seen in the reaction to piracy off the coast of Somalia in which the People’s Liberation Army Navy refused to fall under the command of the Americans. Whilst this remains a small insight into the frictions, it is nevertheless a telling sign—and a sign of things to come. To not acknowledge that these frictions exist is folly and Australia will be incrementally involved in the machinations of the region. It is up to Australians to be aware that there is a coming storm, and it will be due to the frictions between the uncompromising stance between China and America in the Asia-Pacific. Because of the Australia’s geographic location it has to live with this, but not be a slave to the forthcoming conditions.
There is little doubt, based on what both the parties have said, that Prime Minister Rudd is much more aware of the need for regional dialogue, more cosmopolitan in his outlook, and understands to a much greater degree than his opposition the shockwave that China will bring, as it moves extramural to its current boundaries. The western Pacific is the next friction point for the world and Australia needs someone at the helm who understands this and will be able to manage the pressures that a China-America predicament will bring to Australia.