Beyond COVID-19: Australia, the ‘dangerous decade’ and the panic to come

Introduction

There is some difficulty being at the beginning (or perhaps the middle of) a crisis—the COVID–19 pandemic—whilst understanding there is a greater crisis looming.  The most pertinent and visible public aspect, aside from the outpouring of grief associated with loved ones dying, has been during the early phase of the  emergency was the emptying of supermarket shelves by the general (able-bodied) public.  The general panic created by the pandemic however, and this analysis will argue, is a small sign of what is to come for Australia.  The pandemic, whilst having caught the Australian people and the government completely by surprise and the panic being reflected in the hyper-individualism of empty shelves, the panic buying does also offer an insight into what will happen in the near-future for Australia and as such, it is the contention of this analysis that the current panic buying will be deemed to be a minor happenstance compared to this factor.  To be sure the panic that is to come, is based on current diplomatic and regional circumstances remaining locked in a sclerotic state-of-affairs in Australia – China relations, which has been degrading over time; and continues to worsen.   Hence, unless consecutive future Australian governments’ become much more adept, insightful and proactive in coming to terms with a newfound powerful China, a rapidly approaching catastrophe involving a kinetic exchange—what is colloquially referred to as a ‘shooting war’—will assuredly take place.  This will create within Australia a much greater panic than COVID-19.  The situation that will come to the fore will be a reflection on previous governments and the current government completely failing to comprehend the coming crisis per se, and the consecutive governments that have hoped China’s expansion would be restricted.  Increases in Asia-Pacific regional preponderance by China have been happening in earnest since circa-1995 and moreover, have exponentially increased since 2015.  Consecutive Australian governments—including the current government—have however, only displayed arrogance and ineptness when dealing with what the situation has thrown up.  The issues, now and in the near-future are already in motion and will demand from the current and future Australian governments to have a more focussed and aphoristic understanding of the rise of China; the direct impacts that will take place was the momentum continues.  The pressures Australia will face, will consist of but not be limited to fiscal, economic, mercantile, and militarily impacts.  Powerful nation-states have used the aforementioned tenets to bring lesser-powers to suasion since time-in-memoriam, and there is no reason to believe China will not be part of the historical norm.  Hence, Australia, in coming to terms with these criteria will have to develop an exceptional rethink of what has been and will have to come to terms with an exponentially and ongoing crisis.  The key term for Australian governments and society to fully comprehend here is ‘ongoing,’ as there will be no retardation of the impacts alluded to unless China seeks to do so, as it will be China that will be in control.   Returning to the notion of panic, there is a dire need to assess the panic that will be created as China’s preponderance comes to fruition as there will be unforeseen realities that will be produced by its increasing thrusts into the region.  If history is to be a guide the significant impacts to the abovementioned criterion will begin to impact towards the end of the current decade.   This factor will be elaborated upon later in the analysis.  Nonetheless it is the contention of this analysis that as China gains greater control over the Asia-Pacific region Australia will be consumed by the crisis on a scale greater than the COVID-19 pandemic.   The rise of China will demand a continuum of astute decisions in coming to terms with China’s power-stakes and moreover, the decisions will need to be made in order to avert a war.  With this in mind it is pertinent to observe the astuteness by which the current panic has been handled in order to offer ‘panic’ a context and use it to understand the panic that is to come—as it is the contention of this analysis that it will come. 

To be sure, the current anxiety quickly subsided (although some tensions inevitably remain), due to assurances from the federal government, state premiers, medical experts and the food-growers and their peak body representatives, all were able to safely argue and reinforce the message of it not being necessary to panic per se.  The message that was sent and accepted by the Australian people was through the prism of Australia producing enough food to feed 75 million people,[1]  whilst having a population of 25 million.  The commentary was successful and it did allay what could have evolved into a nightmare scenario—a perennial state of panic.  The panic therefore, peaked after several weeks and then underwent a downward moderation and whilst some concerns will remain within society, calm has largely been restored; and maintained.   Notwithstanding the panic that took place it will be a different panic that grips Australia as China continues its rise.  The panic that will be part of Australian society is that as the decade comes to a close China will have developed its regional power status and it will, by 2030 (and beyond), be prepared to back its preponderance machinations with threat-of-force; and with direct force.  There is a need to explore the way in which this will transpire and within this construct observe that China has used its dealings with the COVID-19 outbreak to its advantage.  The tool of craft China has used however, is to first and foremost acknowledge other powerful nation-states prior to the current state-of-affairs and have utilized their strengths to achieve preponderance; gained politico-traction; and succeeded in expansionism.  A comparison therefore is needed. 

China: their ‘place’ in the world and what has gone before

The current COVID-19 crisis reflects in a sense, how China has come to terms with its ‘place’ within the world and its transition from an isolationist nation-state to a cosmopolitan actor. The  previous acute public health emergency in the early years of the twenty-first century—the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), coronavirus 2—would leave the developed world questioning its status and competencies which in turn, forced the way in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would address its abilities and capabilities in an increasingly globalized world.   It can therefore, be argued the way that the CCP has taken its previous shortcomings into account and its management of the crisis, particularly in Wuhan, reflects the governments’ societal and governance proficiencies and used draconian methods of rheostat to force a downward societal moderation of outbreak.  Hence, the commentary associated with the actions of the CCP—the moral and ethical components of enforced confinement aside—has highlighted an underpinning premise that the CCP wishes to retain the approval of the Chinese people by rapid and efficient actions and also to recover from its initial political- and medical-faltering at the beginning of the crisis.   The CCP has learned from its ineptness in dealing with the early-twenty-first century SARS outbreak and moreover, is acutely aware of the questioning this caused within China’s own domestic population; and by global health authorities.  The trajectory that China has displayed is one of cosmopolitanism and a maturing of understanding of what is required in a globalised world.  In doing so the CCP has manipulated its handling of the crisis to the level of a national ‘call-to-arms,’ which has gone on to successfully instil an overall confidence within Chinese society and by extension, its government and governance.  The premise upon which this has been developed is through the prism of a so-called ‘idealistic-mobilisation’ that reflects a societal dyad: all have contributed; and all have gained.  This has resulted in the populace having a continued faith in its leaders.   The trajectory the CCP has embarked upon and has gained through the outbreak is that of a responsible global citizen and one that is recognized in this way throughout the world.  Thus, China is keen to impress the world and the European Union in particular as United States of America (US)-China relations remain friction-filled; and toxic.  Whilst the COVID-19 crisis within China reflects a more transparent approach by Chinese authorities which includes the highlighting of its domestic issues for the world to observe, the authorities have handled the COVID-19 outbreak, whilst not exceptional, has proven to be sound.  Whether or not China has done enough is moot and need not be entered into here, as it is the trajectory from isolationism to cosmopolitanism and how this is reflected in the management of the crisis, in terms of balancing its newfound place in the world global power-stakes therein, is what is of interest here.  

Notwithstanding the criticisms, the way in which the CCP has handled the crisis reflects its status as a ‘developed’ nation-state in the twenty-first century.  This has been denied in the political sphere in recent times by the CCP,[2] however the signs of being ‘developed’—in the Western-Eurocentric sense of the term—is evident and consists of but is not limited to, a high level of industrialisation and mechanisation; numerous research and development programmes; 850 million people having been removed from poverty[3]; fiscal and taxation protocols in place; a strong military (including a blue water navy); space and missile programmes; and the inclusion within international undertakings and engagements— participation in pirate control off the Gulf of Aden/Horn of Africa[4] during 2008 being a significant foray into world politico-actions.   All of the aforementioned highlight the CCP is acutely aware of China’s new role in the world and especially the Asia-Pacific region and crucially, of maintaining its preponderance.   The trajectory China is choosing to access has been used by numerous powers before it as many powers have utilized domestic stability and the inherent nationalism—the caring about a nations identity[5]—it produces leverage in the increasing of power-stakes.  Succinct examples of preponderance through the aforementioned prisms are readily available in history.

The abovementioned is true of Great Britain in the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries as successive ruling elites managed the domestic stability of the country whilst continuing to rule the (known) world.  All of the time it must be stipulated, the elite were drawing upon the hyper-nationalism that military and mercantile expansionism created within the British populace and it enabled the country’s subjects to absorb both negative and positive aspects of expansionism.   Negative aspects were to tolerate an increased tax burden; press ganging; war; and having to supply personnel for colonisation purposes.  Positive aspects were a deep respect for the British Admiralty as an honourable arm of Britain’s ‘civilising’ and mercantile missions; and the use of private enterprise to enforce British values and protocols—for instance through the East India Company.  What also came to the fore in Britain’s attempt to maintain its ultimate position in European power-stakes would be dissipating the Dutch and French threats and this too, would offer and inculcate within the British populace an enduring belief that its expansionism was beneficial to the world.  Although the British would be more successful than the Netherlands and the France, these two countries would exploit domestic harmony and raid and colonise parts of Southeast Asia, Africa and Oceania.   Drawing upon the idealistic-mobilisation alluded to however, is not restricted to nineteenth century as in 1982 British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would use the Falklands War to gain political leverage in an election through the prism of justifying a war through historical protectorate measures and re-establish Britain’s status as a military power.  China will utilize the newfound gains that have come to the fore and it will pursue a greater preponderance pathway in the Asia-Pacific and with this in mind Australia can now be brought into what will happen in the future and the panic that will be created as China continues its upward trajectory.    

Coming to terms with China as a powerful actor in the Asia-Pacific

Consecutive Australian governments have had varying though overall immense difficulty coming to terms with the ‘age of pax-Sino’—or as referred to in the abovementioned, the ‘rise of China.’  This is the first time a non-Western foreign power has intruded into Australia’s ‘special patch’[6] and it is leading to Australia’s middle-power status being usurped by a foreign power and this has caused the historical politico-advantage Australia has possessed being downgraded.  This has further compromised Australia sand has exposed weaknesses within its economic- and politico-assemblage such as the sheer volume of business transactions China has been freely allowed to make within the Australian mainland over several decades; and the simmering discontents with its neighbours—Papua New Guinea and New Zealand have also come to the fore.  Another core component of the difficulties alluded to comprise the US making an overt demand on Australia to increase its politico- and military-presence in the region—the most recent (March, 2019) being the US Ambassador Arthur Culvahouse Jr., insisting Australia embark upon a direct ‘Step up Strategy[7] to  counter China’s influence in the region.  The aforementioned highlight Australian governments will have to make critical and astute decisions in the next decade which are directly related to China’s regional strategic capabilities and respective governments will also have to address the horrendous state-of-affairs the country will face as China becomes more and more grandiloquent in its version of how the Asia-Pacific should be developed.  Indubitably Australia will have a series of crises to deal with beyond the intensity of China agitating for power in the next decade-plus, although the problems will not be confined to the threat China will pose to Australia’s middle-power status per se, it is the crisis in confidence it will create in Australia that is what is of interest here and this needs to be addressed. 

As the end of the decade nears Australia will be overwhelmed by its past inconsistencies and its flagrant inarticulate use of the advantages it had within the region as a wealthy country, its inabilities to manifest meaningful neighbourly diplomatic relations with its regional partners will come to the fore.   Nonetheless, an understanding of how arrogance through power breeds a lackadaisical approach is to observe what happened to Australia in World War Two (WWII).  The (1942) bombing of Darwin caught Australian military planners completely by surprise, even though it was obvious the Japanese Imperial Navy (JIN) possessed an ocean going/blue water navy which included aircraft carriers and a fleet air arm.  It was however, the tenacity with which the JIN attacked Darwin repeatedly, the sheer professionalism of its fleet air arm and the incredible lack of capabilities Australia possessed in the face of the onslaught that caught the attention of the world.  Australian military forces were so overwhelmed the government was forced to establish the ‘Brisbane Line’[8]—a line hundreds of miles south of the initial impact point because there was an expectation that the Japanese Imperial Army (JIN) would invade and push south.   The crisis of Japan’s incursion into the Australian mainland would finally trigger a response which would be to begin building equipment on the mainland to fight back and this too exhibits how ill-prepared Australia had become.  One example is Australia, in order to prepare its forces for the war that had been so ‘suddenly’ thrust upon its mainland was to build a twin-engine fighter-bomber—the Bristol Beaufighter.  The factory was being built around the aircraft production line as the Pacific phase of WWII began to gain momentum.  The factory that was required to manufacture the aircraft had not been commissioned prior to the immediate necessity of building the aircraft and as such, emphasises the point of a government and previous governments being caught completely unaware of the need for heavy industry; and qualified personnel.  This is writ large in the Australian domestic environment in contemporary times.  Pre-WWII Australia got much of its ‘safekeeping’ from England which created a false sense of security; and a strong sense of its capabilities.  Both of which were patently false understanding on the part of the Australian populace.  The panic that was created in Australia would consume its government, military and society in general and it is with this in mind that can be correlated to the rise of China. 

Furthering the notional understanding of panic becoming part of the Australian environment and the pending impact China will have, is to first and foremost note that in contemporary times China is in its nascent phase of becoming a world power and to be sure, it has not as yet, applied the full extent of its determination and forthrightness in the establishment of power.   There have been some tangible regional fortressing actions such as the building and reinforcing of Fiery Reef, Mischief Reef, and the Paracel Islands.  However, these are deemed to be forward-defence locations only by China and although it is consistent with other actors in the past—Australia’s in Malaysia, France in Algeria, Britain in Gibraltar and the US in Guam—there has been no actions from other actors in stopping the progress.  What the gaining of assets brings about however, is a change in the rationale of the actor that owns the asset and this is where the danger lies for Australia.  If history is to be a guide and China continues on the trajectory of expansionism, it will continue to obtain assets, which will in turn be in need of ‘protection.’  Australia has many of China has many assets in Australia and by necessity, it will incrementally and then exponentially pressure Australia to make the assets available to China or risk having an intervention.  This will be when the panic sets in for the Australian government; and society.  This can now be given a perspective.

China has in terms of international relations, incrementally engaged the world and by definition its progression has manifestly caught the West by surprise in tenacity; and quest.  China’s intent is to be a unilateral power or at the very least, to be a ‘pole’ in a multi-polar world—the European Union; US; and Russian Federation being the other major actors.  The quest referred to it can be safely argued, has been taking place since circa-1995, although it gained a significant momentum in the National People’s Congress—the ruling body of the CCP—when the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was bombed by the US (1999) during the Balkans conflict[9] and from that point on China began its military build-up in earnest.  In the first decade of the twenty-first century China has continued its geo-strategic developments: the Belt and Road Initiative, which links China to Central Europe and North Africa); and the String-of-Pearls ports initiative which seeks to semi-circle the Asia-Pacific region with a group of forward-defence positions.  To be sure, China is mirroring the West as the US has bases in Guam, Hawaii, Diego Garcia, Okinawa and Saudi Arabia; and Britain has a military presence in Gibraltar, Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas and Scotland–the list of Western countries that have indulged in this practice is far too vast for this commentary and it is only pertinent to mention China will begin to do similar in this decade through its economic-, military-, and logistical-alliances (as the West did prior).  Thus, Australia is about to enter a decade which will at times require succinct and articulate decision-making to offset the coming panic. 

What will happen should the precursor of history be a gateway to the future, is and remains China will demand an ‘are you with us, or against us’ decision from Australia over the decade 2020 – 2030.  At times the pressure toward Australia about who it supports in the region will be increased and retarded and moreover, it will always be China that will moderate the politico-dialogue therein.  The upcoming mantra on the part of China, will be designed to assess where Australia’s allegiances remain; and who will come to Australia’s aid should the state-of-affairs need to be extended beyond politico-parameters to a kinetic exchange—or a ‘shooting war.’  The core dyad of the ongoing engagement will be China seeking to establish whether Australia’s allegiance to the US can be fractured; and more importantly, whether the US will come to the aid of Australia should a kinetic exchange be deployed,  China as the major actor will seek to generate a momentum for iconoclastic change in the region and thereby, reduce Australia’s capacity as a middle-power in the region.  Concomitant to this factor, if the Philippines and Indonesia pledge an alliance to China, Australia will experience a change like no other and moreover, should Papua New Guinea (PNG) also become a part of the momentum for change the politico-, regional- and geo-strategic implosion the immensity of the change Australia will experience a greater panic than when the JIA reached PNG during the Pacific phase of WWII.   What does this mean in real terms and how is a perspective able to be gained? 

China as an ongoing regional power

China having incrementally and then exponentially experienced ever-greater influence in the Asia-Pacific region will begin to apply considerable pressure on Australia and moreover, if history is to be repeated it will move to ‘take’ what it considers to be ‘theirs’ and it will be through the prism of ‘irredentism.’   What a country applies through the power of asset-building is a reconfiguration of ownership and whilst many of the assets of one country may exist in another sovereign nation-state it purposely embarks upon seizing or controlling said assets.  The propensity for asset seizure for the country in control—in this case China—becomes elevated as the populace is inculcated into believing its assets are being withheld.  Invasion by the greater power, the French in Algeria, Britain in Northern Ireland, the US in Iraq, and Japan in Korea are only some of the actors that have deployed such power in order to retain assets.  The seizing of assets in this way is deemed a form of defence against belligerent actors; and of rightful acquisition.  Whilst the aforementioned geo-strategic manoeuvrings have within them varying degrees of occupation and in many cases colonialism, the stark reality is powerful nation-states always have follow-up plans which are inevitably centred on the protection of their assets; and the core components of retaining their assets are threat-of-force, which often culminates in direct force. 

The few twentieth century examples of Western and Eastern Imperialism and the consequences for lesser-powers is an insight into the near-future for Australia.  China and its embracing of mercantilism and cosmopolitanism since the mid-1990s, has caused it to acquire many assets beyond its own borders and it will slowly but surely, in the next decade, begin to assert its authority, ownership and protection of them.  The most obvious geo-strategic point for China to gain influence in the Asia-Pacific region is to act on its greatest and most important asset in Australia: the Port of Darwin.  Understanding that the Port of Darwin is not all of Darwin Harbour is a moot point and is irrelevant to the overall geo-strategic value of the location, as regardless of the moderations within any Australia – China dialogue, there will be an underpinning that China will be prepared to act militarily if its assets are threatened.  The pivot of most importance and one that is vital to comprehend is China will, by the end of the 2020s, be capable of applying both politico- and military-pressure far beyond its shores; and be willing to back up its claims with direct military engagement.  The process therefore, of applying pressure will continue as it will have a capable and robust ocean-going/’blue water’ surface and submarine fleets which have cruise missile and other missile capabilities.   The probability of China having closer Asia-Pacific ties will also have become more manifest, and it will comprise a cohort of other Asia-Pacific nation-states which will indubitably, cause and then force Australia to redefine its allies and capabilities.  Concomitant to the deep-set and fundamental changes that Australia will have to undertake is the CCP knows and understands, Australia has a minimal-population and is an island with few resources and no real capacity (in 2030) to defend its borders—the new Attack Class submarines will not be built to completion; the F-35s (Joint Strike Fighters) will be incapable of defending against Chinese military assets (particularly if Indonesia and the Philippines have moved beyond their respective defence memorandum-of-understanding and are direct allies with China); and the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) will have been stretched beyond its littoral- and ocean-going capabilities, and be demonstrably incapable of patrolling Australia’s massive geographic shoreline.  Should there be a kinetic exchange between the RAN and the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) whilst the RAN may have some successes in any exchange, it is always counter-attacks—whether the initiation of, or the repulsing of—that show the true strength of a military force and since time-in-memoriam it is not the losses in an initial exchange that have been of most importance, it is the replacement of assets that rapidly becomes the principal problem.  The evidence of Japan in WWII attests to the reality of what happens when an island is cut-off; and external kinetic military pressures are applied consistently.  China will be no different in adhering to the aforementioned principles of tactics and strategies, in order to maintain power over Australia and the Asia-Pacific and this will lead to enormous pressures on Australia.

Pressures on Australia

In establishing a military presence directly in or near, its northern-most Australian asset China will not only be capable of disrupting Australia’s easy access to the Strait of Malacca from circa-2030 onwards, it will offer China the opportunity to significantly curtail Australia’s import and export trade through military pressures.   Thus, the current panic buying will be insignificant compared to what will happen as China applies numerous constrictors on Australia.  It is also a pertinent and sagacious to understand that should panic buying extend to the levels of some South American countries and becomes part of daily life, the social offshoots of panic will inevitably mean some components of the Australian army will be needed in a civic-order role, which will further decrease already limited defensive capabilities.  The way in which China would be able to curtail Australia’s middle-power status is to keep Australia – China relations as fluid as possible and this in turn, would cause a continuum of reflexive backlashes in Australian society and incrementally increase the fear of not being able to purchase goods; or have adequate food supplies.  This will, and does cause comprehensive uncertainty and one need look no further than the Russian Federation and the Ukraine to understand this factor.  For Australia and its ongoing relationship with the US and the somewhat imbalance between the two allies, there has been for at least a decade, a desire on the part of the US for Australia to extend its military footprint.  The US continues to demand Australia to ‘do more,’ and now ‘step-up’ without offering a clear and precise direction of its Asia-Pacific ‘pivot’ beyond being concerned about a greater ‘Chinese influence’ in the region.   The ANZUS Treaty—which is a ‘treaty,’ and as such has no legal commitments—does not commit the US to coming to Australia’s aid should a conflict develop.  The worst case scenario for an Australian government is, as the decade comes to a close to find itself immersed in a 2001 ‘War on Terror,’ situation in which there was by the US a demand of either being  ‘with us or against us’ imperative.  The situation for Australia, as with all dire situations, will be compounded by both internal and external factors although panic buying will be created by China’s push to protect its Australian-based assets, which will force the government to come to terms with a problem far greater than the COVID-19 outbreak.  To be sure, the situation will be compounded further should the US take a ‘wait and see’ approach of a kinetic exchange.  Another pressing problem that will face Australian society should China move toward placing severe restrictions on Australian mercantilism which will cause Australia’ living standards to rapidly decline and a knock-on effect will also be many professionals and those that can afford to exit the country will do so.  This has happened in many African countries when conflicts with a neighbouring country breaks out; and also happened in Taiwan during the mid-1990s[10] when China fired missiles into the South China Sea.   As China continues its rise the demands on Australia will incrementally and then exponentially increase and the abovementioned pressures will conjoin and place Australia in a situation of ongoing difficulties as China’s demands will not decrease

Conclusion

In summation: former senator Bronwyn Bishop is correct when she told SkyNews recently that Australia has become ‘totally dependent’ on China.[11]  Interest by China in Australian assets has grown exponentially since it began to become a significant world investor, and it is widely known the CCP is a direct and indirect backer and supporter of Chinese business interests.  This too however, has been done before, as the British government used the East India Company to control and administer British imperial interests in India circa-1700 – 1850.   Notwithstanding that Ms Bishop was part of consecutive conservative Australian governments that actively engaged in globalised trade with few restraints, and that China remains an opportunistic and robust player in the milieu of international asset attainment, her opinion is correct.  The degree to which Australia has become ‘dependent’ on China is moot and need not be debated here, suffice to state Australia has developed a greater economic-dependency on China over time and concomitant to the dependency there has been complacency in moderating the so-called ‘Chinese influence.’  As a result Australia, through negligence of reasoning; and superciliousness toward economic logic, will find itself in an increasingly dire situation as the decade progresses toward 2030.  The fact that so much of Australia’s economic-societal base comes from China, in terms of infrastructure and products will, as the decade comes to a close exponentially, decrease Australia’s  ability to control its financial-;  economic-; mercantile-; and military-capabilities to the extent it has done in the past.  To have such an enormous deficit in terms of influence and to have had consecutive governments continue to offer China a range of business opportunities without applying any form of strategic astuteness over the previous three decades—possibly the leasing of the Port of Darwin[12] being the decision that will prove to be the most calamitous—has (and will) indubitably, encourage China’s forthrightness.  These factors in turn this analysis argues has also enlivened a greater potential of drawing Australia into a war over the assets leased and sold to Chinese businesses as the historical norm ‘protecting’ assets remains robust in the twenty-first century.  When the aforementioned actually begins to come to fruition and the reality of a war happening actually taking place begins to unfold, the deleterious position Australian politicians’ have deliberately and willingly placed Australian society in over the past decades will become profoundly manifest and  will exist on all of the aforementioned fronts.  The panic that will grip Australians and come to the societal forefront will exceed the aforementioned WWII reality of a pending invasion by the JIN and thus, panic buying will only be one aspect of the immense problems that will be generated.

Part of the reason Australia was so panic-stricken during WWII was because its defences were inadequate and it had no complete and thorough military capabilities and therefore, Australia’s ability to ‘step up,’ as requested by the Ambassador Culvason Jr., has also long gone.  There is no effective and sustained regional preponderance capability on the part of Australia, nor is there a substantial mainland defence capability vis-a-vie Australia’s capabilities to date depend upon French submarine builders; American-built (imported) aircraft; and United Kingdom shipbuilders.  To place this in perspective, if the Australian government began a domestic development programme in 2021 it would, unless multiple billions of investment dollars in infrastructure and specialist personnel were implemented and then injected into society, it would take vastly longer than ten years to reach a comprehensive,  meaningful and ongoing industrial and mechanisation regimen.  The programmes that would allow for replacement aircraft, ships and other defence assets to be manufactured onshore, and more importantly, replaced is at the present time completely unavailable. 

Should China decide to make regional-strategic demands on Australia and the government be incapable of negotiating the increasingly hard-line that the Chinese government will take as the decade continues, the panic buying that will be generated will be followed by a percolation of the general public being panic struck.  This will become the norm for Australian society—think through the bombing of Darwin (1942) and the sheer terror that created by the JIN’s fleet air arm flying 200-plus sorties over the town and surrounds as there was no adequate defence mechanism in place—this is true of contemporary Australian defence.  In keeping with the understanding that a conflict will take place a concomitant problem that will befall Australia is, any foreign expert personnel will be instructed by their respective governments to leave Australia.   China is fundamentally well-aware that Australia is a lightly-populated; economically-fragile; overwhelmingly resource-starved; and militarily-deficient nation-state.  The last assessment of the Australian Army was its capabilities would be able to hold out against an invader for 19 days[13]; and the sheer vastness of Australia’s coastline prompts the questioning of why successive governments have concentrated on a budget surplus, when a coastguard and littoral/’green water’ navy is, and will be desperately needed in the near-future. 

The time for Australia to adjust its posture in the Asia-Pacific region is essentially, now.  It will of course, entail a considerable re-examination of the US-centric post-WWII posture and vision of the Asia-Pacific region that Australia currently supports.  A review of the current schema would also trigger an examination of the way in which China needs to be approached.  Politicians’ continually lamenting the historic singularity of Australia – US relations being solid and therefore eminently unchangeable, ignore the issue of international relations being a dynamic.  The US has already castigated Europe on numerous occasions over defence and preponderance issues the most noteworthy being changing the parameters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).[14]   It can be argued that the US making demands upon NATO is a fallout from its domestic populace feeling under-appreciated about the US’ roles in attempting to establish regional stability around the world.   Should this attitude remain there is no reason to think the US will not return to its circa-1930 isolationism and if it becomes manifest to a reality the politico-dynamic Australia will be beset by, as it tries to negotiate its defence capabilities, would become exponentially more critical than they already are—and this would be exacerbated by if the US decided Australia was not worth defending.  As 2030 moves chronologically closer, China will place demands upon Australia which in turn will threaten Australia’s regional middle-power status and it will be driven by it seeking to establish its politico- and military-status in the region as a continuum.  The difference however, is China has been preparing for this engagement since the nascent preparations of the Deng era in which the ‘four modernizations’[15] were established, and they will effectively come to fruition as 2030 approaches.  

Alternatively, Australia has delegated its military- and defence-capabilities to others as per the early stages of the Pacific phase of WWII.  It is now too late to come to military terms with as powerful a nation-state as China, a country that will continue to increase its military capabilities over the coming decade and as this becomes the new normal, so too will China’s demands on Australia—as powerful nation-states prior to the twenty-first century have achieved—become more and more sclerotic in its politico-demands.  Australian governments’ must now (and in the future) accept that astute and articulate diplomacy will be the pathway of the future and any diversion from this meaningful role—especially if Australia asserts military force—in the Asia-Pacific region will entail having to deal with an actor that is capable of delivering massive disruption and destruction through economic-, mercantile-, fiscal- and military-power.  The biggest danger for Australia is and remains, if China decides to wage a limited war or seeks to indulge in minor kinetic exchanges—skirmishes—with Australia it will have the upper-hand on all fronts.  From this standpoint, a panic greater that the JIA reaching PNG will ensue, and it will continue for as long as China decides to apply one, or all of the aforementioned pressures.  


[1] Kath Sullivan.  ‘Farmers call for calm amid unprecedented coronavirus supermarket panic buying.’  ABCNews, 21 Mar, 2020. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-21/farmers-call-for-calm-amid-coronavirus-panic-buying/12076764

[2] Christina Zhou. ‘Why is emerging global superpower China still categorised as a ‘developing’ country?’ ABCNews, 11 Apr, 2020.  https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-04-11/why-china-is-still-categorised-as-a-developing-country/10980480

[3] ‘The World Bank in China.’ The World Bank, 23 Apr, 2020.   https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/china/overview

[4] Ankit Panda.  ‘As Somali Pirates Return, Chinese Navy Boast Of Anti-Piracy Operations.’  The Diplomat, 16 Apr, 2017.  https://thediplomat.com/2017/04/as-somali-pirates-return-chinese-navy-boasts-of-anti-piracy-operations/

[5] ‘Nationalism.’  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 29 Nov, 2001.  https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nationalism/

[6] Chengxin Pan, Matthew Clark and Sophie Loy-Wilson.  ‘Australia’s Pivot to the Pacific.’  Australian Outlook, 14 Nov, 2018.  http://www.internationalaffairs.org.au/australianoutlook/australias-pivot-to-the-pacific/

[7] Andrew Tillet.  ‘Australia urged to extend step-up to southeast Asia.’  Financial Review, 12Mar, 2020.  https://www.afr.com/politics/federal/australia-urged-to-extend-step-up-to-south-east-asia-20200311-p548ux

[8] ‘The Brisbane Line.’ GlobalSecurity.org  https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/australia/brisbane-line.htm

[9] Kevin Ponniah and Lazara Marinkovic. ‘The night the US bombed a Chinese embassy.’  BBCNews, 7 msy, 2019.  https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-48134881

[10] J. Michael Cole. ‘The Third Taiwan Strait Crisis: The Forgotten Showdown Between China and America. The National Interest, 10 Mar, 2017.  https://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-third-taiwan-strait-crisis-the-forgotten-showdown-19742

[11] Gary Hardgrave.  SkyNews, 7 Feb, 2020.  https://www.skynews.com.au/details/_6130375201001

[12] Helen Davidson. ‘Chinese company secures 99- year lease of Darwin port in $506m deal.’  The Guardian, 13 Oct, 2015.  https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/oct/13/chinese-company-secures-99-year-lease-of-darwin-port-in-506m-deal

[13] Henry Belot and Dan Conifer.   ‘Jim Molan, former military chief turned Liberal senator, issues stark warning over defence capabilities.’ ABCNews, 4 Jan, 2018.   https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-04/jim-molan-issues-stark-warning-over-adf-capabilities/9303810

[14] ‘Donald Trump says he let NATO allies he was ‘very unhappy’, they’re increasing defence spending.’  ABCNews, 12 June, 2018.  https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-07-12/donald-trump-says-nato-allies-agree-to-increase-defence-spending/9987810

[15] ‘Four Modernizations.’  The Editors of Enclopædia Britannica.  Enclopædia Britannic,. 2020. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Four-Modernizations

This entry was posted in American politics, Asia-Pacific Politics, Asian Century Politics, Australian politics, COVID19, Europe, European politics, Indonesia, international relations, Papua New Guinea, Rise of China, taiwan, Taiwan politics, war, warfare and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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