The rise of China- the biggest shift in our international environment since Europeans settled on this continent

Aug 19, 2022
Flags of many countries amongst wooden blocks, China at the forefront
Image: iStock

We cannot simply rely on the US to keep Asia “safe” in future. Is our Prime Minister really aware of this?
In his recent Quarterly Essay: “Sleepwalk to War: Australia’s Unthinking Alliance with America”, Australian defence strategist, Hugh White argues the urgent need to rethink our view of the world and its future and especially how we deal with China and The United States.
He says we need to stop underestimating China’s power and intentions, and to stop overestimating America’s capacity, because a correct assessment of their relative positions is essential to understanding what is happening in Asia and how we can best respond.
The writer says we have been too eager to accept, in the face of clear evidence to the contrary, the idea that America’s position in Asia is invulnerable; that its armed forces are unbeatable, and that its commitment to Asia is unshakeable. 
White’s credentials are impressive. He is Emeritus Professor of Strategic Studies at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the ANU and has published works on military strategy and international relations. He was Deputy Secretary for Strategy and Intelligence in the Australian Department of Defence from 1995 until 2000 and was the inaugural Director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
He argues that Australia is a key player in the Asian region, but that Australian governments have failed to act effectively on the recognition that China is working towards becoming the leading power in the Asia-Pacific region, and in the world, and that it will almost certainly achieve that. 
In the essay, White says that we need to have a national conversation about how Australia should respond to what is the biggest shift in the international environment since Europeans settled on this continent. He argues that it is now time to start talking about the real choices we must make.

India and China will unquestionably play a greater role in the new order and while we may continue to hope that America will play a substantial role in Asia’s new order, we cannot simply rely on that nation to keep Asia “safe” in future.
I came away from reading this tightly argued booklet, satisfied that this is a debate that we must have in Australia and that our federal government must address it urgently. There are serious questions that are not being addressed about defence thinking, and the way we are slanting our approach to these two great powers.
My “take-home” is that we have made a very bad decision about AUKUS and that we must not under any circumstances go to war with China over Taiwan. We need to engage in a thoughtful national debate about ways in which we can most effectively work in the new world order that is emerging.

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