Deploying Australia’s Navy to Ayungin atoll makes no strategic senseSep 9, 2023
I wonder how many Australians know where the Ayungin Shoal/Second Thomas/Ren’ai Jiao is? Do they know that their Navy has been deployed to this atoll, ostensibly to defend their “national interest”!
Do Australians know that the sovereignty of the Philippine occupied shoal (since 1998), is being disputed by China, Vietnam, and Taiwan? Do they know that China intends to use military force to defend the feature against intrusion from any external power, the United States included?
The Ayungin is a submerged atoll. It has been in the news lately over the use of laser beams and water cannons by Chinese Coastguard vessels against the Philippines’ forces preventing them from resupplying the marines on the sunken Sierra Madre.
The crisis was averted after the PH Coastguard succeeded in resupplying the marines.
China has permanently stationed its maritime forces in the vicinity of Sierra Madre since 2012 partly in response to the presence of the US Navy. In 2016, for example, Beijing completed the construction of seven artificial islands in the Spratlys for military use, including the Mischief Reef, 24 nautical miles away from Ayungin.
The Australian Navy depends on the US Navy for protection. Whereas the Chinese Navy operates in its own backyard. If an untoward event were to happen at Ayungin, against a much stronger PLA Navy, without support from home, the Australian Navy will be operating at a disadvantage. The Shoal is 1,600 nautical miles from Darwin.
Hence, is it worth the Australian lives and treasury to intimidate China in a distant place, just because the current administration wants to please the Americans for the costly five nuclear powered submarines? Besides, under AUKUS, the Virginia Class submarines will come into service only in the late 2030s. By which time, in the event of a war with China, they will be too little, too late, to dent the expanding Chinese armoury.
The Labour Government decision to send troops to the Ayungin will make Malcom Fraser cringe in his grave. In the book, he co -authored with Cairn Roberts (Dangerous Allies, Melbourne University Press, 2014), he urged Australian policy planners to stop relying on America as a strategic patron for its security umbrella.
In Fraser’s view, continuing the alliance with the US in a new multipolar world order comes at a significant cost, with little benefit to Canberra. Besides, in a war scenario involving China and the US, the US military bases and facilities in Australia can be targeted, further exposing Australia’s vulnerabilities, and endangering Australian lives.
The late Prime Minister of Australia argued that “changes across the globe, within America, within the region, within America and within Australia” require a new strategic thinking to ensure Australia remain an important power in the region. In his view, continuing the current policy of dependence on Washington is increasingly difficult “to justify” especially when China, in his words, “does not represent a threat to the integrity of an independent Australia.”
Alive, Malcolm Fraser would be as intellectually devastated as Paul Keating is with the present policy on China. On one hand, the Aussies want to sell more barley, wine, iron ore and lobsters for the much- needed hard cash and yet, on the other hand, the Albanese administration has quietly dispatched its Navy to Ayungin atoll to intimidate China to win favours from Washington.
Coupled with recent international events which include the expansion of BRICS, the war in Ukraine and the rise of China as a technological- cum- economic superpower which have changed the geopolitical chessboard, it is untenable for Australia to retain a foreign policy that is permanently tied to the US.
Only fools believe the US will protect Australia from China.