Overreaction in the South China Sea when US influence is waning and Chinese influence is rising

Oct 4, 2018

The present and recent Australian Governments seem to have become victims of their own China and Russia phobias.

In a situation in which China is rising to – or has already attained – super power status ; and in which the United States is losing influence, but is, as yet, unwilling to accept this great change in the global situation, the Australian Government should accept that China is simply demonstrating its rightful place on the world stage.

The Australian Government is reported in the media today as criticising China for adopting ” aggressive tactics ” and for a Chinese destroyer launching an ” unsafe ” challenge to a US warship in the South China Sea.

This implies that, while the Australian Government has no problem if the US behaves in this way,we regard it as dangerous,if a Chinese naval ship behaves in the same manner. Such an approach is of course illogical!

Can you imagine the reaction in Washington if a Chinese naval ship, or Chinese aircraft, were to encircle Hawaii and the Florida keys ,or to sail inside the US 12 mile limit, as US has done in relation to comparable areas of close interest to China. US defence officials urge Australia do so, but at least, so far, we have wisely declined. We – like Indonesia – are not one of the five claimants, which
include both Taiwan and China.

We are indeed placing ourselves in a very curious situation because Trump is clearly a unilateralist. So where does this leave Australia, as an ally of a United States which, under Trump ,does not welcome being in alliances?

Richard Woolcott is a former head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

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