This paper examines the key drivers shaping Australia’s role as a middle power in an era of intensifying US-China strategic competition. These drivers include the influence of strategic geography; its historical legacy in international affairs; the impact of its economic relationships with states in the Indo-Pacific region; the changing demands of defence policy, including the potential offered by rapid technological change; and, the impact of climate change, resource constraints and demographic factors. The paper considers three possible scenarios that will shape Australia’s middle power policy choices – a US-China strategic equilibrium; a “China crash” scenario that promotes a more nationalist and assertive Chinese foreign policy; and a third “major power conflict” scenario where competition extends into military conflict. The paper concludes that Australia cannot maintain a delicate balance between its strategic alliance with the US and trading relationship with China. It argues there is a need for Australia to adopt a deeper strategic alliance with the US while promoting closer ties with its partners in the Indo-Pacific and supporting the growth of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific region to counterbalance growing Chinese power. Australia needs to embrace an Indo-Pacific step up, and as a middle power, reduce the prospect of a Sino-centric regional order emerging.
About the Author
Dr Malcolm Davis joined the Australian Strategic Policy Institute as a Senior Analyst in Defence Strategy and Capability in January 2016. Prior to this, he was a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in China-Western Relations at Bond University from March 2012 to January 2016. He has worked with the Department of Defence, both in Navy Headquarters in the Strategy and Force Structure area, and with Strategic Policy Division in the Strategic Policy Guidance sections from November 2007 to March 2012. Prior to this appointment, he was a Lecturer in Defence Studies with Kings College London at the Joint Services Command and Staff College, Shrivenham, United Kingdom, from June 2000 to October 2007. He holds a PhD in Strategic Studies from the University of Hull as well as two master’s degrees in strategic studies, including from the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre.
Conflict and Stability / Country and Region Studies / East Asia and Asia Pacific / General / Global / International Politics and Security / Maritime Security / Regionalism and Multilateralism / Southeast Asia and ASEAN / Working Papers
Last updated on 03/06/2020