Home' Asia Pacific Defence Reporter : APDR 01 2015 Contents to influence the behaviour of other countries. They have
been doing it for decades with countries who choose
to trade with Taiwan.
And they have already used it in Australia: Western
Australian Premier Colin Barnett recently blamed the
Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute as a cause of delay in the
Western Australian Oakajee port and rail project. It is
an example of how tensions between China and Japan
can have a direct impact on the Australian economy.
ANU’s report, cited above, states in unequivocal
terms, “As Australia has strengthened its alliance with
the US, and as frictions and clashes have complicated
the external environment for countries in the region,
the Australia–China relationship itself is being tested.
Mutual suspicion is rising, and the imbalance between
the security and the economic relationship is becoming
more serious. Despite the establishment of a strategic
partnership, the distance between the goals of the
partnership and reality is growing yet wider. Security
relations are not only the most sensitive indicator of the
bilateral relationship; they are also the most meaningful,
and they will have a major impact on the development
of the region”.
So the question must be asked, are we playing
with fire? Are we engaged in Russian roulette with
a Chinese Gun? Most are familiar with the way the
game is played and its risk profile; there’s only a one
in ‘n’ chance (where ‘n’ is the number of chambers in
the revolver) of the bullet ending up in the unwanted
position, but the consequences if it does are significant.
STRONG ECONOMY, STRONG
Perhaps Australia can learn from the economically
successful island State of Singapore.
Lee Kuan Yew listed a strong economy and a strong
Defence capability as key to Singapore’s success. In
‘Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going’ he said “You
cannot have a strong defence unless you have a strong
Singapore, a country more western than many
western countries, but positioned in the shadows of
China, plays the balancing act well. When offered
major non NATO status ally status in 2003, Singapore
declined it. They instead opted for a much more placid
Strategic Framework Agreement which actually drives
far more regional interaction between Singapore and
US military forces than Australia’s alliance with the US
SINGAPORE IS A SHREWD PLAYER.
Singapore’s GDP in 2013 was US $327 billion and
its foreign exchange reserves sit at US $273billion
(placing them 11th globally, and well ahead of Australia
which ranks 36th). Its armed forces are considered the
best in the region. The RSN has a highly capable and
competent submarine force and a range of combatant
and amphibious vessels. The Air Force has over 350
aircraft (some based in Australia, France and the US)
and the army is well equipped. The military’s active
strength is circa 71,000 and the nation is capable
of mobilising over 800,000 reservists. But it has
this capability because of its economy, and it has its
economy in part due to the way it carefully manages its
international relations. Singapore is arguably a lynchpin
of the US’ ‘rebalancing to the Asia’ strategy, a situation
cleverly achieved without upsetting Beijing.
Australia must proceed with caution; ‘Option J’
may tip the balance too far in favour of defence over
finance, and that will ultimately have a negative impact
on Defence as well (we lose out both ways).
None of this suggests that a Japanese solution should
not be allowed to compete in any future submarine
project competition. It should, but the full impact of a
decision to go down a Japanese submarine path must
be factored into the equation.
How will a Japanese decision affect the economic
relationship between Australia and China? How will
it affect future trade discussion? How will it affect
our mining industry? How will it affect the broader
Australian economy? These questions, among others,
must be studied and answered. Maybe it would be
prudent to discuss it with the Chinese directly?
With respect to the bullet, the chance of it landing
in the critical chamber is small, but the consequences
great. A strong defence for Australia into the future is
dependent on a strong economy (observe the effects
of the Defence cuts under Labor). We should not put
the cart before the horse. We should not be politically
What use would Australia be to the US in time of
conflict if its capability has been fettered by its own
strategic ineptness? The potential economic impact
that flows from upsetting the Chinese may result in
the ‘Option J’ program being the antithesis of national
China’s strategic concerns over ‘Option J’ could have
been diffused if the Japanese offering had been
selected through a rigorous and open tender process.
Unfortunately, even though it appears as though a
competition will take place, if the Japanese were to win
now, the Chinese are less likely to be convinced of the
bona fides of the outcome noting the Prime Ministerial
‘Option J’ pronouncements to date.
The cards have not been played well. ¢
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF)
Oyashio-class submarine JS Mochisio (SS 600).
Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication
Specialist 2nd Class N. Brett Morton/Released)
‘Option J’, the unofficial name within Australian Defence for the joint
Australian Japanese undersea program, will be of concern to the Chinese
for both strategic and tactical reasons.
18 Asia Pacific Defence Reporter DEC-JAN 2015
11/12/14 1:38 PM
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