March 26th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

ROYAL COMMISSION INTO SEXUAL ABUSE: J'accuse...! A travesty of justice

CANBERRA OBSERVED Turnbull's grand plan coming apart it seems

EDITORIAL Defence White Paper: rhetoric outpaces action


DOMESTIC AND FAMILY VIOLENCE Is not family breakdown the real issue?

ECONOMICS Oil offers resistance to free market's operation

HISTORY OF TAIWAN Kaohsiung Incident opens road to democracy

LAW AND SOCIETY Section 18C may render all speech "inoffensive"

VICTORIAN PARLIAMENT Risk to democracy, rights in health complaints bill

RESEARCH Transgenderism: treat it as a mental illness

MUSIC In deliberate pursuit of accidental sounds: Arve Henriksen

CINEMA AND SOCIETY Hollywood writes in "hero" part for Trumbo

CINEMA Hailing the Golden Era: Hail Caesar!

BOOK REVIEW Diminished expectations

BOOK REVIEW 12 million refugees

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Defence White Paper: rhetoric outpaces action

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, March 26, 2016

The 2016 Defence White Paper, originally due for release last year but delayed with the accession of Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister last September, includes a clear-sighted analysis of the danger that a resurgent China poses for Australia and the region.

However, the measures needed to meet the challenges are either delayed – as with the submarine replacement program – or absent.

Over recent months, Australians have been embarrassed by Defence Minister Marise Payne’s failure to consult our allies before the sale of the port of Darwin to a Chinese government-run business, the weak response to China’s island-building program in the South China Sea, and the sale of important sections of Australian agriculture to Chinese companies.

There can be no doubt that for Australia and other countries in South-East Asia, the strategic environment is shaped by Beijing’s aggressive assertion of its claims to the whole of the South China Sea. This has contributed to the decision of the Obama Administration to relocate U.S. naval assets into the western Pacific Ocean, and to reaffirm Washington’s strategic commitment to Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and, the Philippines and Australia.

During the Abbott years, Australia reaffirmed its defence ties with both Japan and the United States, and responded to the Chinese claims to the South China Sea by warning China to desist, and organising flyovers near disputed atolls and reefs.

Japan’s response

The Japanese government has responded strongly against the push by the Chinese Communist Party in the region. Last year, the Japanese Defence Ministry requested its largest budget ever, as a result of fears of U.S. passivity in the South China Sea, as well as China’s attempt to assert control over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, which lie between China and Japan.

Japan’s fears have increased in recent months, as China has sent a 4,000-tonne displacement frigate, the Xiangtan, to operate in the seas between Japan and the Chinese mainland. Japan has also reaffirmed its defence ties with South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines.

In Taiwan, concern over China’s actions undoubtedly contributed to the defeat of the Kuomintang (KMT) in the recent presidential elections. The KMT had supported closer economic and political ties with Beijing, but was defeated by the pro-independence Democratic People’s Party.

The White Paper correctly identifies China as the central challenge for Australia in the next decade. In its six-point summary of the strategic outlook, its first, second and sixth points reflect this challenge. The first refers to the relationship between the United States and China, particularly in our region, over the next two decades.

Perhaps reflecting the complacency of the defence establishment, it asserts: “The United States will remain the pre-eminent global military power over the next two decades and will continue to underpin the stability of our region.”

If that were true, there would be little need for other nations in the region to be alarmed by the increasingly aggressive Chinese push into the region. The fact that every other country in South-East Asia has responded with alarm to Beijing’s push into the South China Sea is a reflection that most countries don’t believe it.

The second summary point identifies “challenges to the stability of the rules-based global order”, which is code for Communist China’s island-building in the South China Sea and its threatening conduct towards other claimant nations, including the Philippines and Japan.

The sixth point refers to the extensive use of cyber espionage and cyber warfare, to which Beijing has committed enormous resources.


The other challenges identified in the White Paper refer to the “growing threat from terrorism and foreign terrorist fighters to Australian security, and the fragility of small states within our region.

Since the al Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001, the world has been grimly aware of the threat posed by Islamist terrorism. However, this threat has changed over the past 15 years. Originally, it was an attempt to ignite a war between the West, led by the United States, and the Islamic world through acts of spectacular terrorism.

Since then, the U.S. has overthrown the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and eventually decapitated the leadership of al Qaeda; it has overthrown Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and waged war against Islamic State, the successor of al Qaeda which captured control of large parts of northern Iraq and eastern Syria.

Australia has played an important role in each of these campaigns, and although the battle is far from over, the danger that Islamic State would establish a new terrorist nation in the Middle East is now receding. Sunni–Shia conflict in the Middle East is an emergent issue, but there is little the West can do about that. The overriding strategic challenge remains the one-party dictatorship in Beijing.

Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.

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