Last Thursday, many Australian viewers switched their televisions over to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in an attempt to escape from the media frenzy surrounding the release of Australian citizen Schapelle Corby from prison in Indonesia. They found the national broadcaster’s Lateline program reporting on another, far more significant story emanating from their near north.
On February 1, the Chinese navy (PLAN) sent a taskforce of three warships from Hainan in southern China through the Sunda Strait in Indonesia, along the south coast of Java and past Christmas Island into the Indian Ocean. Two Chinese destroyers accompanied an advanced 20,000-ton amphibious ship, capable of carrying hundreds of marines, and conducted a series of combat simulations before heading north through the Lombok and Makassar Straits and into the Pacific.
The ABC noted that while conducted wholly in international waters, this was the first time the Chinese have carried out military exercises so close to Australia’s northern maritime border. The Lateline report then turned to security analyst Rory Medcalf, who outlined that China is sending a clear and deliberate signal to the U.S. and to the region.
“The Chinese are demonstrating that they have the intention and capability of operating in Australia’s north-western approaches and in the Indian Ocean and this is really quite a significant threshold moment.”
For those not in the business of closely watching strategic developments, this comes as a rude reminder to that the dawning of the Asian Century is not all roses; opportunities for increased prosperity come with a growing and uncomfortable strategic uncertainty.