South China Sea tensions: ‘Step up patrols – or face dictatorship’, Australia warned


AUSTRALIA has been urged to up its game in the South China Sea by stepping up patrols and adopting a more proactive approach as opposed to “the same old flag-waving”, a Canberra-based foreign policy think tank has said.

And failure to act ran the risk of Australian itself eventually finding itself “strategically reliant on the benevolence of an expansionist dictatorship”, it warned. A report published on the website of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and written by Sam Fairall-Lee echoed remarks by US Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson last month, who encouraged Australian counterparts to be more active in countering China’s military expansion in the region. Mr Fairall-Lee wrote: “According to Australia’s chief of navy, Michael Noonan, the recent Indo-Pacific Endeavour deployment demonstrates to our regional partners the fleet’s ‘growing capability’.

“That may be true, but in maritime Southeast Asia, capability needs to be seen in relative terms, and I’m not sure that the arrival of a couple of Australian ships provides much confidence to countries staring down the People’s Liberation Army Navy, which in raw numbers is now the largest navy on earth.

“Moreover, when Noonan speaks of the deployment sending a ‘strong message’ that Australia is a ‘committed partner’, the obvious question arises: committed to what? Commitment to exercises and partnerships is terrific, but we hold exercises and have a partnership with China too, so what reassurance are we actually giving?

“‘Committed to the region’ is a common cliche, but it’s so vague as to be meaningless.”

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – consisting of Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Laos – counted on allies to counter China’s power in the South China Sea, Mr Fairall-Lee said.