Policy Briefs | 16 June 2011

Living with the dragon: why Australia needs a China strategy

In this Policy Brief, Lowy Institute Non-resident Senior Fellow, Professor Alan Dupont argues that Australia has failed to grasp the full implications of China’s meteoric rise or the risk of conflict in the Western Pacific. He calls for a coherent, national approach to China, one that is informed by a clear appreciation of the drivers of Chinese strategic policy, particularly in the Western Pacific, which is the most likely arena of confrontation between China and the US.

  • Alan Dupont

In this Policy Brief, Lowy Institute Non-resident Senior Fellow, Professor Alan Dupont argues that Australia has failed to grasp the full implications of China’s meteoric rise or the risk of conflict in the Western Pacific. He calls for a coherent, national approach to China, one that is informed by a clear appreciation of the drivers of Chinese strategic policy, particularly in the Western Pacific, which is the most likely arena of confrontation between China and the US.

  • Alan Dupont
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Key Findings

  • Without a considered and well-resourced China strategy, Australia will struggle to manage this increasingly important and complex relationship.
  • Kowtowing or muscling up to China are equally flawed strategies.
  • Australia should emphasise to Washington and Beijing that avoiding worst-case outcomes requires a sustained, long-term commitment to trust-building and preventative diplomacy

Executive Summary

If, metaphorically, Australia rode to prosperity on the back of a sheep in the last century, our skill in riding the Chinese dragon will determine our prosperity in this century. Yet despite its obvious importance, Australia has failed to grasp the full implications of China’s meteoric rise or the risk of conflict in the Western Pacific. Our approach to China is fragmented, superficial, overly focused on raw-material exports, conflicted, ambivalent and under-resourced. Getting China wrong will have seriously detrimental consequences for our future security and growth.

A well-conceived and implemented China strategy would help focus the Government’s mind on the broader significance of the Middle Kingdom’s re-emergence as a great power, close the gap between our actions and rhetoric, and ensure that our objectives are achievable and consistent with our wider foreign policy and national security interests. The strategy should be shaped by the answers to four key questions: What do we want from China? What capacity do we have to shape China’s policies? How can we maintain our freedom of action while benefitting from China’s rise? What can we do to ensure that the United States and China avoid a hegemonic conflict in Asia and the Western Pacific that would be disastrous for regional order and economic growth?