Julie Bishop’s deliberate move to make plain Australia’s view on China’s Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea can be interpreted in two ways.

Rob Ayson thinks it’s a blunder in which Australia is needlessly provoking China and presenting itself as part of a concerted effort to contain the PRC. From this perspective, Australia is upping the ante for no obvious benefit.

But viewed as part of a deliberate effort to make clear where Australia stands in relation to the basic structures of Asia’s regional order, it makes a great deal more sense. Indeed it is to be welcomed.

Under the ALP government there was a tendency to try to have one’s strategic cake and eat it. Officials would troop to Beijing and tell the Chinese what we seemed to think they wanted to hear. They would do the same thing in Washington and in between repeat the tired cliché that Australia does not have to choose between Beijing and Washington. The positive spin on this was that Australia was hedging its bets. The reality was that it was making Australia’s strategic position unclear, to say the least.

In the language used in the AUSMIN communique, the very public and deliberate signaling about Japan, and in the response to China’s latest effort to shift the status quo, Australia is injecting some much needed clarity about its strategic priorities. Australia strongly believes that American primacy in Asia is vital both to its own interests and to the regional order more generally, and that any effort by China to change that setting will be destabilising.

While communicating that message will cause some ruffling of feathers with China in the short term, plain speaking about what Australia stands for and what it values is of high value in a time of strategic change.

Photo by Flickr user Secretary of Defense.