Wednesday 14 Nov 2018 | 19:57 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 14 Nov 2018 | 19:57 | SYDNEY

australia-china relations

The 2016 Lowy Lecture: Exciting times ahead on a sombre day

When Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull launched the 2016 Defence White Paper one month ago he said that 'it sets out a clear eyed and unsentimental appraisal of our strategic environment, the threats and the opportunities.'

Last night’s Lowy Lecture, delivered by Mr Turnbull, was an attempt — perhaps overdue — to put his personal stamp on that appraisal. It was characteristically longer on the opportunities than on the threats.

Mr Turnbull takes his optimism seriously, even though last night’s lecture was arguably the first stump speech of what may be an unusually extended election campaign.

Asia’s growth story is not only a market opportunity, according to the prime minister. Its economic transition also serves a forcing function, requiring greater agility of Australia as it transitions from a commodities and construction-led boom to something more enduring. The prime minister’s economic upside lens was further evident in his efforts to sell the domestic innovation benefits of the Defence White Paper.

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Has Tony Abbott torpedoed the captain's pick?

Tony Abbott’s weekend speech in Tokyo, titled 'Against Strategic Pessimism’, was unsurprising in its robust advocacy of Australia’s 'special relationship' with Japan, based on shared values. Mr Abbott’s correspondingly cautious assessment of China should not shock either, notable though it was for including a starkly worded warning about 'countries which turn reefs into artificial islands at massive environmental cost, fortify disputed territory and try to restrict freedom of navigation… putting at risk the stability and security on which depends the prosperity of our region and the wider world'.

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Alliance management in the Turnbull Era: Is the vehicle fit for purpose?

Australian commentary [eg James Curran, Hugh White, Greg Sheridan, Tom Switzer] on Malcolm Turnbull’s inaugural visit to Washington last week was focused, naturally enough, on the dynamic that a new leader brings to the alliance.

Commander Adm. Harry Harris with Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull at Pearl Harbour (Photo courtesy PACOM Command)

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North Korea's nuclear test not all bad news for China

Media attention since North Korea's nuclear test yesterday has been focused on the veracity of its claims to have exploded a thermonuclear device or 'hydrogen bomb'. This is understandable given that a thermonuclear weapon has a destructive power many orders of magnitude greater than a purely fission-based device. However, even if Pyongyang's claims prove to be unfounded, its fourth nuclear test (the first in nearly three years) will still yield valuable data, moving it closer a nuclear-tipped missile capability.

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Why China's next aircraft carrier will be based on Soviet blueprints

China has at last formally acknowledged that it has a new aircraft carrier under construction, the first to be built in China and the second in the People's Liberation Army-Navy's order of battle.

The PLA Navy appears to have embarked on a substantial carrier program, probably with the intention of creating four and perhaps up to six carrier battle groups (Chinese commentators have publicly acknowledged the need for at least three units in order to have an effective carrier capability). The rehabilitated ex-Russian carrier Liaoning, designated Carrier 16, has been the start of this effort, although its reliability has yet to be confirmed.

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A larger Australian Defence Force? Reflections on the Boyer Lectures

This is the third in a series of posts marking the launch  of A Larger Australia, the book of the 2015 Boyer Lectures, by Lowy Institute Executive Director Michael Fullilove.

In his final Boyer Lecture 'The Birthplace of the Fortunate', Michael Fullilove advocates for a more capable and muscular Australian Defence Force (ADF). What could this look like and how likely is it?

He asserts upfront that the foreign policy debate in Australia is too important to be left to the foreign policy establishment. It strikes me the same could be said of defence, where the expert discourse is over-personalised, and the political debate is strategically under-informed and easily swayed by special interests, above all the defence industry. Michael's contribution is therefore timely and welcome. 

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China's puzzling defence agreement with Australia

Last Thursday, The Australian newspaper ran an editorial, 'Strengthening links with China'. This followed its front-page coverage of the visit to Canberra by China's Chief of General Staff Fang Fenghui, for annual talks with Chief of Defence Force Mark Binskin and Department of Defence Secretary Dennis Richardson. Fang later met Defence Minister Marise Payne.

This was the 18th Defence Strategic Dialogue between Australia and China, not a number that normally commands particular excitement in the crowded schedules of top-brass summitry. However, The Australian reported that this meeting was accompanied by an agreement to 'upgrade' Australia-China defence and security relations, including stepped-up cooperation on counter-terrorism, peacekeeping and senior personnel exchanges. The newspaper heralded this as a 'positive sign of a maturing bilateral relationship'.

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As RAN prepares to exercise with China's navy, Australia risks a PR disaster

Australia and its Navy are in an awkward spot, caught between China and the US in the full glare of a global media spotlight shone on the South China Sea.

Two Royal Australian Navy ANZAC frigates are due to arrive tomorrow in China's naval base Zhanjiang for a port visit, ahead of live-fire exercises with the PLA Navy's South Sea Fleet scheduled to start on Monday.

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US launches FoNOPS in the South China Sea: Better late than never?

So, the much-heralded US freedom of navigation (FoN) operation in the South China Sea has finally seen daylight. The designated lead, the USS Lassen, is a guided missile destroyer which has already been patrolling the South China Sea in recent weeks. After leaving port in East Malaysia this morning, the destroyer sailed on a course for the Spratly Islands that would take it within 12 nautical miles of the Subi and Mischief reefs, two submerged features occupied by China and recently built up into artificial islands. Earlier US officials had suggested  the US warship would be accompanied by patrol aircraft, to demonstrate overflight rights in parallel.

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