Australia will become one of the most important Indo-Pacific players. Barack Obama’s Canberra speech in November 2011 washed away any remaining doubts. Australia’s government has now released a new Asian Century White Paper. Due to this occasion, three questions will be answered here: Where will Australia go until 2025? What should Canberra do? Why is Australia on the right track?Australia in the Indo-Pacific region until 2025
Even if the White Paper is talking about the Asian Century, here, the term Indo-Pacific is chosen. China pressures massively into the Indian Ocean region. Furthermore, India’s rise, including a growing strategic partnership with Australia, makes “Indo-Pacific” a far more precise term for an analysis than “Asia”. Nevertheless, due the necessary shortness for a political paper, the chosen title may be appropriate.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard outlined that “the transformation of the Asian region into the economic powerhouse of the world is not only unstoppable, it is gathering pace” (p. II). Surely, Ms. Gillard meant more countries China and India. Countries like Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam are just at the beginning on their way to economic and, thenceforth, political powerhouses. Needless to say that Australia’s economy is about to profit from the new emerging markets close to its ports and, therefore, its GDP per person could be “in the world’s top 10, up from 13th in 2011” (p. 9).
Moreover, whatever may happen in Asia, Australia’s excellent geostrategic position will never change. Being somehow dependent on Malacca Strait unites China, India, USA, Japan and South Korea. However, due its Southern location with free access to the Indian and the Pacific Ocean, Australia is not affected by the “Malacca Dilemma“, instead, has an excellent starting position for maritime power projection. Given that the 21st Century’s four megatrends are digitalization, demographic changes, competition for resources and economic globalization, the geostrategic location is an undeniable plus for megatrends three and four. Having a full continent for its own, Australia can keep full control over its resources including excellent opportunities for export.Canberra’s means
Lacking the basis for a large military, Australia would be well advised to enhance its soft power. The Asian Century White Paper emphasizes “skills, education and innovation” (p. 10). Within digitalization and economic globalization, the competition for the smartest and most skilled is a critical factor. Australian National University and University of Sydney are already, for example, within the Top 20 of the world’s best universities in arts and humanities. Thus, it is necessary for the Australian government to push more universities in Down Under on global top places, because China and India are massively investing in research and development.
Uranium, Coal, Iron Ore, Copper, Nickel, Silver, Zinc, Rare Earths, Manganese, Gold, Oil and Gas can all be found either on the Australian continent or just in front its shores. Resources are power, as the recent Uranium deal with India outlines. World population will reach 9 or 10 billion in the mid of this century. Due to economic growth, rising powers will develop far more interest in Australia to get access to all the different minerals.
However, Australia has more to offer then resources; otherwise, it would not have been elected recently in the UN Security Council. Soft power and power by resources are nothing, if one does not use it. Canberra, therefore, should pressure much more for its interests in forums like G-20, East Asia Summit, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and ASEAN+6. In addition, and along a stronger alliance with the United States, Ms. Gillard and her successors would be well advised to deepen strategic partnerships will India, Japan and South Korea; maybe to set up some kind of informal alliance, because China is likely to go from ‘more assertive’ to ‘more aggressive’ once its military has reached fully operational capabilities for power projection.
Hence, the defence budget should surely not be reduced, but rather risen, if possible. Outfitting the Canberra Class LHD with F-35B could be an option after 2020 to counter future Chinese carriers and compensate probably shrinking US capabilities. Moreover, new submarines for the Royal Australian Navy are discussed, but SSN are expensive in acquisition, operation and maintenance. The German class 216 submarines with air independent propulsion might be a better and for cost-effective solution.
On the right track
Barack Obama said that in Canberra “here, we see the future”. Could their have been any better statement by a US president to prove that the country is on the right way ahead. Universities are top class. Resource deals are part already part of the foreign policy. The election in the Security Council worked out. Military modernization is underway. Thus, the right course has been set. Last but not least, the structure and the methodic of Asian Century White Paper’s “twenty-five national objectives for 2025” are well done – Short statements about the current environment; clearly defined aims; directly mentioned concrete means and ways for implementation. For someone used to read wordy, multilateralism-praising EU-papers, an enjoybale contrast.
Why is a German guy blogging about Australia?
After all what has been written above, the Australia importance in international security, geopolitics and strategic issues deserves no further arguments. However, in Europe and Germany it is rarely dealt with the emerging role the land Down Under is about to play. Thus, this article is an attempt to make more Europeans think about what is going on the continent that is mostly associated with Kangaroos over here. Finally, authors for future European strategies should look the “twenty-five national objectives for 2025” and, at least, try to formulate as short, clearly and concrete as the Australian writers did.