Why The Stand-Off Over China's New Air Defence Zone Is A Big Deal For Australia

Getty/Chung Sung-Jun

China is throwing its weight around as it grows, and eventually Australia may be forced to choose between its biggest trading partner, and its traditional military ally: The United States.

Professor Hugh White from the Australian National University summarises it perfectly in this excerpt from an interview with The ABC:

What we’re seeing here is not really a dispute about some pointless lumps of rock. This is really about China’s bid to assert its power in Asia and America’s attempt to restrict that.

So this really does go to the sort of whole future of Asia and if it’s not well managed it can lead to really serious escalating rivalries and eventually conceivably to conflict, so how it’s managed is extraordinarily important.

China wants more respect from other countries in Asia, and is tired of the United States setting the terms for diplomacy in the region.

Other countries have established air defence zones, though what is alarming about China’s new one is that it covers disputed territory.

Japan and China have already been on the verge of an armed conflict over the set of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.

China is challenging the United States, which is bound to protect Tokyo from a military strike.

The US has pivoted its military to focus more on Asia Pacific, including a deployment of Marines in Darwin, which complement its other defence installations in Australia.

After the air defence zone was established The US flew a pair of B-52 bombers through it, followed by aircraft from South Korea and Japan. As tensions in the region rise, Australia may be forced into a position where it needs to make a choice.

From The ABC:

The more the rivalry between Japan and China, between the US and China escalates, the more we see the kinds of things we’re seeing happening right now, the closer Australia will come to having to make that choice.

China has sent fighter jets and a surveillance plane to the region. Though according to the Wall Street Journal, its officials have said it is unlikely any aircraft will be shot down.

But the increased posturing is a worrying development, which will impact diplomacy in the region. And perhaps not in China’s favour.

“China’s probably calculating that this is incrementally making other countries accustomed to accepting its authority in international air space,” Rory Medcalf, an expert on Asia security issues The Lowy Institute for International Policy told the WSJ.

“It’s looking like a potential liability because it could end up losing diplomatically and at the same time lose credibility with its own population.”

There’s more here.

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