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article imageOp-Ed: China ‘warns’ Australia about defence boost, misses the basics

By Paul Wallis     Jul 2, 2020 in World
Sydney - Australia is looking at a massive defence upgrade. Many would say this upgrade is long overdue. In the new “get everything wrong ASAP” Chinese dogma, Australia’s defence is apparently considered as a threat.
The new Australian defence initiatives are essentially much-needed upgrades to a range of capabilities. They include underwater surveillance, cruise missiles, and various other baseline defence requirements for any modern nation.
$270 billion is the working figure for the new defence budget projections. That rather large number has already hit a lot of turbulence from critics. The critics say Australia’s record of defence acquisitions is less than sparkling with good investments, cost overruns, and other familiar issues.
In practice, $270 billion is about 3% of our (annual) GDP. In global terms, that’s peanuts, and the expenditure is to be over a period of a decade or so. The acquisition program also comes at a time when military professionals have been griping, with good reason, about Australian defence capabilities.
Australian defence basic issues
Since World War 2, Australian defence has evolved, to a point. Most people in the defence sector would say it hasn’t evolved anywhere near enough, or fast enough. The Australian continent is a big land area to defend. The local region includes a lot of naval issues. Air power is a major problem, covering not only the large land area but an even bigger offshore zone.
Australia doesn’t need, or aspire, to “projecting power” to anywhere near the same extent as the big global players. We do have some capability, but there’s no actual physical need to do so. We’d also prefer to focus on practical defence, not offense, in nearly all possible scenarios affecting us. Strategically, we have little to gain from a massive military presence unless there is an actual hot war in the mix.
The Australian Defence Force is a professional force with a good record of operational successes. It’s not huge, but there are credible arguments for upsizing the force to some degree, simply for practical reasons. The world has become a lot more dangerous, and responding to the risks is the simple reason for doing so.
Geopolitically, the game has changed a lot, and rapidly. If conventional territorial threats are limited, the wider region in southern Asia also just happens to include some of the world’s more popular war zones. It also includes global issues and global threats. Terrorism is one of those threats. Australians have been targeted by terrorists. The environment is tricky at best, and murderous at worst.
Defence upgrades and reconfigurations are therefore inevitable. How, with what, when, and where are the relevant issues. This is a 3D real time defence environment, and functional capabilities are required.
Now there’s the added issue of China’s strange, not to say bizarre, regional activities. Not least of these activities are ongoing tirades from Chinese media against anything and everything to do with Australia, now including defence. The Chinese military activities are not a direct threat to Australia, but the tensions in the region are building up as a result and that naturally affects us to some extent. Add China’s surprisingly blunt (and very much unappreciated) language regarding Australia, and it’s a very annoying nuisance at best.
To put this simply:
• Defence upgrades - In the last 20-30 years, China upgraded the old PLA into a modern force. That was obviously very necessary. The need was to replace a virtual museum of obsolete equipment and practices with a working modern military force and capabilities. We’re now doing much the same thing to a very large extent with the new acquisitions.
• Strategically - We were looking at nuclear weapons in the 1960s. We decided against it. It was the right decision then, and now, unless someone goes utterly insane. We didn’t need the weapons, simply because of the mutually assured destruction principle. There’s no real possibility of us attacking anyone, anyway. Defend, yes, but not attack.
• Missiles - Why should an island nation like Australia neglect basic naval defence like anti-ship cruise missiles and underwater surveillance? How absurd is that idea? China itself has a lot of anti-ship missiles, and doesn’t mind telling people all about them in great detail at any opportunity.
• Air power – Is it realistic to assume the air defence of an area the size of Australia and its offshore regions can be conducted by a few paper darts? What do we do if something invades our air space, throw rocks? Go away with your nonsense, China, and take your Trump-like conspiracy theories with you.
Putting it bluntly
China’s objections have been noted and duly ignored. Much like China has so often and very rudely ignored our Trade Minister and any pretense of sanity in trade talks. The defence of Australia is no business of China’s.
We have other priorities in our defence. Does China seriously think it’s going to be attacked by Australia? if so, why? We have much better things to do with our time and defence assets than pander to the almost-maniacal delirious tantrums of Asia’s spoiled brat.
We will acquire and deploy any military forces necessary for the defence of Australia, without exception. We have the money and the people to carry out effective defence as we see fit. That is exactly what we’ll do. Other major acquisitions may be made if required.
Astute readers will have noticed that for the preceding 800 words or so there has been no mention at all of the United States. If China is trying to talk us into much closer strategic cooperation with the US, it couldn’t have picked a better way of achieving that. A few dozen hypersonic bundles of joy might look good around here.
China can mind its own business, and mind its manners while doing so. Even the implication that China can dictate our defence policies and operations is nothing less than intolerable. Chinese media can also exercise some discretion, for a change. They say it’s the better part of valour, you know. Ask any pawn across the river.
Note: "Pawn across the river" is a term in Chinese chess, Xiang Qi, for a pawn in hostile territory.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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