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The great Australian defence strategy delusion

By Murray Hunter - posted Thursday, 4 November 2021

Australia has been under siege from China, feeling alone and isolated over the last eighteen months. China has lambasted Australia through its unofficial mouthpiece the Global Times, ministerial contacts have been suspended by China with Australian ministers, and Australian exports to China have been embargoed, ironically benefitted the United States.

Over the last few years, revelations about Chinese interference and manipulation of Australian society and politics have been given massive media attention by the press. China also began a caustic style of what has become known as ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy. This was backed up with trade sanctions against Australian goods. China, which kept the Australian economy buoyant with the minerals boom during the millennium period, suddenly turned into a perceived adversary, where Australia felt it had to act. 

Australia misread China calling for an inquiry into the origin of Covid-19, receiving retaliation that other countries did not receive. This provides some anecdotal evidence that China is using Australia as a testing ground for its harsh diplomatic approach. Australia fell into China’s trap by trying, to punch above its weigh, using the metaphorical analogy economic historian Lim Teck Ghee painted of recent Australia-China exchanges. 


The cornerstone of Australian defence policy, the Australia-US alliance has blinded policy makers into skewing security options towards the containment strategy pushed by the Biden administration. This cut out other possible defence options that might be much more suitable for Australia, a small power, geographically situated on the fringe of Southeast Asia, with China as the number one trading partner.

This rush to join Biden’s Indo-Pacific containment doctrine is already showing consequences.

Australia’s relationship with France has soured. French President Emmanuel Macron has accused Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison of lying, and doing irreputable damage to Australia’s reputation around the world. This has reverberated to the UK where France and Britain’s row over fishing rights is escalating. There will be a period of mistrust between Britain and France at a time when Russia is amassing troops along the Ukraine border. With France’s possessions in the Pacific Islands neighbouring Australia, there could possibility be diplomatic issues arising within the Pacific region. US president Joe Biden effectively cast the blame of the AUKUS issue on Australia, which is hardly a confidence boosting action for the US-Australia alliance under the current administration.

Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore have reservations over the AUKUS agreement. Indonesia controls the waters Australian submarines must navigate through to reach the South China Sea. Malaysia’s prime minister Ismail Sabri Yakoob has not welcomed the deal, while Singapore has reluctantly accepted it. Australia’s decision to acquire nuclear submarines will definitely influence Indonesia to upgrade its military, and even consider the acquisition of nuclear weapons, as it has said. Even New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern has expressed her government’s displease over Australia’s decision to acquire a nuclear submarine fleet.

One would expect members of the Chinese United Front within the Chinese diaspora to further destabilize Australian society. Further espionage will go on surveying Australian defence facilities, and even within Australia’s security organizations.  China has this capability, where Australian authorities have tended to be silent on this weakness.

Australia’s defence strategy has turned into a costly delusion.


The AUKUS agreement signed between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States in September is nothing more than a sharing of nuclear submarine technology, artificial intelligence, cyber warfare, and long-range strike capabilities has nothing immediately tangible for Australia’s defence. Currently the agreement is about intentions.  

At this stage there is very little detail about the actualities of AUKUS. The Australian subs will take more than a decade to go online into service. By this time the whole strategic situation might be completely different. Any issue concerning Taiwan’s security may well occur long before Australia even sees a single submarine. What more, the situation in China is currently volatile, with challenges to Premier Xi Jinping’s authority and vision of China. This makes China a big unknown, and in the short- term Australia joining countries aiming to contain China, may be very counterproductive to Australia’s strategic interests.

AUKUS is more a regeneration of the old ANZUS agreement with the UK taking New Zealand’s place. If the US and UK use Australian as a base and staging ground for a nuclear submarine fleet, Australia will just be more vulnerable to a nuclear attack from China in the event of a superpower crisis. This is the opposite to what Australia should want.

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About the Author

Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis. He blogs at Murray Hunter.

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