|Faithful US ally Australia raises attack capability and takes conciliatory tone on China
Australia welcomed China's rise and said it did not regard the Asian giant as an adversary, in a military roadmap which marked a shift from rhetoric that has angered Beijing in the past.
The defense white paper, which includes an A$1.5 billion commitment to buy 12 new Boeing EA-18G Growler jets to counter delays in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, was seen as more measured than its predecessor, AFP reports.
Beijing was rankled by warnings in the 2009 edition that the “pace, scope and structure'' of its militarization could concern regional neighbors – straining diplomatic relations with Australia, a major trading partner.
The latest paper is significantly less hawkish on China, welcoming its rise and describing its military expansion as a “natural and legitimate outcome of its economic growth.’’
“The government does not approach China as an adversary. Rather, its policy is aimed at encouraging China's peaceful rise and ensuring that strategic competition in the region does not lead to conflict,'' it said.
It also noted India's emergence “as an important strategic, diplomatic and economic actor'' and said the Indian Ocean is becoming one of the world's most strategically significant areas, with Southeast Asia as its center.
“The region's big strategic challenges will last for decades and their mismanagement could have significant consequences,'' it said.
The blueprint said war games in the region last year were based around resources and energy assets and the defense force “needs to be postured to support high-tempo military operations in Australia's northern and western approaches.''
As expected, it emphasized the importance of Australia's ties with the US, its major military partner, noting the beefing up of the alliance since 2009 with the stationing of 2,500 Marines in northern Darwin.
Foreign policy analysts commended the broadening in focus to include the Indo-Pacific and saw the overall plan as a less ambitious but more sophisticated view of the region and recalibration of priorities.
“It's pleasing to see the statement finally tackling, and dismissing, the tired shibboleth of having to choose between China and the US,'' said Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. “Neither wants us to choose, nor is it in our strategic interests to do so.''
Funding was the central question, with commentators and conservative politicians asking how the government would pay for the Growlers and 12 previously-promised submarines outlined in the paper.
“Major projects are being cut or delayed because the government simply cannot afford them,'' said Sam Roggeveen from the Lowy Institute foreign policy thinktank.
Canberra slashed A$5.5 billion from defense coffers last year, delaying acquisition of 12 JSF jets, sacking 1,000 staff and canceling artillery orders in a bid to find savings.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard underlined Canberra's commitment to the F-35 JSF project, which has labored under soaring costs and delays, describing the Growlers as a “transition’’ phase to the radar-evading next-generation warplane.