Australia’s Prime Minster Scott Morrison met with the President of the United States and was honored by a State Dinner last Friday night at the White House. Australia has had a historic and close 100 year relationship with the United States since World War I, where they fought together and supported each other since the Battle of Hamel in France on July 4, 1918.
The Indo-Pacific region that Australia is immersed in, America borders and China’s one belt, one road defines its policy upon, spans from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific and from the North Pole to the South Pole. Australia is a critical strategic continent that uniquely sits between the two converging oceans of the Indian and the Pacific Ocean with its northern border near the most traveled commercial sea lane in the world. Australia is dependent on China for its trade and dependent on the United States for its national security. A challenging balancing act of policies and diplomacy for Australia while ensuring deterrence against aggressive Chinese regional power in this region while also providing Australia’s economic growth and stability with this same power.
“Obviously we want to see the United States and China be able to come to an (Trade) agreement, but what is always necessary is deals that are going to be fair, deals are going to be good deals, that are going to be sustainable deals and I think one of the things we’ve seen is Australia has benefited greatly from the economic growth of China. We have a comprehensive strategic partnership with China and free trade agreement with China and they have become…. Substantive economy in the world and once you sort of get into that level then you need to be able to play to the same rules of as those other developed nations.” – Prime Minster Scott Morrison on September 20, 2019 at the White House.
In this careful balancing act, China has recently leased a port facility in Australia’s northern territory in Darwin for 99 years from Australia and in return more recently Australia is providing a deep water port for U.S. Marine and Navy operations 40km from Darwin.
This dichotomy flows over to their newest military systems and tremendous investment in their three Hobart-class Destroyer ships and their upcoming nine Hunter-class Frigate ships, where their mission is to provide defense to the Indo-Pacific region and support U.S. Navy operations in this region to provide stability, peace, and deterrence for international sea lanes and law. These new Australian ships are intentionally not equipped with self-defense capabilities against current Chinese missile capabilities, nor have strike missiles in their vertical launch systems. Yet in a much bigger investment, Australia is purchasing 100 F-35A fifth generation fighters and these aircraft are specifically made to evade and penetrate all Chinese Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) capabilities, to include the Chinese artificial islands in the South China Sea and can strike with weapons into the Indo Pacific region if necessary.
Australia continues to debate putting ballistic missile defense and advanced cruise missile defense systems on their ships and addressing missile defense systems for their Army forces for amphibious operations in the Pacific, defense of Australian troops, and their new F-35s forward based in operations.
It is to note that Australia collaborated in 2017 with the United States on a joint hypersonic missile development test at Australia’s Woomera Test Range.
As this pendulum swings from further Chinese aggression of one road, one belt policies in the Indo-Pacific Region or from economic necessity, Australia faces decisions to deter and defend with the United States or diminish its force posture towards China so as to not risk Australian economic prosperity and accept a dependency on China.
A challenging choice and a choice being constantly put forward and discussed with Australia as it was on Friday with the President of the United States.
“It’s about us having shared objectives and looking at the world through a similar lens and that naturally brings us together to focus on the things that promote prosperity” – Prime Minster Scott Morrison on September 20, 2019 at the White House
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