Australia Struggles to Balance China Ties With U.S. Alliance

Australia Struggles to Balance China Ties With U.S. Alliance

Rising tensions in Asia, as highlighted at the recent Shangri-La Dialogue, have brought to the surface fault lines between Australia’s foreign affairs and defense strategies. With a foreign affairs focus on “economic diplomacy,” Australia has struggled to reassure its largest trading partner, China, that the deeper military ties it forged with Japan and the U.S. this week in no way represent a threat.

The Shangri-La Dialogue was notable this year for heated exchanges between China, Japan and the United States. The 28-nation Asia Security Summit, hosted annually in Singapore by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, is usually carefully scripted to avoid controversy. This year’s dialogue, however, saw tensions laid bare, with attention focused on China’s recent destabilizing forays in the South China Sea and the United States again forced to defend its commitment to its strategic rebalance to Asia.

Also discussed, but not as widely headlined, was the no less important debate as to the best “security architecture” for the region—namely whether regional stability is best served by a U.S.-allied hub-and-spokes system positioned as a counterpoint to China, or by an ASEAN-plus system that pulls China in as a cooperative partner. Australia made plain its view that the collective interest lies in a stable trading system underpinned by the presence of the United States.

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