Australia: A Place In Geopolitics (II)


Part I

Washington appreciates Canberra’s role in ensuring a stable American foreign policy course. In 2022, the Indo-Pacific Strategy was published, according to which the continent occupies priority positions. In this context, Australia’s most important task is to contain China. In addition, the document noted the desire to resist “economic coercion” from China.

The unwillingness of the two countries to put up with this is a symbol of the consolidation of forces against the “common enemy”. However, Canberra cooperates with Washington not only in terms of submarines. In May 2022, a three-year contract was also signed with Raytheon Corporation for the supply of assembly units for the medium-range surface-to-air missile production program. A little later, in November, the US State Department issued a permit for 24 C-130J-30 military transport aircraft and equipment worth $6.35 billion is necessary for their operation.

And in 2023, after the 33 Australian-American ministerial consultations of the two countries (AUSMIN) held in Brisbane, the countries issued a joint statement agreeing to further work on deepening cooperation within the framework of the Initiative for the Production of Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance in Australia (Australia’s Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance Enterprise, GWEO), and also agreed to transfer to Canberra the technologies necessary for Australia to independently produce 155 mm M795 artillery shells.

Such an active armament of Australia is accompanied by conducting naval exercises on an ongoing basis. One of the last took place near the borders of China in the South China Sea at the end of 2023. The name is traditionally, as Americans like, very pompous: Noble Caribou. They were held with the participation of five countries: Australia, the USA, New Zealand, Canada and Japan. The unprecedented strengthening of the naval grouping is another indicator of increased tension, which is accompanied by an increased chance of escalation and draws Beijing’s attention to the increased number of potential rivals. The largest exercises involving the United States and Australia were held in mid-2023 – Talisman Sabre – were held in order to demonstrate to Beijing the increased strength of the alliance, experts say. But this played a cruel joke on their participants, as it demonstrated to Beijing the range of potential enemies in the region.

But Australia is not as simple as it seems. Like Turkey in Europe, today the Government is trying to sit on two chairs. It would seem that until recently, relations between Canberra and Beijing were experiencing a significant decline. In 2015, former Prime Minister Abbott called the main reason for China’s economic growth “a mixture of fear and greed.” And just a couple of years ago, in 2020-2021. A de facto trade war took place between the countries, which was accompanied by a significant rise in customs tariffs and the cancellation of strategic documents on both sides: first, Canberra canceled the Memorandum of the Australian State of Victoria and the People’s Republic of China signed within the framework of the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, and after that China suspended the work of the Strategic Economic Dialogue.

In 2022, the Government changed in Australia, after which the course has significantly changed. Labor has resumed diplomatic work with China, and Beijing has lifted a number of trade tariffs. The improvement of relations between the two countries was finally consolidated in the autumn of 2023 following the results of the first high-level talks in Beijing in three years. Former Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said that there is no threat from Beijing to Australian interests in the region, moreover, the PRC is aimed at deepening cooperation on a number of issues, and the PRC’s Defense White Paper released in 2019 does not fully reflect the current view of the Chinese leadership on the situation in the region. In November 2023, Prime Minister E. Albanese paid his first visit to China since 2016. The head of the Australian government called for maintaining a constructive dialogue between the countries, which, in his understanding, fully corresponds to both Chinese and Australian interests in the region. In the first half of 2023, Australia’s exports to China reached a staggering 102 billion US dollars. A similar course was taken by the Labour government for a reason: Australia will move its resources from the external circuit to the internal one, weakening the degree of confrontation with China. In this, Canberra repeats the tactics of Washington, which has repeatedly acted in this way.

This is the reason for the cooperation between the two countries: Washington is not able to confront Russia in Ukraine today, and at the same time put pressure on Israel, so it is pulling resources from one region to another. And in the Indo-Pacific region, Australia will play a key role. For Canberra, the key issue is the modernization of legal documents for the supply of nuclear submarines within the framework of AUKUS. This will ensure stable cooperation between the allies, and the Americans will be able to calmly solve their own problems, knowing that Uncle Sam’s “backyard” is securely covered.

Australia is becoming increasingly important nowadays. For the United States, the country is a supplier of critical materials, Washington could place a number of production facilities on this continent, thereby minimizing the costs of supplying resources to North America.

to be continued

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