Will Australia come under fire as China prepares to confront the US in the West Pacific?


canberra [Australia]July 2 (ANI): Australia appears to be in the firing line as the US and China move closer to a confrontation in the South China Sea over Washington’s strong support for Taiwan’s democracy and independence.

In author Hugh White’s latest Quarterly Essay, “Sleepwalk to War: Australia’s Unthinking Alliance with America,” he exposed how Australia will be caught in the middle of potential US-China clashes in the western Pacific.

There were a number of concerns the author expressed in the essay, ranging from Australia’s options for avoiding a full-blown conflict with China and the consequences if the US does not support Australia in the matter.

China has increased the number of fighter jets in Taiwan’s air defense zone. The US has clarified in a latest statement from President Joe Biden that the US will act militarily if China tries to invade Taiwan.

However, China is not only looking to Taiwan, but is also expanding its ambitions in the Indo-Pacific by making deals with other countries in the region. At two distant locations, Chinese fighters intercepted maritime patrol aircraft — Australian and Canadian respectively — in the western Pacific Ocean, Beijing News reported.

Both conducted routine surveillance operations in international waters near China-claimed territory. China has long been sensitive to US and allied maritime surveillance operations close to its shores, and it often alerts them.

If Australia now confronts China with these issues, Beijing could simply undertake increasingly frequent and aggressive interceptions of Australian regular maritime patrol flights over the South China Sea.

Canberra’s actions to pressure China will raise real concerns for the safety of Australia’s planes and crews, as Chinese could force one of the Australian planes to land during operations, leading to a crash.

However, it will be even worse if Australia abandons all thoughts of operations and lets China force them to stop operating in international airspace. It would weaken Australia’s defense of maritime law against China’s claims to the South China Sea, which will be considered downright illegitimate.

A Chinese interception and intimidation campaign against Australia’s maritime patrol operations would also pose an immediate challenge to America. Austrlia would, of course, expect Washington to step in and support by sending its own fighters to escort Canberra’s maritime patrol aircraft.

This would not be an easy choice for Washington. Not supporting Australia would weaken its defense of international law, undermine its credibility as an ally and vividly show the world how China’s power has grown in the Western Pacific. It would be a major blow to America’s claims to primary strategic power in our region.

Hugh White is the author of “The China Choice” and “How To Defend Australia”, and the acclaimed Quarterly Essays “Power Shift” and “Without America”. He is Professor Emeritus of Strategic Studies at the Australian National University (ANU) and was the lead author of Australia’s Defense White Paper 2000. (ANI)