Coronavirus gives Australia a chance in Indo-Pacific: security expert


The former diplomat and intelligence official, who was last week appointed to the advisory board of the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations, will say the prolonged crisis will put more pressure on China to find a “strategic settling point” in the region and Australia needs to be ready to capitalise.

The virus outbreak will make it harder for Xi Jinping to sustain the mix of internal obedience and global respect required for its bid to dominate the region, according to the former diplomat and intelligence official.

“The challenge now for Australia and other ‘middle players’ between the United States and China is to redouble their efforts to build security cooperation and define a future based on mutual respect for sovereignty of nations large and small,” Professor Medcalf is expected to say.

“The Covid-19 emergency is a black swan event – an improbable catastrophe obvious in retrospect – that will disrupt the connected, contested Indo-Pacific region we have seen evolve in recent decades.

“The crisis has shaken the Chinese people’s confidence in their leadership. It is also rattling the global economy, and other nations including America and India are undergoing their own domestic traumas too. Yet armed rivalries continue – there’s no sign that China’s naval and strategic assertiveness is stalling.”

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Senator Wong will suggest the Morrison government’s “Pacific step-up” has come at the expense of Southeast Asia, and also call for the Opposition to receive briefings on China by Australia’s security agencies.

“As Rory points out, coexistence – reinforced by diplomacy and deterrence – is essential to our interests,” Senator Wong will say.

“This task hasn’t been helped by a government step-down of our assistance to south-east Asia.

“And I would add that we need less domestic politics and greater bipartisanship. By bipartisanship I mean less an absence of disagreement and rather more shared purpose and deeper engagement across the parliament and between the parties of government.

“Which is why it was — in the author’s words — ‘short-sighted’ that parliamentarians have been denied comprehensive briefings on China by our security agencies.”

Amidst a more competitive US-China relationship, Senator Wong will argue Australia needs to build stronger and more consistent partnerships across the Indo-Pacific to ensure a stable, rules-based region.

Senator Wong will say the “binary choice between the US and China” is contrary to Australia’s interests.

“As a US ally, security partner and friend, we have already made a choice. But that is not the end of the matter,” she will say.

“Realising the region we want in the decades ahead demands multi-polarity – not binary competition.”

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