The time to start preparing for war with China is now - by Greg Sheridan - The Australian - 10.12.22
Beijing’s military is massive and everywhere — and analysts agree Xi Jinping is likely to use it.The Chinese military is everywhere, not least at the AUSMIN meeting just held in Washington.
AUSMIN brings together foreign and defence ministers from the US and Australia and is the chief vehicle for managing the alliance. The latest AUSMIN meeting produced this remarkable declaration by US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin: “We recognise where Australia is and when its capability begins to diminish. And, of course, we will address all of that in that pathway that we create. So we will not allow Australia to have a capability gap going forward.”
Defence Minister Richard Marles responded: “We really appreciate those comments.”
Austin meant a submarine capability gap, as our antique Collins-class subs enter their dotage and begin their final, late retirement in the late-2030s, long before we acquire our fleet of eight nuclear-propelled submarines under the AUKUS pact.
The only nation that Australian submarines could possibly be relevant to, adversarially, is China. The world is rightly transfixed by Russia’s monstrous aggression in Ukraine, but there is only one peer competitor for the US – China.
Everything consequential in regional diplomacy – AUKUS, the Quad, enhanced US/Australia military interaction with the integration of Japan into the US/Australia alliance – is all about China’s burgeoning military.
The recent Pentagon report on the People’s Liberation Army, as Beijing’s military is known, explains why.
At the AUSMIN press conference, Austin outlined increased US military involvement with Australia: “We agreed to deepen our defence co-operation … we will increase rotational presence of US forces in Australia. That includes rotations of bomber task forces, fighters, and future rotations of US Navy and US Army capabilities. We will expand our logistics and sustainment co-operation. We will find ways to integrate our defence industrial bases … We agreed to invite Japan to integrate into our force posture initiatives in Australia.”
The US can cover any Australian submarine gap simply by having its nuclear submarines patrol here more often. For the moment, home-porting US subs in Australia has been ruled out. Whatever the political considerations, Australia, at the moment, has neither the physical facilities nor the legislative framework to cope with such an arrangement. But it could come back on the agenda.
More Australian sailors will get experience on US nuclear boats. The most obvious way to bridge the capability gap is for Australia to lease or buy one or two US Virginia-class nuclear subs. After a subsequent AUKUS defence ministers’ meeting, Marles made clear the Brits would get some of the action, that is to say lots of money, out of the Australian AUKUS subs. This could happen many ways – they may help us with the ultimate Adelaide build, for example. Even stop-gap leased Virginias would be a long time off.
The bottom line is unless we finance a new US production line to build our first Virginias, before later building the ultimate AUKUS sub in Adelaide, we are not adding anything to allied military strength.
Austin and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned China by name for its military aggression. Austin: “China’s dangerous and coercive actions throughout the Indo-Pacific, including around Taiwan, toward the Pacific Island countries, and in the East and South China Seas, threaten regional peace and stability.”
Marles and Foreign Minister Penny Wong warmly endorsed Austin’s and Blinken’s remarks without specifically naming China. However, they were clear and forthcoming on overall intent. Wong did say Australia highly values its informal relationship with Taiwan.
In a later, impressive speech to the Carnegie Endowment she was explicit about the threat Beijing’s behaviour poses and the need for it to co-operate with the Biden administration in managing strategic competition. She forthrightly declared: “Australia sees enhanced defence capabilities as essential for deterring conflict in our region.”
Albanese, Marles and Wong, in everything they say and do, exhibit strategic realism and close alignment with the US. Marles and Wong both reiterated the key judgment that these are the most perilous strategic times since World War II.
There is only one reason for this: Beijing’s frenzied military development and sustained outlook of aggression.
China officially spends about $US230bn ($342bn) on its military. Soldiers are cheaper in China so it gets a lot for its money. It also conceals vast amounts of defence spending. Jane’s military journal thinks another $US60bn.
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Greg Sheridan is The Australian's foreign editor. His most recent book, Christians, the urgent case for Jesus in our world, became a best seller weeks after publication. It makes the case for the historical reliability of the New Testament and explores the lives of early Christians and contemporary Christians. He is one of the nation's most influential national security commentators, who is active across television and radio, and also writes extensively on culture and religion.
Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles, Foreign Minister Penny Wong, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III arrive for a press conference at AUSMIN in Washington DC.