Australia has committed to new defence initiatives with the US in a bilateral meeting at the G7 Summit on the weekend, but much of the reasoning for it is flimsy, according to a top analyst.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and President Joe Biden met in Hiroshima after Biden pulled out of the Quad Summit to be held in Sydney on Wednesday, citing ongoing debt ceiling renegotiations in the US Congress.
The summit, which also included Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese President Fumio Kishida, was cancelled shortly after Biden confirmed he would not be coming to Australia. The Quad instead had a mini meeting during the G7 on Saturday night, preceded by a bilateral meeting between Albanese and Biden that afternoon.
In a statement following the meeting, the White House announced Biden planned to ask Congress to add Australia as a “domestic source” under Title III of the US Defense Production Act. If passed, American governments could financially incentivise Australia to provide resources or produce technologies in the interests of American national defence.
The problem with being so closely allied with the United States is that Australia thinks it has to support the United States in the wars they go into, and the United States is almost permanently at war.
The White House said the move would “accelerate and strengthen AUKUS implementation”, among other things.
However, Dr Michael McKinley, an Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University, claimed much of the threat to the Indo-Pacific which the Quad says it seeks to protect is actually manufactured by the Quad itself.
“China does exceptionally well… with that open maritime, so I cannot see why China is a threat to it (the Quad). I think it’s a manufactured threat, and highly cynical at that,” he said.
“The defence relationship is just a massive blob in the middle of the [Australia-US] relationship. It is, without question, dominant, even pre-dominant, in everything.”
Today, by signing a new joint initiative to accelerate a transition to clean energy, the United States and Australia will take one giant step forward in our fight against the climate crisis.
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Along with strengthening AUKUS, Australia’s inclusion as an American domestic source implements recommendations from this year’s National Defence Strategic Review.
The review advocated for “an enhanced and expanded Alliance with the United States” as part of key defence strategy within the Indo-Pacific.
“Defence should pursue greater advanced scientific, technological and industrial co-operation in the [Australia-US] Alliance, as well as increased United States rotational force posture in Australia, including submarines,” the review noted.
India and Japan are also mentioned in the review as “key powers” which Australia should maintain an alliance with, though there were no explicit defence announcements in the Quad leaders’ statement following Saturday night’s meeting.
In what was seen as a critique of China, the leaders noted the “challenges to the maritime rules-based order, including those in the East and South China Seas” and were seriously concerned with the “militarisation of disputed features, the dangerous use of coast guard and maritime militia vessels, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation activities”.
China has not been explicitly targeted in Quad leaders’ statements since 2017, and Dr McKinley believes the success of the Quad depends on whether they will act on Chinese influence in the region.
“It may never be, but if the Quad has to take some firm action, particularly against China, I believe that it will fall apart,” he said.
I believe a great deal of the future of our world is going to be written here in the Indo-Pacific.
And together, the United States, Japan, India, and Australia will ensure a future that provides more opportunity, prosperity, and stability in the region and beyond. pic.twitter.com/R7ZKhJNxWv
— President Biden (@POTUS) May 21, 2023
Dr McKinley said Australia’s diplomatic proximity to the United States in the face of China, was a problem.
In their first year in office, the Albanese government has made considerable efforts to repair Australia’s fractured relationship with China. Last weekend, the Prime Minister confirmed an invitation from Beijing to make a state visit to China in October, pending the removal of some remaining tariffs on Australian goods.
However, with the US talking up the possibility of a future war with China, Australia could be unnecessarily involved in an Indo-Pacific conflict.
“The problem with being so closely allied with the United States is that Australia thinks it has to support the United States in the wars they go into, and the United States is almost permanently at war,” Dr McKinley said. “And the big problem is, these wars are usually illegal, unethical, unnecessary. And Australia just goes along and makes serious sacrifices, in my view, for no good purpose.
President Biden is expected to make a state visit to Australia later this year.