Australia, China, and the Indo-Pacific Page: 2 of 3
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espionage and foreign interference operations being carried out in Australia that have sought
to obtain sensitive government and corporate information and to influence public debate.
Prime Minister Turnbull introduced a legislative overhaul of intelligence and espionage laws
in December 2017. These espionage, foreign interference, and foreign influence reforms
would enhance existing espionage, secrecy, treason, sabotage, and related offenses, and
introduce new offenses targeting these areas.
China's activities in the South Pacific are raising concerns in Canberra. Reportedly, China and
Vanuatu have held discussions to establish a Chinese military presence in Vanuatu, a small
island nation located between Australia and American Samoa. Australia and New Zealand
have warned China against building this military base, which would be China's first overseas
facility in the South Pacific.
Some critics outside government question the underlying assumptions and support for the
alliance with the United States. Former Prime Ministers Paul Keating and Malcolm Fraser
became critical of the alliance and called on Australia to undertake a more independent foreign
policy. More recently, Australian academic Hugh White's Quarterly Essay "Without America:
Australia in the New Asia" asserts that "America will cease to play a major role in Asia, and
China will take its place as the dominant power." He asks, how should Australia position itself
given this dynamic?
Australian views of China are being shaped by revelations about how China is seeking to gain
influence there. A June 2017 Four Corners television documentary, Power and Influence, the
February 2018 book Silent Invasion: China's Influence in Australia by Australian author Clive
Hamilton, and Prime Minister Turnbull's former Senior Advisor on China John Garnaut's
March 2018 article in Foreign Affairs, "How China Interferes in Australia," all detail China's
efforts to expand its influence in Australia. According to Hamilton, the central thesis of Silent
Invasion is that "the influence of the Chinese Communist Party and its sympathizers in
Australia on the major institutions of Australian democracy and public life is much greater
than previously thought, and in fact Australia has been the target of an extensive campaign of
influence by the Chinese state." One review of Silent Invasion labeled it a "McCarthyist
manifesto." For Hamilton's response see "Why the Critics are Wrong." Two widely reported
cases alleging China's influence with Australian politicians involve former Labor Senator Sam
Dastyari and former Liberal Trade Minister Andrew Robb.
Australia's Foreign Affairs and Defense Policy
Australian foreign affairs and defense policies are articulated in the 2017 Foreign Policy
White Paper and the 2016 Defense White Paper. Accordingly, Australia "supports the deep
engagement of the United States in the economic and security affairs of the region" and
observes, "The roles of the United States and China and the relationship between them will
continue to be the most strategically important factors in the Indo-Pacific region to 2035. A
strong and deep alliance [with the United States] is at the core of Australia's security and
defence planning." Prime Minister Turnbull stated in his 2017 Keynote Address to the Shangri
la Dialogue, "In this brave new world we cannot rely on great powers to safeguard our
interest. We have to take responsibility for our own security and prosperity while recognising
we are stronger when sharing the burden of collective leadership with trusted partners and
Here’s what’s next.
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Vaughn, Bruce. Australia, China, and the Indo-Pacific, report, April 23, 2018; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1156817/m1/2/: accessed April 20, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.