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The United States can count on regional partnerships with Japan and Australia to deter Chinese ambitions in the region, as the two Indo-Pacific countries develop closer ties and stronger military capabilities, have former officials told UKTN News Digital.
“Japan and Australia share a common position on the need to balance China’s power in the Indo-Pacific region, and we have in fact had it for years,” the former Australian business minister said. Aliens Alexander Downer at UKTN News Digital. “[China] under Xi Jinping has become incredibly aggressive and tried to dominate the region, and it will completely destabilize the region if they do. We need to make sure China understands that we are happy to work with China and sell to China, but we are not going to be intimidated by China.”
The United States faces a difficult and complex effort to control China’s regional ambitions in the Indo-Pacific. Officials previously told UKTN News Digital that the United States relies on overlapping bilateral treaties to create similar cooperation that the majority of Europe uses through NATO.
Downer argued that it is best to assume that China’s political system “will not change between now and my death.”
The United States’ most reliable form of deterrence remains the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or QUAD) between the United States, Japan, Australia, and India. The QUAD does not have the same military commitments as NATO, but China has still decried it as an “Asian NATO”.
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“The QUAD grew out of what we originally called the trilateral security dialogue, which was with the United States, Australia and Japan, and India was added to it by the Japanese, actually , and very wisely,” Downer explained. “Japan has been a very, very reliable ally in the Indo-Pacific region actually for Australia, and also for the United States.”
Ambassador Mikio Mori, Japan’s Consul General in New York, told UKTN News Digital that outside of its conventional alliance with the United States, Japan has no “best” ally in the region, s relying instead on a patchwork of partnerships with different partners fulfilling different roles.
But the United States sees Japan-Australia relations as an essential part of its policy of deterrence vis-à-vis China in the Indo-Pacific. Former State Department Japan director Kevin Maher told UKTN News Digital that “aside from the United States,” Australia is “clearly” Japan’s most important relationship.
He touted Japan’s role as the region’s leader in “China awareness”, but acknowledged that Australia and Japan had taken on this duty together.
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China’s Belt and Road Initiative, through which Beijing invests in small developing countries, has helped China secure influence over important supply chain ‘second and third tier’ countries , especially for “military areas, hacking and acquisition companies”. Beijing even cut off Japan from rare earth metal resources in alleged retaliation for a dispute over fishing boats and waters in 2010. Japan at the time had become almost entirely dependent on China for these metals.
Japan has since made efforts to expand its military capabilities, which the U.S. government “has welcomed very much.” Japan currently has one of the largest military expenditures, spending around $49 billion a year, ranking seventh, putting it ahead of Russia and South Korea, but behind the UK and Germany.
“In 2015, the prime minister at the time changed his fundamental policy to allow for what is called collective self-defense,” Maher explained. “Until then, operational planning… was very restricted because they could only do what is called individual self-defense, which means they were limited only to actions to defend Japan.”
The “collective defense” measure is permissible in situations where Japan faces an “existential crisis,” defined in Article 2 of its constitution as “an armed attack on a foreign state that has close relations with Japan. occurs and therefore threatens the survival of Japan.”
“It’s a direct attack on Japan, for example, the Taiwan Strait scenario or a Korean Peninsula scenario,” Maher said. “So there’s a lot more combined training and combined planning between the United States and Japan.”
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The biggest regional unknown remains India’s position and alignment in the region: Downer raised concerns about India’s position, saying it “still has a pretty close relationship with Russia “.
“I don’t see India as an ally,” Downer said. “I see it in the sense that I would say obviously the United States is our ultimate ally, but I would see Japan as an ally pretty much. India is a like-minded democracy – that’s how I would see India,” he added, but admitted that “on the China issue, India has been quite solid politically.”
“I think we probably think their relationship with China and with Russia is a function of history, which is not going to change very quickly,” Downer said, adding that it remains important to “keep India on our side in terms of dealing with the aggression of Xi Jinping’s regime.”
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Downer believes that Australia and Japan must continue to build coalitions in the region, such as with Singapore and with Indonesia, which he says can one day “dominate the region”.
These alliances would add to an “enormous amount” of military forces available in the region, with Australia and Japan enjoying considerable support for US military bases. If China tried to make a more aggressive move in the region — like trying to invade Taiwan — Downer thinks current military alliances and capabilities could push back the effort.
“If they tried to take Taiwan, well, that could be incredibly difficult and incredibly costly in terms of lives lost and equipment destroyed and the impact that that would have on China is already there,” he said. .