Australia’s 2015 Defence White Paper: Seeking Strategic Opportunities in Southeast Asia to Help Manage China’s Peaceful Rise
- Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs
- ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
- Volume 35, Number 3, December 2013
- pp. 395-422
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Australia’s new government is committed to delivering the next defence white paper in 2015. The two previous white papers took a predominantly risk-management approach to Southeast Asia, generally ignored the strategic opportunities in the region, treated it as a stand-alone region largely unrelated to developments in East Asia and failed to link Australia’s policies in Southeast Asia with the broader goal of helping to ensure greater strategic stability in Asia by putting constraints on Chinese assertiveness and encouraging its peaceful rise. After offering a summary of recent Australian defence thinking on Southeast Asia, this paper outlines why managing China is the key variable when it comes to strategic stability in the region. It then examines how China’s strategy and behaviour can be shaped and influenced by events and relationships in Southeast Asia, and offers some suggestions as to the role Australia can seek to play in Southeast Asia that relates to Canberra’s China-focused objectives and strategic stability in Asia more broadly. If that can be achieved in the 2015 defence white paper, Australia — which is often criticized for being preoccupied primarily with managing the relationship with its superpower ally the United States — will demonstrate to itself and Asia that its heavy reliance on the ANZUS treaty is no barrier to strategic creativity in Asia.