China's Rise: South Pacific Perspectives: Robert Ayson Discusses New Zealand and Australian Security Perceptions of China

By Ayson, Robert | New Zealand International Review, July-August 2011 | Go to article overview

China's Rise: South Pacific Perspectives: Robert Ayson Discusses New Zealand and Australian Security Perceptions of China


Ayson, Robert, New Zealand International Review


New Zealand and Australia both see China's rise as the leading factor in Asia's emerging security landscape. Both also share an interest in peaceful major power relations between a stronger China and a still powerful United States, but their respective relationships with these two leading regional powers are not identical. It is possible to overplay these differences: Australia's strategic view of China is not as uncompromising as some New Zealanders may be tempted to think, and New Zealand's view is not as soft as some Australians might imagine it to be. Canberra and Wellington will find opportunities to work together on managing the effects of Asia's power transition. But differences in their abilities to engage in some areas, including their readiness for advanced military operations in Asia's maritime domains, will also continue to be evident.

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While Australia and New Zealand may not always see eye to eye on every international issue, there are some strong points of similarity in their attitudes towards what is happening in the Asia-Pacific region as China rises. These common Australasian perceptions include the judgments that:

* The balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region is shifting.

* Chinas rise is the leading feature in that changing balance.

* The interactions between China and the other major regional powers, especially the United States, are the main shapers of Asia's future security order.

* The region's smaller and medium powers, including the ASEAN countries, Australia and New Zealand, need to adjust to whatever new security order the China-US interaction--and the influences of other major players such as India--will help produce.

* The regional security order in which we operate is affected by other and unrelated factors, among them the weakness and vulnerability of certain political systems, including in the South Pacific.

* But even in that immediate region, the influence of the larger powers, including China, will be felt.

* We need to see how the region's emerging institutions can be made ready to help sustain positive major power relations, including those involving a rising China.

Yet it might also be argued that because of some differences in our relative positions, interests, resources and relationships, Australia and New Zealand view the security implications of China's rise rather differently. Among these trans-Tasman differences, we might consider:

* Australia's closer proximity to East Asia, and its more intense historical experience of Japan's rise in power in the Second World War period versus New Zealand's sense of relative isolation and the protection New Zealand automatically gets from the Australian continent.

* Australia's size and its sense of itself as a medium power with a greater stake in the balance of power versus New Zealand's sense of itself as a smaller player and a consumer of the Asia-Pacific balance that others produce.

* Australia's longstanding and very close alliance relationship with the United States versus New Zealand's less intimate but nonetheless warming security relationship with Washington.

* The scale and scope of the Australian Defence Force, including its continuing efforts to maintain a qualitative edge in maritime combat capabilities versus New Zealand's smaller defence force whose capabilities are being shaped rather more around South Pacific security needs.

* The fact that while both Australia and New Zealand depend heavily on China's economic rise for their future economic performance, security concerns have greater relative prominence in Australia than they do in New Zealand where trading priorities and concerns about economic survival sit very firmly at the top of the pile.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

These factors would seem to add up to the conclusion that Australia has more to lose than New Zealand from a changing regional balance in which China's strategic position is strengthened, including in the distribution of power between China and the United States. …

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