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Australia in the Asian Century: Gov’t releases new White Paper

October 30, 2012

The Australian Government has released an optimistic new White Paper assessing the ongoing economic rise of East Asia and the ability of Australia to benefit from it.  The paper almost reads like a product from the neo-liberal hey day of the early 1990s, extolling the virtues of free market and trade to enhance everything from economic growth to democratic reform to expansion of human rights.   At the same time, the paper downplays the security threats in the region.  Now, this may be well justified, as most of the nations in the region certainly prize economic prosperity over territorial gains.  However, the overlapping claims of sovereignty in the South China and East China seas cannot be overlooked and will remain possible flashpoints for conflict in both the near and medium terms.

Conflicting territorial claims in the East China (above) and South China (below) Seas

Christian Le Miere of the International Institute for Strategic Studies sees reason for optimism in the recent dispute over the Senkaku Islands – the fact that China deliberately sent fishing vessels rather than armed naval craft indicates to him that the preference is for a peaceful, negotiated settlement.  Counter to this analysis, however, is today’s report that China is refusing to join its South China Seas neighbors in negotiations for a multi-lateral “code of conduct” in the waters.   China does not want to be bound by a group treaty, preferring to negotiate separate deals with each individual nation.   In one-on-one negotiations, China can overawe each of her negotiating partners, something that is much harder to achieve when they band together.

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