Australia seeking closer US security ties

Canberra wary of growing instability in Asia-Pacific, especially the South China Sea

SYDNEY • Australia will seek to broaden and deepen its security alliance with the United States in the decades ahead as the rise of China and other Asia-Pacific powers risks fuelling instability in the region, Australian Defence Minister Kevin Andrews said yesterday.

Foreshadowing a strategic defence White Paper due later this year, Mr Andrews said world economic and military power was shifting to the Asia-Pacific region.

"But growth in the region will be uneven and competition to exert more influence could generate instability," he told US and Australian business leaders in Canberra.

"Also, competing claims for territory and natural resources in the South China Sea will continue to be a source of tension in the region," he said. "Combined with growth in military capability, this backdrop therefore has the potential to destabilise the region and threaten Australia's interests."

Australia, tucked in the south of the Pacific, is attempting to build strategic ties with both the US and Japan without alienating China, its top trading partner.

In 2011, US President Barack Obama unveiled a strategic "pivot" to the Asia-Pacific, a move that was welcomed by Canberra but caused consternation in Beijing.

China has been conducting large-scale land reclamation in the South China Sea, which is contested by some South-east Asian nations and has some of the world's most important shipping lanes.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims in the seas, through which US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) in shipping trade passes every year.

Australia, which hosts as many as 2,500 American Marines in its northern city of Darwin, allows US naval visits.

The defence White Paper that Mr Andrews is preparing to release this year will provide a blueprint for Australia's military as the government seeks to increase defence spending to 2 per cent of gross domestic product within a decade. The document would also flesh out plans to purchase billions of dollars of weaponry, much of it from the US.

Australia is inviting Japan, Germany and France to bid for a A$50 billion (S$50 billion) contract to helm production of a new submarine fleet.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2015, with the headline 'Australia seeking closer US security ties'. Subscribe