China is going nowhere and its economic success is tied to that of Australia, Defense Minister Richard Marles said at the first Asia Security Meeting on Saturday.
Speaking in Singapore at the Shangri-La dialogue, Marles presented a vision of economic cooperation balanced with military deterrence.
Mr Marles said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine showed that economic interdependence was not enough to deter conflict between nations.
Investment in military deterrence would still be necessary to show that the risks of conflict outweighed the benefits.
“China is going nowhere and we all have to live together and hopefully prosper together,” Marles said. “China’s economic success is tied to that of ours and that of the region.
“Australia‘s approach will be rooted in a desire to safeguard our national interests and in our support for rules-based regional security and stability.” He said the rule of law, not power, would govern conduct between states.
Paraphrasing former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating, Mr Marles said China would have to accept restrictions on its power as it seeks to play a leading role in the region.
Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein (R) and Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles (2-R) speak to attendees at the Shangri-La hotel in Singapore, June 11, 2022. Source: AAP / APE
The communist superpower’s militarization of the South China Sea was intended to “deny the legitimacy” of their neighbor’s claims to the waterway.
Mr Marles said it should give nations “concern” that China did not criticize Russia’s invasion of Ukraine despite its commitment to the principles of sovereignty.
“When it comes to the security and stability of our own region, there will be continuity in Australian defensive policy,” he said.
This would mean a continuation of the Australian-American alliance, a commitment to AUKUS and an “accelerated” push towards military quantum technology, AI, underwater warfare capabilities and hypersonic munitions.
“Australia’s investments in defense capabilities are a necessary and prudent response to the military buildup we are seeing taking place in the Indo-Pacific,” Mr Marles said.
“They are intended to contribute to an effective balance of military power. A balance that ensures that no state here will ever conclude that the benefits of conflict outweigh the risks.”
The United States and its allies have traded barbs with China, particularly over Taiwan, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has overshadowed talks.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Washington would do its part to manage tensions with China and prevent conflict, even as Beijing becomes increasingly aggressive in the region.
The world’s two largest economies have clashed in recent months over everything from Taiwan and China’s human rights record to its military activity in the South China Sea.
Mr Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe met on Friday and reaffirmed that they wanted to manage their relationship better although there were no signs of a breakthrough in resolving the differences.
Mr. Austin said the United States would continue to support its allies, including Taiwan. China claims Taiwan as its own and has pledged to take it by force if necessary.
Mr Austin said there had been an “alarming” increase in the number of unsafe and unprofessional encounters between Chinese planes and ships with those of other countries.
Lt. Gen. Zhang Zhenzhong, a senior Chinese military officer, called Austin’s speech a “confrontation.”
“There have been many baseless accusations against China. We have expressed our deep dissatisfaction and firm opposition to these false accusations,” Zhang, vice chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters. of the Central Military Commission of China.
But with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy due to address delegates later in the day in a virtual session, the spotlight was firmly on Russia’s invasion of his neighbour.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is what happens when the oppressors trample on the rules that protect us all,” Austin said. “It’s a glimpse into a possible world of chaos and turmoil that none of us would want to live in.”