Australia’s New Strategic Defense Document and Relations with China

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The Asia-Pacific Region has become the main focus of the global power struggle in the 21st century as the area where pole-based competition takes place the most in the world. Both the shift of trade centers to the region due to economic development and the increase in the level of technological development enabled the production of critical technological products easily in the region. On the other hand, the fact that the region has political fault lines and the intensification of global competition in the said geography adversely affects the political stability and thus the commercial continuity of the region.

While the competition between China, the largest economic power in the region and the world, and the United States of America (USA), which is the global hegemon, in Asia-Pacific, continues through international platforms such as RCEP and APEC; On the other hand, it takes place in the form of a one-on-one struggle and the parties pushing each other’s red lines. Although these coercions are usually realized through the steps taken by the parties themselves, such as the US’s exit from Tik Tok, sometimes the situations that occur through the allied states indirectly strengthen the hands of the parties.

The most up-to-date of such incidents that emerged through the Allied states is the Australian Government’s strategic defense document published on 24 April 2023. While the document published by the Canberra administration reveals Australia’s defense paradigm in many ways; It is a very important document in terms of clarifying the policy towards China.

The Chinese name is used eight times in the document and the influence of the Beijing administration in the region is mentioned. In the section titled “Working with Our Partners in the Region” signed by Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles, it is emphasized that it is in the interests of both the two states and the region that China and Australia have stable relations. In addition, partnerships will be developed in every field where cooperation can be made in Canberra’s relations with Beijing; but it has been stated that it is not possible to agree on the areas where there is no disagreement.[1]

Actually, this point of view is not new; it was taken part in many statements of the Albanese Government. For example, in a speech about relations with China at Western Sydney University on 13 December 2022, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong made statements in this direction.[2] Another example is that on December 19, 2022, Wong used almost the same sentences in a statement she gave on the anniversary of China and Australia’s diplomatic relations.[3]

In the fourth and fifth articles of the first part of the document, titled “Current Strategic Conditions”, China and in this context the rivalry on the Washington-Beijing line are mentioned again. In the fourth article, it is emphasized that the USA is no longer the sole leader of the Asia-Pacific and that the USA-China rivalry is the defining feature of the region and the era. In addition, it was underlined that great power competition and potential conflicts in the region do not coincide with the interests of Canberra.[4]

When it comes to the fifth article, it is claimed that China has been in a military growth that is far from transparency and does not provide assurance, despite the economic development that many countries in the region, including Australia, have benefited from since the Second World War. In addition, it was pointed out that China’s increasing initiatives in the South China Sea had a direct impact on Australia’s national interests, and it was argued that China entered into strategic competition over Australia’s close neighbors.[5]

On the other hand, various articles against Australia’s defense document were published in the Chinese state media and Beijing’s approach to this document was revealed. For example, one day after the strategic defense document was published; In other words, an article was published in the Global Times on March 25, 2023. The article in question first stated that there was a consensus with Australia that the USA was not the only leader in the region, and drew attention to the fact that the document continued the “Chinese threat” theory by making a false assessment.[6] In addition, it was stated in the article that the document in question was a deviation from the logic of the Dibb Report published in 1986, which recommended that Australia concentrate its defense on possible attack points. In addition, the influence of the USA was mentioned by giving the following statements used by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the time the document was published:[7]

“Instead of waiting for the future to shape us, Australia will build its strong defense by working to shape the future.”

The article states that China has never seen Australia as a threat; On the contrary, he stated that bilateral cooperation is important not only for economic development, but also for regional peace, stability and prosperity.

To summarize briefly, in the strategic defense document of Australia published on April 24, 2023, the approach of the Albanese administration on Australian defense, which took office in 2022, was revealed. In this context, it is surprising that China is mentioned in this way in the document at a time when relations with Beijing have gained a positive atmosphere. However, it is clear that with this document, it is clear that Australia’s concerns about China have not completely disappeared. Although war and conflict possibilities come to mind, this document is insufficient to claim that a war will break out between the parties. As a matter of fact, the state of war is, first of all, a phenomenon related to economic resilience and economic power. In this context, the fact that China is Australia’s largest trading partner is important for regional security. On the other hand, it can be predicted that the document will strengthen the hand of the USA in terms of the alliances it tries to revive in the region.

[1] Australian Government, Defence Strategic Review, Commonwealth of Australia 2023, Nisan 2023, s. 9.

[2] “‘Co-Operate Where We Can, Disagree Where We Must’: Penny Wong Outlines Plans on China Relations”, SBS News,, (Date of Accession: 13.12.2022).

[3] “Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between Australia and the People’s Republic of China”, Minister for Foreign Affairs,, (Date of Accession: 19.12.2022).

[4] Australian Government, a.g.m.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Chen Hong, “Australian Defence Review Misplaces Focus”, Global Times,, (Date of Accession: 25.04.2023).

[7] Ibid.

Elcan TOKMAK, 2022 yılında Gazi Üniversitesi İktisadi İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü'nden mezun olmuştur. Eylül-Aralık 2022 tarihleri arasında ANKASAM bünyesinde Kariyer Staj Programı'nı tamamlayan Tokmak, Temmuz 2023 tarihinden itibaren ANKASAM Asya-Pasifik Araştırma Asistanı olarak çalışmalarını sürdürmektedir. Şu anda Hacettepe Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü'nde Yüksek Lisans eğitimine devam eden Tokmak'ın ilgi alanları Çin-Japonya-Kore ilişkileri ve Çin Dış Politikası'dır. Tokmak; profesyonel düzeyde İngilizce, orta derecede Çince ve başlangıç düzeyinde Korece bilmektedir.