Balancing Indo-Pacific Ties to Maintain Stability in the Face of 'Aggressive' Communist China

Balancing Indo-Pacific Ties to Maintain Stability in the Face of 'Aggressive' Communist China
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison (L) is greeted by Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (R) prior to an official welcoming ceremony at Suga's official residence in Tokyo on November 17, 2020. (Eugene Hoshiko / POOL / AFP)

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants to balance ties so that everyone, including an increasingly aggressive communist China, prospers in a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

This comes as Australia and Japan committed to deepening and expanding its bilateral relationship, including security ties, through a new agreement which angered the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

For Morrison, the relationship with Japan is very important for Australia.

"We both see the world very similarly and that relationship, I think will only strengthen stability and peace in the Indo-Pacific," Morrison told Nine's Today show on Nov. 19.

But he also conceded that Australia and Japan don't see China as a strategic competitor—as America does.

"We (Australia and Japan) do share that outlook that the Indo-Pacific region benefits from a China that is engaged economically in the region and one that is respecting of, as Australia should, and do, the sovereignty of all nations within the Indo-Pacific," Morrison told reporters in Tokyo, Japan on No. 18.

Having said that, Morrison added that the Indo-Pacific "benefits from the stability of the presence of the United States and the partnership that Japan and ourselves have also with India and the United States together."

Morrison recently returned from Tokyo where he met with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

Speaking to reporters following an informal dinner with Suga, Morrison said that Australia and Japan had far more in common than others, including shared strategic interests as liberal, market-based democracies.

"There is so much we have in common, so much we have in common, our interests, our outlook, our objectives, our ambitions," Morrison said.

He added, "There are few relationships, particularly given the geography that you could say the same things about."

Australia and Japan released a joint statement following the visit which prompted a CCP spokesperson to say the communist regime rejects and "deplores" it.

But the deepening of ties shows that Australia and Japan will not shy away from the strategic contest that China has laid out before them, according to Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at Australian National University.

"Whatever warnings Beijing issues about the supposed folly of Australia-Japan co-operation, it can thank its own coerciveness for this and much other bonding of democracies," Medcalf wrote in the Australian Financial Review on Nov. 18.

Medcalf argued that Australia is far from alone in facing China. Japan, he said, has been dealing for a decade with China's increasing military and economic harassment and has continually held its ground against Beijing's pressure.

"Australia and Japan are providing a middle-power backbone for co-operation with nations in south-east Asia and the South Pacific, on shared challenges ranging from pandemic response to quality infrastructure, including 5G networks and submarine cables," he wrote.

Australia and Japan are also both seeking to dilute Beijing's strategic leverage over them by diversifying their trade sectors, technological sources, and diplomatic ties.

Former Japanese Ambassador to Australia Sumio Kusaka, who had previously said U.S. President Donald Trump had earned quiet praise for his approach to China, believes that Japan and Australia are natural partners. He said that since Xi Jinping took power "China has adopted an extremely aggressive stance both at home and abroad."

In an article in The Australian in October, Sumio said that Japan and Australia had the potential to help meet the infrastructure needs of less developed nations in the Indo-Pacific. This, he argues, would help "China understand that those nations need not rely solely on its Belt and Road Initiative."

"Japan and Australia should promote a free and open Indo-Pacific in collaboration with the U.S., India and ASEAN countries," he wrote. "Broadening our wings further to include like-minded nations such as the UK and France would be an effective and practical way to curb China’s dangerous ambitions."

"Only a more comprehensive network of countries can possibly persuade China to understand the danger and accept the reality on the ground," Sumio wrote.

Associate Professor Salvatore Babones from the University of Sydney told The Epoch Times that Australia depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific for its very survival as a country.

He said that the Japan-Australia Reciprocal Access Agreement is a political statement about aligned values.

Australia's commitment to regional military initiatives like the Japan-instigated Quadrilateral Security Dialogue of Foreign Ministers—the Quad—means that Australia is contributing to the security of larger countries like Japan or India and is ultimately ensuring its security as well.

"China is exerting heavy trade pressure on Australia, but that has more to do with its perception that Australia is vulnerable to Chinese influence than it has to do with any particular policy," Babones said.

"Australia really has no choice in the matter other than simply to hold its ground and fight Chinese influence," he said.

Victoria Kelly-Clark is an Australian based reporter who focuses on national politics and the geopolitical environment in the Asia-pacific region, the Middle East and Central Asia.