China’s expansion into the South China Sea is disturbing for a number of reasons. Not only are their artificial islands, and militarization of the region a major threat to all neighboring nations but they also are sending a message that any country in the Pacific will cower to their might.
This is not sitting well with the Australians who have many economic and military interests in the areas not far from where China is bulking up. To counter that, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced a massive increase in defense spending which will take place over the next 10 years.
On Thursday, February 25th in Australia’s capital of Canberra, Turnbull told an audience of military personnel that in 10 years, defense spending will account for 2% of the nations GDP. He went on to say:
“The United States will remain the pre-eminent global military power over the next two decades. It will continue to be Australia’s most important strategic partner through our long-standing alliance, and the active presence of the United States will continue to underpin the stability of our region.”
This did not sit well with the Chinese, whom Australia is trying to play a delicate diplomatic balancing act with – staying both in good terms with Beijing while maintaining close ties with Washington.
Defense Minister Marise Payne went into greater detail on the spending boost saying that they will be expanding their submarine fleet drastically, competing with some of the largest in the region. They also will be continuously building new ships, starting with 9 frigates and 12 new offshore patrol vessels.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said later that day that day that China would be avoiding an arms race with the Aussies and that:
“We hope the Australian side can correctly and positively view China’s development and strategic intent.”
China has been urging Australia to taper down its expansion of submarines in the area as a courtesy to countries like Japan.
The spending increases will also boost the size of Australia’s military, brining the number of their forces to 62,400 – the highest it has been since 1993. They also will be boosting cyber security measures and boot weapons and technology investments.
This announcement comes just days after U.S. Navy leaders urged allies in the region to test Chinese claims to the valuable trade routes in the South China Sea and beyond. Adm. Harry Harris, the 4-star commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said:
“This is international water and international airspace, and if we don’t exercise our rights or if those rights aren’t routinely exercised by someone, then we stand a chance of abdicating those rights to someone else. The regular exercise of freedom of navigation, in my opinion, is critical. It’s important. And it’s something that we must continue to do.”
Is this a good idea by Australia or will it only prove to inflame tensions? Sound off in the comments below!