Harry Harris, the US Navy admiral nominated to be the next US ambassador to Australia, warned about China's growing military ambitions in the Asia-Pacific region and stressed the US military needs to be better prepared to face the Chinese army in possible future wars, when he addressed the US Committee on Armed Services on the challenges facing the US military in the region earlier this month.
"China's intent is crystal clear. We ignore it at our peril. I'm concerned China will now work to undermine the international rules-based order… If the United States does not keep pace, [US] Pacific Command will struggle to compete with the People's Liberation Army on future battlefields," Harris, who currently serves as the head of the US Pacific Command, said.
The US military official also expressed high expectations of military support from Australia.
"Australia is one of the keys to a rules-based international order… I look to my Australian counterparts for their assistance. I admire their leadership in the battlefield and in the corridors of power in the world. They are a key ally of the United States and they have been with us in every major conflict since the World War One," he said.
Chinese scholars argued that Australia’s growing ties with Beijing, especially closer trade relations, makes it less likely for Canberra to openly support Washington in case of a military conflict between China and the United States.
"China is Australia’s largest trade partner. If Canberra decides to break relations with Beijing openly, it would also hurt its own interests. There’s no good choice for Australia. I believe if the United States get involved in a large scale military conflict with China, it’s unlikely for Australia to openly support the US side and help them to encircle China," Deng Yuwen, the former deputy editor of the Central Party School's journal Study Times and currently a senior researcher at the Charhar Institute Beijing, told Sputnik.
Australian experts also acknowledged the importance of Australia’s economic relations with China.
"Both the United States and Australia are heavily involved with China economically. Both countries share, in common, the need to ‘keep the goose’ and not break that relationship. In recent years, there have been a large number of Chinese tourists [visiting Australia] and the Chinese students on which the Australian universities dependent for money," Carlyle Thayer, Emeritus Professor at the Australian Defense Force Academy in Canberra, told Sputnik.
Policy Changeinterfering in his nation’s domestic politics and seeking greater political influence in Australia, declaring that it was time for the Australian people to "stand up."
Deng, the Beijing-based expert believes recent allegations from the Australian prime minister on China’s interference campaign in Australia served mostly for Turnbull’s agenda on domestic politics.
"It’s unclear whether Australia’s policy toward China has indeed changed. There are signs that Australia is becoming increasingly concerned about China. But they could come from the political agenda of the current ruling Liberal Party, as part of its efforts to prepare for the next election. If the new government formed after the next election continues the current policy, it could mean that Australia has really changed its attitude toward China," Deng said.
The Chinese scholar pointed out that the apparent change in Australia’s policy toward China also came amid a reshaped view of Beijing among Western countries.
"The change of direction in Australia’s policy [toward China] is not surprising at all. During the recent Munich Security Conference, the German foreign minister also warned Western nations to be vigilant of China’s rise. Under the background of the West having a renewed judgment of China, Australia simply expressed this change in policy a bit more straightforward than other countries," Deng said.
However, Professor Thayer, the Australian expert, argued that there has been solid evidence of China’s political influence efforts in Australia.
"In terms of the latest foreign affairs White Paper which has called China out, sitting here in Australia, I wouldn’t use the word ‘allegations’ of Chinese interference. It’s absolute. Australian security and intelligence organizations list China at the top of counterintelligence in a released secret document," he said.
Australia, New Zealand and the United States signed a security treaty, known as the ANZUS Treaty, in 1951 regarding cooperation on military matters in the Asia-Pacific region, which stated that an attack on any of the three countries would be dangerous to the others and they need to act together to deal with the common threat.
Professor Thayer believes the security treaty offers a solid foundation for Australia to work with the United States, in case of a military conflict against China.
"The starting point is the ANZUS alliance in 1951. In the event of a threat to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific Region, or an attack of armed forces on anybody under the alliance, they consult. This is not an automatic NATO guarantee. They would consult and make decisions. Australia and the United States have fought almost every war together since Australia trained US troops in the World War One," he said.
However, the size of the Australian military dictated that it could only offer limited assistance to the US military, the expert pointed out.
"If Australia commits [in assisting the United States], they always look for a niche area. When US aircraft bombed Iraq, Australian refueler [aircraft] helped refuel US aircraft. Australian generals have served as chief of operations in Iraq. The US side would trust an Australian guided missile destroyer to be part of a screen protecting US aircraft carriers. The last thing Australia wants to do is to put ground troops, other than Special Forces. That’s because the Australian military is relatively small," Thayer said.
The Australian expert added that no matter contingencies over Taiwan or a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula, those kinds of remote conflicts would all be over before Australia can mobilize and provide effective forces.
The views and opinions expressed by speakers do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.