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Australia Urged to Build Closer Ties to China As US Power Fades

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reacts as he speaks during a media conference in Canberra, Australia, Nov. 15, 2017.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reacts as he speaks during a media conference in Canberra, Australia, Nov. 15, 2017.

Australia’s latest blueprint for foreign policy says that greater self-reliance is needed as the country prepares for a world in which the U.S. retreats and China becomes more powerful and unpredictable.

"Opportunity. Security. Strength” are the three words on the cover of Australia’s latest foreign policy document. The White Paper is the first since 2003 and sets out Canberra’s global strategy for the next decade.

Its blunt assessment is that China is challenging America's position as the dominant force in the Asia-Pacific region. The policy blueprint argues the U.S. will remain crucial to Australia's national security, but says Canberra must build even closer ties to Beijing.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull believes Australia must adapt to an evolving world order.

“We are navigating a rapidly changing multi-polar world in which each of the major players are testing the relationships with each other while undergoing rapid change themselves. In the past we could safely assume that the world worked in a way that suited Australia. Now power is shifting and the rules and institutions are under challenge,” he said.

The White Paper describes uncertainty in the Asia-Pacific region, and calls on the Australian government to build stronger ties with other regional nations, such as India, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea.

Turnbull has also stressed that his country must also take greater responsibility for its own "security and prosperity”. A military alliance with the United States dates back to the early 1950s.

Bates Gill, a Professor of Asia Pacific security studies at Macquarie University in Sydney, agrees that Australia should not be overly-reliant on the U.S.

“Australia must recognize that in this more volatile period, in a period of greater unpredictability, as to the continued commitment on the part of the United States to its engagement in this region it has to look for other options and not be so reliant, as the White Paper notes, on this long-standing and traditional relationship with the United States.”

Australia has also raised concerns about the “pace and scale” of China's activities in the contentious South China Sea, prompting Beijing to insist that Canberra should not get involved in the wide-ranging territorial dispute.