If China was democratically governed, and truly accountable internationally, it would present little or no risk to international stability, peace and security. But while China remains under authoritarian rule it remains primarily focused on regime survival, prone to challenging a rules-based system for resolving international disputes, and too unpredictable to sustain longer-term international confidence in its reliability as a member of such a system. This is exacerbated by the current Chinese government encouraging hyper-nationalism, and increasingly military solutions to disputes, in order to distact the Chinese people from the regime's lack of democratic legitimacy and accountability to those it rules. This situation institutionalises strategic security risks for China's immediate neighbours, the wider regional neighbourhood and international peace and stability generally.
Letter to The Australian
Tuesday, 02 August 2016
(published Wednesday, 03 August 2016)
Euan Graham (“We must not be bullied out of South China Sea”, 2/8, p.12) rightly criticises China’s “Melian Monologue” challenge to the existing rules-based strategic system anchored in the UN Charter.
Three aspects unfortunately cripple objective debate on China.
None of them involve supposed “xenophobia” or “unblinking deference” to the Australia-US alliance.
First, many in business, and in our official and academic strategic bureaucracies, are too sanguine or subjective about China.
They tend to ignore long-term risks and discount inconvenient facts in a similar fashion to those who championed appeasement of fascist and communist dictatorships.
Second, it is not China per se that is the problem but how that country is currently governed — including China’s growing proclivity for hyper-nationalistic, and increasingly militarist, propaganda domestically and her bullying behaviour internationally.
Until China stops being run by an authoritarian regime the probability that its substantial military and economic power could be misused must remain the key principle of Australia-China relations.
When China is governed democratically — and truly accountable to its people, neighbours and the world generally — it will probably pose no risk of forcibly challenging the primarily rules-based peaceful resolution of international disputes.
Third, whether the NT’s Governments 99-year lease of Darwin’s port to Chinese commercial interests was ill-judged or not (and it was), how the decision was made and the loopholes used to achieve it, exposed major weaknesses in our national strategic security management.
Until China democratises and has an economy subject to the rule-of-law, Chinese commercial ownership of major Australian infrastructure has long-term strategic security implications well beyond any economic ones.
Such grand-strategical decisions must be taken only by the National Security Committee of Cabinet, not just the Foreign Investment Review Board.