Australia Chooses Sides — And It’s Not With China

  • Share
  • Read Later
Photo by US Navy Specialist 3rd Class Declan Barnes

A U.S. sailor throws a line as HMAS Sydney arrives at Yokosuka, Japan. The Sydney will join the USS George Washington carrier strike group during operations in the Asia-Pacific region.

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – After months of seemingly mixed signals regarding security relations with China, Australia sent a clear message where its interests lie with the arrival Monday of a frontline warship at the hub of U.S. naval operations in the region.

HMAS Sydney will spend the next several months operating in the Asia-Pacific as an integral part of the USS George Washington carrier strike group. The Sydney’s responsibilities will include providing air defense for the GW and its fleet of escort vessels. It is only the second time in recent memory that an allied warship has joined a carrier group here for purposes other than scheduled exercises.

The deployment comes with rising tension over China’s growing military strength and assertiveness and follows a simmering debate in Australia – apparently now settled – whether to shift diplomatic and security policies away from the United States and toward China.

“This is a very significant deployment because we are the only country that does this — no other Asian ally, even Japan, has a ship assigned” to a U.S. fleet, says Benjamin Schreer, Senior Analyst for Defence Strategy at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, in Canberra. “It basically signals to China that, ‘Look, you shouldn’t even try to drive a wedge between us.  We will be there, with our U.S. allies, if required.’”

The GW is expected to begin an extended cruise as early as next month through some of the most hotly contested waters on the planet. China has claimed nearly all of the South China Seas and is engaged in a tense standoff with Japan over the Senkaku Islands, known in China as Diaoyu. A Chinese warship locked fire-control radar on a Japan Maritime Self Defense Force destroyer in international waters near those islands earlier this year; no shots were fired, but the incident ratcheted tensions further. The GW’s area of operation extends from the international dateline in the Pacific to the western Indian Ocean.

No one seriously expects China to challenge, much less shoot at, a battle-ready U.S. carrier group on the high seas. But mistakes have been known to happen. The GW group includes two Aegis-equipped cruisers and seven destroyers, along with the Sydney. Carrier groups typically go to sea with at least one submarine lurking nearby.

The Sydney is a 1980s-vintage frigate that was recently upgraded with Standard and Evolved Sea Sparrow anti-aircraft missiles and Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and carries two anti-submarine helicopters. Nominally, the ship will follow the same rules of engagement as other vessels in the task force, though the Aussies would not necessarily be dragged into each and every fight if shooting occurred.

“If I found myself in that position, I would seek further advice from back home. But certainly I would always have the right to self defense,” said Cmdr. Karl Brinckmann, commanding officer of the Sydney.

Australia had steadily toned down its rhetoric since a 2009 Defense White Paper determined that China’s double-digit increases in defense spending and growing regional ambitions were a potential threat.

Australia’s defense chief said in December that joint military exercises with China were “on the short-term horizon.” Last month, Prime Minister Julia Gillard agreed during a trip to Beijing to hold yearly high-level strategic talks and to participate in joint military exercises with China.

The newest Defense White Paper, issued Friday, contains noticeably milder language than the previous edition.

“The government does not approach China as an adversary. Rather, its policy is aimed at encouraging China’s peaceful rise and ensuring that strategic competition in the region does not lead to conflict,” the new paper says.

But even if the Aussies are toning down the rhetoric, they seem to be hedging their security bets.

The Royal Australian Navy is set for a major expansion in capability with the arrival of two large, flat-deck amphibious assault ships and at least three Aegis-type destroyers over the next several years.

The amphibious ships — essentially small aircraft carriers that can handle troops and equipment, as well — will operate with a fleet of escort vessels to provide protection from aircraft, missiles, submarines and  surface warships. The Sydney deployment will have the added benefit of giving the RAN practice in operating in large battle groups. HMAS Darwin conducted a similar deployment with the GW strike group in 2011, although it received little attention at the time.

“Up ‘til now we’ve been operating our ships individually,” says HMAS Sydney spokesman Lieutenant Grant McDuling. “But we’ll begin operating as strike groups, and we need to learn how to do that.”


Still good to know the Chinese military can be swept aside by a cheerful nuclear bombardment should they get stupid... Likewise the chinese nuclear arm retains few muscles.


UmmM  The people were REAL people living IN AUSTRALIA who spoke to ME personally - your sarcasm is tepid and stupid! I have a Chinese business associate whose wife recently gave birth to a child in China, he says he will bring the kid to Australia to raise him ! When you post an idiotic statement like "work with the Americans to harm Chinese interests" do you not think that maybe America and Australia are merely defending THEIR interests from China - it is people like you who want a one way scenario instead of "meaningful" dialogue who are the problem!



Meaningful dialogue? China indeed wants meaningful dialogue. The question is whether the Australians and Americans want them. Newsflash: China do have valid national interests, just like the Australians and Americans.


@LuwianMemories @Soton2D Out of the three countries the only one making demands is China. This is NOT dialogue, it is intimidation, Intimidation will never get a look in , in either the USA or Australia, instead you will get a resilience to that concept. Possibly as a brain washed Chinese person you just don't understand ! If China did NOT make demands on other countries - i.e. "The whole of the South China sea is OURS!"  "Taiwan is Chinese"   "We demand that Australia does not enter in to any additional military relationships with the US!" "We don't care what the Philippines point of view is, the Sprately Islands belong to China." JUST HOW IS THIS "MEANINGFUL" LET ALONE DIALOGUE!!!!!!!!!! NO WONDER AUSTRALIA IS WORRIED !!!!!!

Soton2D 1 Like

The comments that are made by Chinese living IN China are stupid if you compare them with a comment by a Chinese person LIVING IN Australia. EXAMPLE: I am a white Australian, I have friends who are Chinese ,being born IN China, I have a meeting with a business man who is Chinese who has come to Australia for business only, he lives in China, MY Chinese friends who live here permanently ask me to be careful, their comment is, " don't trust him, he is Chinese!" UNTIL the larger Chinese community in China wishes to actually try to understand others and as long as it continues to insist that instead all others should understand it, then there will be conflict ultimately. As for darkmax 1974 comment, the policy of Australia is simple, PROTECT AUSTRALIA, the USA does NOT wish to dictate terms to us,China seems as though that is what it wants,, the dictum of Australian military is clear, it understands it cannot win a war with China but has evolved to the extent that if a war were waged then although Australia would be blown away, then China would wind up pretty well wasted as well and although still standing be out on its feet. So to darkmz 1974 I would say you are very ill informed and a waste of oxygen. By the way, historically we actually do have MORE in common with the USA, not sure if you can understand that!



Obviously, you hacked those two people's accounts and know that they are posting from China (sarcasm intended). Anyways, so what? Australia is going to stop selling minerals and other natural resources to China? Of course the Australian military is for protecting Australia, but if you guys are going to work with the US to harm Chinese interests, than do you expect a pat in the back from China? That is why Duduong's comment makes the most sense - Australia would be wise to play a balance game instead. Remember, nobody wants war, especially not China. However, many things go on in the shadows and behind closed doors which we ordinary mortals cannot even fathom.

darkmax1974 1 Like

Aww... Come on Aussies! We know you have been trying so hard over the years to take control of Asia, by wiping the US' behind. Even though you are closer to Asia, you have always chosen your caucasian pals. The days of the US empire is nearing its end, would you then turn around and be a hypocrite? 

Diaoyu, historically, has always been China, up till Japan started to rape the rest of Asia and took it as their own. Then at the end of WWII, when the Allies had defeated Japan, and the Chinese were too weak to respond, US decided to "assign" Diaoyu to Japan, instead of returning all seized territories to their respective countries, as per agreed among the Allies.

duduong 1 Like

This is part of Australia's policy of balancing between the two poles. Reading so much into one action is like a blind man describing an elephant purely from its behind. For proof that Australia is not choosing a side, read its 2012 defense white paper, which came out last week.

Is Mr. Spitzer based in Japan? That would explain his blind man approach to elephants (or complex international issues), since Japanese media constantly blanket the nation using just such an approach. For example, when Abe visited Russia a week ago, the wine served at the state banquet was from 1855. Sensible people would consider this the result of a random choice by a minor functionary; not the Japanese media. They worked themselves into a frenzy over the theory that, since 1855 was a year in which Japan and Russia signed one of their many border treaties, Putin was gesturing a willingness to return the four islands. This was of course hogwash, as Putin later proved by severely scolding a reporter who raised exactly such a question about the islands. On the other hand, when Putin got visibly bored during Abe's speech at a joint press conference and started playing with his pen, this clear sign of not taking Japan seriously was little mentioned in Japanese media.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,122 other followers