01 April 2009

Emerging Naval Rivalry in East Asia and the Indian Ocean: Implications for Australia

Leszek Buszynski, Emerging Naval Rivalry in East Asia and the Indian Ocean: Implications for Australia,” Security Challenges, Vol. 5, No. 3 (Spring 2009), pp. 73-93.

The article identifies current trends towards naval rivalry in Australia’s northern security environment which are likely to bring instability and the danger of conflict. China, Japan, and Korea have engaged in naval expansion to ensure the security of their oil supplies from the Middle East which are shipped through the Malacca Straits and the Indian Ocean. In the past Japan depended upon the U.S. navy for the protection of its oil supply lifeline and was comfortable with the American naval presence in East Asia. China, however, has regarded the United States as a potential rival and has been developing its own naval capabilities which then prompts Japan to do the same. As a result extended naval rivalry with Japan and also with India becomes a realistic possibility. India has been developing a naval capability to ensure control over the Indian Ocean in which case both China and India would be strengthening their naval power at the same time. Under these circumstances the security of the broad area from East Asia to the Indian Ocean may deteriorate. Australia’s trade routes and its access to energy sources may be threatened. Several responses are required; the first is that Australia’s naval capability has to be strengthened and though the May 2009 Defence White Paper is a positive step in this direction it does not go far enough; secondly a diplomatic response is necessary to promote dialogue over maritime security involving the United States with China, Japan and India as well as ASEAN. Existing dialogues in the ASEAN Regional Forum and elsewhere should be extended to include maritime security.