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Australia and Asia's new geopolitics

25 March 2013

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Australia needs to pay closer attention to potential regional strategic conflict hotspots, according to one of Australia’s leading international relations experts.

Michael Wesley is a Professor of National Security in the National Security College. Professor Wesley used a talk at Crawford School to detail key geographical regions that present future strategic challenges for Australia and the rest of Asia.

“Australia needs to become highly attentive to the strategic dynamics in a number of key areas where conflict is most likely to occur,” he said.

“It needs to take three bays and three peninsulas very seriously; the bay of the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea; and the peninsulas of the West Pacific, from Japan down to Taiwan, the Indo-Pacific from Thailand down to Malaysia; and the south Asian peninsula – the sub-continent.”

Professor Wesley said that the group of countries that have coastlines in these areas are all heavily reliant on having access to shipping lanes, and as a consequence we’re already seeing a build up of military might.

“The countries that have coastlines on the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean, going up to Japan and Korea, have become highly dependent on imports of energy from the Middle East. The nature of energy is that it’s big, bulky and you have to transport it by sea.

“There’s already a growing rivalry between some of the nations of Asia, and the fact that they’re all dependent on these sea lanes means that they can threaten each other at different points along the sea lanes. As a consequence, we’re already seeing a build up of maritime weapons capability in the region, and we’re seeing some stand offs in places like the China Sea where there’s competition at the choke points,” said Professor Wesley.

He added that the current focus from the government on Asia needs to change to meet these potential challenges.

“If you take the Asian Century White Paper on face value, our attention is to priority relationships. The white paper focuses on big emerging markets in the region, and has an out-dated look at the world.”

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