Published On: Mon, Aug 19th, 2019

South China Sea: Australia warned of ‘unprecedented crisis’ – China and US tensions rocket | World | News

That’s the defining message from a special report by the US Studies Centre, which questions Australia’s future relationships with Washington as a military ally and Beijing as a major trading partner. Authors Ashley Townshend, Brendan Thomas-Noone and Matilda Steward wrote: “America no longer enjoys military primacy in the Indo-Pacific and its capacity to uphold a favourable balance of power is increasingly uncertain.”

China is ramping up pressure on the US, conducting military drills in the region and reportedly arming island posts in the South China Sea with missiles and several other weapons systems.

But Washington is boosting its own presence by spending $305million (£251million) upgrading facilities in Darwin, as part of the $2billion (£1.65billion) it is spending around the broader region.

But the report warned that still might not be enough, as the US is still “overstretched” in the Middle East.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently met Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and convinced him to all-but confirm his country’s military would help in the fight against Iran.

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South China Sea: Tensions have been rising between the US and China (Image: GETTY)

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he guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam in the South China Sea (Image: GETTY)

However, the report argues this has left the US under-resourced and unfocused on Australia’s own backyard, where it has historically “deterred major power aggression, maintained regional stability and safeguarded freedom of access to international waters and airspace”.

It warned that as China continues to grow its own military presence in the Pacific, demonstrating an ability to quickly build and field more capable naval vessels, and weapons that could tip the scales in its favour against the US, this undermines peace and threatens Australia’s future.

The report said: “Australia’s freedom of action and ability to evade military coercion are ultimately linked to the preservation of a stable balance of power and a regional order that is not dominated by China.”

It admits Australia has little choice now but to step up with other allies in Asia to help carry some of the workload.

READ MORE: South China Sea tensions soar as Beijing re-enters Vietnam waters

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The South China Sea has become a hotly contested stretch of water (Image: REUTERS)

The report said: “Contributing to a regional balancing coalition designed to prevent this eventuality by deterring conflict in the first place is, for Canberra, the next best strategic policy option in the wake of America’s now defunct uncontested military primacy.

“Joining a collective approach to deterrence and war fighting would place Australia into a more adversarial relationship with China, with the potential for severe consequences in a crisis.”

But in the biggest warning, the report recommends Australia stockpiles weapons in the event of such a crisis as supplies are now “highly unlikely to be sufficient for even minimal Australian involvement in a high-end deterrence or war fighting campaign in Northeast Asia”.

China is Australia’s largest trading partner – valued at $183 billion in 2017 accounting for nearly a quarter (24 percent) of all trade that year.

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Scott Morrison recently held talks with Mike Pompeo (Image: GETTY)

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Doinald Trump has been fuming at defence contributions from NATO countries (Image: GETTY)

It means even if a military conflict didn’t materialise, any tensions alone could seriously impact the Australian economy and its future trading relationships.

The report said: “A successful collective defence would hinge on America’s ability and willingness to underwrite a military balancing coalition, appraising Washington’s capabilities and intentions accurately will be of paramount importance.”

It all mounts to a dangerous predicament for Australia, as commitments from the US to even its strongest allies continue to deteriorate, led by the tough stance taken by Donald Trump.

The US President’s administration continues to launch scathing attacks against what under previous presidencies were seen as strong and solid allies.

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The South China Sea mapped (Image: EXPRESS)

Most notably, Mr Trump has threatened to abandon NATO – the European security alliance stranglehold that regularly acts as a main deterrent against possible Russian military aggression and attacks.

The President has continued to complain the US is treated unfairly within NATO, and is spending too much both on its own defence budget and on programmes to increase the capabilities of its European allies.

In 2014, NATO members agreed a deal to raise their defence spending to two percent of gross domestic product by 2024, but few countries have so far met that pledge.

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Mike Pompeo recently met Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (Image: GETTY)

Mr Trump has continued to demand NATO countries meet that two percent figure, or even double it, and failure to do so could see Washington withdraw completely.

The increasing tensions and growing reluctance from the US to pay for the security of its allies could seriously jeopardise the chances of any coalition that doesn’t quickly meet its interests.

That would put countries like Australia in a difficult position, as the Philippines has already said it fears the US could drag it into a “shooting war” with China.

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