- John Garnaut
John Garnaut is The Age and Sydney Morning Herald’s China correspondent
AUSTRALIA has been quietly building a regional defence coalition to restrain China’s increasingly ”aggressive” and ”autistic” international behaviour, an influential adviser to the Pentagon says.Edward Luttwak bluntly contradicts Australian and US denials that they see China as a threat or want to contain its rise.”Australians view themselves as facing a strategic threat,” he writes in his coming book, The Rise of China v The Logic of Strategy.
The emerging latticework of regional defence arrangements augments ”the overall capacity of the US-Australian alliance to contain China”.The book praises Australia’s strategic initiative in forging ties with countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and India that lie beyond America’s natural security orbit, as well as broadening the defence networks of close US allies such as Japan.
”Each of these Australian initiatives derives from a prior and broader decision to take the initiative in building a structure of collective security piece by piece, and not just leave it all to the Americans,” it says.
Mr Luttwak is a consultant to the Pentagon’s in-house think tank, the Office of Net Assessment, and has high-level access to Chinese and US military officials. His book, to be published in November, stems from a research project commissioned by the ONA’s 91-year-old director, Andrew Marshall, the Pentagon’s ”futurist-in-chief”.
China’s impact on Asia-Pacific security has been on display this week after it hardened territorial claims over the tiny Japanese-administered islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. The dispute weighed on financial markets in both countries as investors factored in a risk of war. ”If necessary, we could make the Diaoyu Islands a target range for China’s Air Force and plant mines around them,” said General Luo Yuan, in the state-run Global Times.
A professor of Japanese studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University, Zhou Weihong, said China was ”testing” its new-found economic and military power and the results were not yet in.
The Australian National University’s Hugh White has argued that the US needs to ”share power” with what is going to be ”the most formidable power the US has ever faced”. But for Mr Luttwak, the ”logic of strategy” dictates that neighbours will naturally coalesce against the new rising threat, thus preventing China from realising anything like the relative military power that has been projected.
”The rapid accession to prosperity has been a very common way for countries to lose their sanity,” Mr Luttwak told the Herald. He said China suffered from ancient and new foreign policy weaknesses.”The Chinese are autistic in dealing with foreigners, they have no sense of the ‘other’,” he said. ”They think they are incredibly brilliant strategists as if they had been conquering other nations, when in fact it’s been the other way around for 1500 years.”
While Mr Luttwak’s critique will challenge prevailing understandings in Western policy circles, it echoes criticisms in China itself.
A spokeswoman for the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, said: ”It is not possible for a country or countries to contain another country with a population of 1.3 billion. The shifting strategic influences must be managed by the international community …”Mr Luttwak also took James Packer to task for urging Australia to show more ”gratitude” towards China.
Mr Packer, whose casino businesses in Macau and Australia are underpinned by Chinese gamblers, told a conference last week that ”China has been a better friend to us than we have been to China”.
Mr Luttwak praised Australia’s top diplomat, Dennis Richardson, for rejecting ”Packerism”. ”Packer should shut up … because if a country as prosperous as Australia has to compromise its values for the sake of business then what is it that we can ask of poorer countries?
”If a country as rich as Australia needs to appease the Chinese when the Chinese misbehave then, then it has no dignity.”
Mr Luttwak said: ”I don’t know anybody important here who wants to start a war with China, and I don’t know anybody important who wants to follow the Packer line.”