Choosing Sides: Shaping Our Relationships in the Asian Century

Professor Hugh White

MELBOURNE, August 10, 2011 — Australia faces its most significant foreign policy decisions in more than 40 years, said Professor Hugh White in a keynote speech to more than 200 people at Asialink/Asia Society AustralAsia Centre.

White said a key question was whether Australia "could avoid Chinese hegemony, without buying itself into a full-scale strategic competition with the U.S. and China."

He disagrees with what he believes is a belief on both sides of Australian politics that a choice will not have to be made between the two great powers.

"We do have to make some new choices," he said, "… (and) we're already making those choices as a country."

White's address focused on the dramatic developments occurring across the Asian region and what they mean to Australia.

He put forward seven propositions for what is occurring across Asia, which he conceded were all very debatable:

  1. China will keep growing economically and overtake the GDP of the United States, even if the US rebounds from the recent economic crisis.
  2. China's instruments of national power in the political and strategic field will grow as its economy grows — and will test US leadership in Asia.
  3. China intends to test U.S. leadership in Asia.
  4. China has not yet decided what form their leadership in Asia will take; they're making it up as they go along.
  5. How the rest of us respond to China's aspirations will influence how China operates in Asia.
  6. The U.S. and others (including Australia) are responding very negatively to China's aspirations for great power and influence.
  7. Strategic competition between the United States and China is escalating.

White said, "The further that strategic opposition escalates, the longer it lasts, the more stark the choices Australia faces and the tougher the options."

White was also joined by the following participants:

Professor Lowell Dittmer, Editor of Asian Survey, University of California at Berkeley
Professor Baogang He, Chair in International Studies, Deakin University
Professor Xia Liping, Dean of International studies, Tongji University, Shanghai
Reported by Will McCallum

Photos available on Flickr
Full podcast of the event, including Q&A sesssion
Professor Hugh White: The U.S., China & Australia — How Will It End? (3 min., 39 sec.)