From Deputy Sheriff To Lone Ranger: Loneliness Of US Alliance And Increasing Australian Isolation In Asia – Analysis


The US-Australia defence alliance has put Australia out of synch with South-East Asia. This is shrinking Australia’s self-perception of being a middle power. The country is becoming more isolated and alone in the region, while neighbours are engaging China. 

While Australia continues to expand the US alliance with AUKUS, along with Britain, which has military-centric objectives, China and Asia are enhancing multi-dimensional ties.

South East Asia under the sphere of China 

ASEAN and China are following a roadmap called the ASEAN-China comprehensive strategic partnership, aimed at developing a peaceful co-existence, establishing dispute mechanisms, upholding a code of conduct for the South China Sea, and increasing trade and cultural ties. ASEAN and China are enhancing the ASEAN Free Trade Zone, as part of the partnership, while the Belt and Road Initiative continues to roll out across the region. 

China has agreed to sign the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone agreement, which has been in force since 1997, and obliges the 10 ASEAN member states ‘not to develop, manufacture of otherwise acquire, posses or have control over nuclear weapons, station or transport nuclear weapons by any means’. China and the Philippines have reiterated their agreement to jointly develop the South China Sea in partnership. China and Vietnam are working on resolving their mutual differences, and have agreed upon a number of protocols. Indonesia is also expanding their economic relations with China, while the economies of Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos are closely connected with China. Malaysia has stated that its ready to negotiate with China over its South China Sea disputes

This is quickly turning South East Asia into a completely different vista, than it was just a few years ago. China has deepened the sphere of influence with trade, assistance, and investment initiatives, and develop new frameworks to sort of differences between the nations of the region. 

For South East Asian nations, China has been present within the region for one thousand years, and played integral roles in respective histories. The US presence in the region began only in the beginning of the 20th Century with the colonization of the Philippines. This increased through WWII, the Korean, and Vietnam conflicts, where the US has now built up a ring of military bases, which encircle China. 

China and Russia forced together

In Europe, Russia has been dealing with NATO expansion towards its borders. From both Chinese and Russian worldviews, this is perceived as an existential threat. This is the Monroe Doctrine in reverse, which has driven China and Russia together. 

US defence policy is no longer developed and managed from within the White House. Now US foreign policy has an uncompromising element running through it; best observed with the US refusing to seek and negotiate any ceasefire and peace deal in Ukraine. The US has forsaken the art of diplomacy as a policy option, maintaining policy rigidity. Many believe this stance is exacerbating conflict. Some European allies are starting to question their commitment to the Ukraine conflict.

In addition, the botched US withdrawal from Afghanistan has decreased European trust in the United States commitment to them. 

Chinese and Russian collaboration is increasing exponentially, since the Ukraine conflict began, where the US and allies placed sanctions upon Ruusia. 

Reaching a geo-political tipping point

Some US allies now question whether the Ukraine war was really necessary, and are feeling the consequences of enforcing US sanctions against Russia. The recent meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin last month, reached agreements upon many issues. 

Both presidents agreed to using a digital Yuan as an international settlement currency. The digital Yuan is anchored to gold and other commodities, and the mBridge system facilitating international payments is growing as an alternative to the SWIFT banking system. The digital Yuan, together with mBridge, is a viable alternative to the US Dollar, as an international trade currency. 

Coupled with the BRICS trade grouping, and the Belt and Road Initiative, the patterns of trade are changing, and growing rapidly along new trade routes. This will undermine the primacy of the US currency, where countries will no longer need to buy US Dollars to trade. 

With agreements in Europe, and the US to drastically lower their reliance on oil, with green initiatives, Saudi Arabia is worried about the future oil exports to the West. Recently, Saudi Arabia agreed to settle sales of oil with the digital Yuan. Saudi Arabia has also signed a military cooperation agreement with Russia, and made a formal application to join BRICS. The Saudi oil company Aramco is now focusing upon the Chinese market, which they are investing in, and diverting oil from the its traditional customers. 

The Australian dilemma

The US policy of containment is seen as an aggressive posture within the region by China. Australia’s membership of The QUAD, and the formation of AUKUS last year, has committed Australia to pursue the containment doctrine against China. This is seen as a hostile act, just as the US saw the placement of missiles in Cuba back in October 1962. 

This puts Australia at odds with South East Asian nations, which are enjoying the China dividend, and resolving their differences through diplomacy, regional cooperation, investment, trade, and a massive wave of Chinese tourism. 

Australia has affirmed its affinity within the Anglophile world, symbolised by AUKUS and the ‘Five Eyes’. This position was good for the middle of last century, but doesn’t have the same relevance to Australia today. This is isolating Australia from other countries in its own region. Australia needs to be imaginative and innovative within this part of the world. Australia must couple itself to the region, and not pretend it is a ‘middle power’ anymore. It’s not. 

Some military forces in the region are no much more equipped and suited for confrontation within the region, rather than trying to project themselves. Many of the weapons of war are now non-military, which ASEAN countries have an understanding. 

Australian relationships with its neighbours are still very much within the realm of being seen in transactional terms by Canberra. Putting high priorities on equity and funding LGBTQ in neighbouring countries, are being read as interference in the affairs of those countries. These issues are best left to NGOs. 

Even with US bases on Australian soil, they don’t have significant capabilities to fend off aggression, should there be any. The only way Australia can defend itself is to integrate its limited forces with its neighbours. An old saying in Asia goes something like ‘your neighbours are your walls’. Australia was better off back in the 1960s, when under SEATO it had aircraft and troops stationed in the region. These are all gone, together with the cooperation that went with the deployments. 

Australia must make a radical change and engage its neighbours and develop a comprehensive and integrated defence system. Spending AUD 368 billion on submarines wont help defend the homeland. Its better to spend less and do more for Australia’s own defence, rather than support superpower hegemony, when Australia’s contribution will only be token anyway. There are better alternatives to develop right now, rather than invest in a strategy that will come too late anyway. 

Australia must abandon its geo-political outlook and replace it with a regional outlook. Australia must prepare the economy for new linkages within the region, or it will suffer economically, and become the poor country on the fringe of South East Asia. Australia must make hard decisions now, or the nation will be locked out of a new world economic system. That’s Australia’s biggest threat today.

Australia cannot afford to create enemies

Australian defence doctrine is based upon a fallacy that China is an enemy. Australia is the only country within the region that has made this assessment. There is little probability, China would make any unprovoked attacks on Australian territory, and even less probably it would land troops or invade Australia. It is also highly un-probable China would attack Australian shipping or aircraft within international sea-lanes or airspace. Even Australia’s defence white paper has not stated any of these events are probable. If, any of the above events did happen, nuclear powered submarines, designed for open waters, and deep submersion are not the right miliary tools for any of these potential events.

Nuclear submarines become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you make China the enemy, China will become the enemy.

Murray Hunter’s blog can be accessed here

Murray Hunter

Murray Hunter has been involved in Asia-Pacific business for the last 30 years as an entrepreneur, consultant, academic, and researcher. As an entrepreneur he was involved in numerous start-ups, developing a lot of patented technology, where one of his enterprises was listed in 1992 as the 5th fastest going company on the BRW/Price Waterhouse Fast100 list in Australia. Murray is now an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis, spending a lot of time consulting to Asian governments on community development and village biotechnology, both at the strategic level and “on the ground”. He is also a visiting professor at a number of universities and regular speaker at conferences and workshops in the region. Murray is the author of a number of books, numerous research and conceptual papers in referred journals, and commentator on the issues of entrepreneurship, development, and politics in a number of magazines and online news sites around the world. Murray takes a trans-disciplinary view of issues and events, trying to relate this to the enrichment and empowerment of people in the region.

One thought on “From Deputy Sheriff To Lone Ranger: Loneliness Of US Alliance And Increasing Australian Isolation In Asia – Analysis

  • April 6, 2023 at 2:24 am

    Long ago it seems now, 1979 in fact, Alan Renouf the long distinguished Secretary of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, published a note worthy book: Australia–The Frightened Country. Today, now, in 2023, this time of AUKUS, almost a half century later, Australia is still a frightened country. The new Australian warriors are, among others, Richard Tanter, Gregory Clark, Hugh White, Brian Toohey, Gyngell, Jack Waterford, former Prime Minister Paul Keating. They should all be read and read closely.
    As Australia bumbles into the massive blunder that AUJUS is, it does not only imperil itself, it imperils all of the islands in the Pacific.
    I am a Pacific Islander by birth, nurtured in the Australian system of higher education (PhD), a TOP SECRET clearance job in the Whitlam government, extensive travel throughout Australia, familiar with the terrain of Australian literature and history and its politics. Through that/those lenses I am preparing as short and as crisp a paper as I can on what I see as the Albanese governments foolishness and that of Lenny Wong’s as well. Keating is right about Penny: wearing a lei around her neck and jetting among the islands handing out money (and small gifts and silly privileges) is not foreign policy or diplomacy. Penny, a close friend of Albanese, is helping embarrass her mentor


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