Experts weigh Australia's role in regional security

CROSS-STRAIT SCENARIO: Canberra was unlikely to remain idle if a cross-strait conflict occurred, experts said at a forum on the effects of China's `Anti-Secession' Law

By Chang Yun-ping  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sun, Aug 06, 2006 - Page 3

The creation of a platform for strategic dialogue among the US, Japan and Australia in March shed light on Australia's role in dealing with regional contingencies -- including a military conflict in the Taiwan Strait, analysts said yesterday.

The role was discussed by experts from Taiwan, Japan and Australia at a forum titled "The Asia-Pacific Security Environment After the Enactment of the Anti-Secession Law."

The forum, held by the Cross-Strait Study Association founded by Presidential Office Deputy Secretary General Liu Shyh-fang (劉世芳), discussed the Asia-Pacific security environment after China's enactment of its "Anti-Secession" Law last year and the new security alliance among the US, Japan and Australia after the three countries on March 18 set up a dialogue platform to address regional security issues.

You Ji (尤冀), a professor of international relations at Australia's University of South Wales, said that "it is inconceivable that Canberra will sit idle if a war in the Strait erupts and the US is involved. The capability-building of the Australian Armed Forces has clearly been geared to provide assistance in combat."

You said that while Australia welcomed China's peaceful rise, it would not be in its interests for China to take an offensive posture in regional affairs.

To this end, You said "Australia has not other choice but to enhance security cooperation with the US and its allies in the region."

Japan's Capabilities

Tomohide Murai, dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Japan's National Defense Academy, said that Japan needed to strengthen ties with democratic countries in the region, including the US, Australia and Taiwan.

He said that Japan's current naval capabilities could outweigh China's if there was a military conflict in the Taiwan Strait.

He suggested that while Japan, under the US-Japan security pact, would play a significant role in a frontline battle if there were a cross-strait military conflict, Australia, under the renewed security alliance and relatively weaker naval capabilities, would be able to provide back-up support to the US and Japanese troops.

Another panelist, Chris Barrie, the only four-star Admiral in the Royal Australian Navy and a former chief of the Australian Defense Force, told the forum that no significant change to security in the Taiwan Strait would occur following China's enactment of the Anti-Secession Law unless Taiwan unilaterally declared independence.

Barrie said that in the next 20 to 30 years, Taiwan should better prepare itself in terms of leadership and confidence building -- the two keys to Taiwan's security and avoiding a war with China.

Defense gaps

However, he said an acute security issue facing Taiwan was its slowness in upgrading its military development.

Quoting from the recent CSIS Report on the Asian Conventional Military Balance 2006, Barrie said: "Taiwan's faltering military development has helped destabilize the Taiwan Strait ? [and] Taiwan has made no attempt to react to the increase in Chinese effort and has actually sharply reduced its real military spending."

Barrie urged the government to take prompt action to address the issue.

"As we say in the West, the good Lord looks after those who look after themselves ? The implications are compelling. They demand action, not a head-in-the-sand approach," Barrie said.

In response, Abe Lin (林勤經), director of Department of Strategic Planning at the Ministry of National Defense, said that the government had significantly reduced personnel expenditures in next year's budget in order to boost purchases and investment spending in the defense budget.

"While we are still downsizing our defense forces, the increased 2007 defense expenditures will not be put toward personnel but rather on investment [to upgrade military technology]. This explains [how] we are capable of investing in new armaments and [making] new purchases," Lin said.