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Asia's Game of Thrones
China Missile Deployment Prompts Pushback in Australia

Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is warning China about the importance of avoiding conflict after the news broke that Beijing will send missiles to the South China Sea. AFP:

Australia urged China on Friday to refrain from the “militarisation of islands” to avoid walking into a conflict, a day after the United States slammed Beijing for deploying missiles in the disputed South China Sea [ . . .]

“We urge all claimants in the South China Sea to refrain from any building of islands, any militarisation of islands, any land reclamation,” Turnbull said in a joint press conference with his New Zealand counterpart John Key in Sydney.

Since taking office last fall, Turnbull has often referenced the “Thucydides Trap,” and he did so again today, according to the AFP. The “Thucydides Trap” refers to “the heightened risk of conflict when a rising power challenges the existing international order and the position of the previously dominant state,” as Alan Dupont put it at Real Clear Defense. Turnbull has in the past noted that President Xi is aware of the Trap and that Xi has said it is his intention to avoid it. But he’s also warned that China must act prudently if it really wants to avoid conflict, and today he advised the country that “resolving disputes in the South China Sea should be done through international law.”

Relatedly, Australia’s Labor Party shadow defense minister said today that, if he were in power, he would sail Australian ships within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-claimed islands. That may put pressure on Turnbull to take a tougher stance with China, and is in keeping with the pattern we’ve seen play out repeatedly over the past decade: When China gets aggressive, other regional powers get spooked. They respond by getting assertive themselves and, ultimately, by strengthening their alliances with each other and with the United States.

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  • qet

    Where did Thucydides stand on the subject of cabbages?

  • Kevin

    A big question is China’s future rate of growth, or more precisely their expectation of it. If it expects this to be higher than other powers it can be more patient to achieve its objectives – but I’d it feels it’s relative growth might fall behind (perhaps due to the need to restructure its economy, the middle income trap or the impact of declining fertility). Germany in 1914 felt it faced this position (vis a bus Russia) and was hence was willing to run large risks to pursue its goals that summer as they began to feel it might be now or never.

  • Beauceron

    “We urge all claimants in the South China Sea to refrain from any building of islands, any militarisation of islands, any land reclamation”

    Hasn’t China already done every single one of those things?

    Ah, well.

    I think the easiest way to avoid the “Thucydides Trap” in this instance is to acknowledge up front and admit to our Asian “allies” that we aren’t really going to do anything much to help them. The US isn’t going to war with China. I think China knows that.

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