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Forks in the river: Australia's strategic options in a transformational Asia

By Rod Lyon

This report, authored by Rod Lyon, argues that Australia will be drawn increasingly to grow its strategic engagement with Asian partners. An Asian engagement strategy should sit alongside our existing policies of alliance and self-reliance to provide a complementary set of approaches to enhancing Australian interests.

The assessment outlines four options for Asian engagement: order building, power following, power building, and power diffusing. An order-building option has been our default strategic setting in Asia: we have tried to grow economic connections, regional institutions and patterns of security cooperation. Obviously we want to keep doing that. 

But the growth of Asian power centres also opens up power-related options. Power following is an old option in Australian strategic culture. But questions arise of how well we could translate that option to Asia. Power building would lead us down a path of much closer partnership with proximate regional partners—in particular, Indonesia. And power diffusing would see us pursue our own security by reinforcing the diversity and multiplicity of power centres in Asia, a strategy that would play to Asia’s inherent anti-coagulant strategic properties.

The paper suggests the Australian Government should press ahead with order building, but should also test the waters, as it were, for a power-building option involving an Australian-Indonesian partnership. A challenging issue, over time, would be to make sure our Asian engagement strategies worked in tandem with our existing US alliance commitment and our own policy of defence self reliance.

Watch Dr Rod Lyon discuss the outcomes of this paper