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Dutton’s posturing can only lead to military confrontation with China

By Mark J. Valencia

As the US draws its allies in an encirclement campaign against China, Australia’s Defence Minister is adding fuel to the fire.

Some politicians have a particular flair for proposing US military moves that would goad China into a military confrontation with collateral damage for Asia. This takes a special mind-set that includes a phobia of China and a penchant for using military power to coerce other countries to change their policies and behaviour – even if it risks kinetic conflict.

Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton appears to be one of these ‘special’ politicians. On the eve of the visit of US Secretary of State Tony Blinken, he proclaimed that the US and its allies have “acquiesced and allowed” China to enhance its control of the South China Sea. He added that “If we continue in that trajectory, then I think we’ll lose the next decade.”

He obviously wants the US – and Australia – to do more militarily. This may be election cycle rhetoric. But if the present government is re-elected, the US needs to be very careful of such dangerous militarism lest it be dragged into a war that is not in its national security interest.

America has had its share of domestic militarists and should be wary of more. Infamous in recent American history was Curtis Le May. As chief of staff of the US Air Force, Le May called for the bombing of Cuban missile sites during the 1962 missile crisis. Fortunately, President John F. Kennedy and Defence Secretary Robert McNamara outmaneuvered him – perhaps avoiding Armageddon. Le May also proposed to bomb North Vietnam “back to the stone age.” Dutton may not be in this class yet – but he is headed in that direction.

First of all, China’s rise is not the end of the world as we know it. Yes, China has behaved badly in the South China Sea. It has used ‘carrots and sticks’ against rival claimants and ignored an international arbitration decision against it. But this is how big powers have behaved toward smaller powers throughout history. Indeed others, including the US (Nicaragua), the UK (Mauritius) and Russia (the Netherlands) have set this negative example.

It is also predictable and not unusual that a big power wants to dominate its ‘near seas’ much like the US does the Gulf of Mexico. Moreover there is no direct threat to the core security interests of either the US or Australia. The hyped China threat to freedom of commercial navigation is a red herring.

No country should acquiesce to claims that it considers illegal. But such non-acquiescence can be – and normally is – effectively and sufficiently demonstrated by verbal and written diplomatic communiqués. Indeed, diplomatic protest rather than ‘gunboat diplomacy’ is more consonant with the UN Charter that requires that “[a] Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.”

The US has not “acquiesced” to China. It has frequently made public protests against China’s actions there. On the military front, the US has already increased the frequency and aggressiveness of its Freedom of Navigation Operations there.

Indeed, its use of warships to challenge China’s sovereignty claims over low tide features and its territorial sea regimes could be interpreted as a threat of use of force against the territorial integrity of a state. It has also markedly stepped up the presence of its foremost conventional weapon – aircraft carrier strike groups – as well as nuclear capable B52 overflights of the East and South China Seas and its naval transits of the Taiwan Straits.

To Chinese military leaders, it appears that some of these US actions are an ‘in your face’ flaunting of its superior military power and a dare to China to “do something about it.” The US is already pushing China to the limit in the South China Sea. Any further military escalation could push it over the edge.

In the bigger picture, China’s military leaders see China as hemmed in by US bases and rotational ‘assets’ in US allies and strategic partners stretching across a wide swath of Asia from Japan and South Korea in the east to the Philippines and Australia in the south and Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand in the south-west.

Now the US is trying to make military inroads with China’s neighbours Vietnam and India in its obvious efforts to further hem it in and maintain its continued hegemony in Asia. It appears to China’s increasingly politically aware public that the US is stepping up its asymmetric ‘provocations’ in China’s near seas.

As one leading US analyst put it, from Beijing’s perspective these ‘threats’ could eventually bring into question the legitimacy of the ruling Chinese Communist Party – and this is indeed dangerous for the leadership and the fragile status quo ‘peace’ if not carefully considered and addressed.

Yet Dutton has joined the chorus of militarists in the US advocating more aggressive coercive action against China. But what more does Dutton want the US to do? One militarist proposal from a US military-associated analyst was to have the US deploy its forces to the front lines of the disputed areas so they can play a more direct role helping other states counter China’s seaward expansion.

So far the US threat of use of force has not caused China to change its policies. But it has led to growing concern on the part of South-East Asian states that fear the collateral damage of a US-China military confrontation. Being even more aggressive militarily on the behalf of South-East Asian claimants would be a dangerous gamble with their futures.

It would also cause China’s nationalist leaders to lose face and infuriate the nationalists. More concerning, it would likely force prospective participants in the strategy to choose between the US and China, and the US – and Australia–might not like the outcome.

A ‘might makes right’ approach is not a shining example of international behaviour for other nations – including China. The US should tell Dutton that if Australia starts a kinetic fight with China, it is on its own.

Mark J. Valencia is an internationally known maritime policy analyst focused on Asia and currently Adjunct Senior Scholar at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, Haikou, China.



This article was originally published on Pearls and Irritations.


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  1. John Boyd

    So is that the plan? Set up a military confrontation in which only he can lead us?

  2. Terence Mills

    Dutton is so naive when it comes to international diplomacy and trade that he is likely to suggest that we impose sanctions on China and stop selling them our iron ore.

    It’s called cutting off you nose to spite your face.

  3. GL

    Oh look, it’s a photo of the head section of the new redneck, warmongers, thug, and knuckle draggers sex doll.

    The Reichspud can arguably be called the most dangerous politician in the country because to me he is fast becoming the epitome of a carpet chewing and raving armchair warrior completely without anything that even vaguely resembles a military background. The closest he ever came to that no doubt stems from watching films like Apocalypse Now, Hamburger Hill, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are coming and scratching his head in puzzlement at Catch 22 (1970) The book would be beyond his scope of understanding, too many words and not enough pictures.

    At the, unlikely, first sign of an invasion he would be out of the country so fast it would years for the scorch marks of his departure to fade away.

  4. Jack Cade

    Australians are easily sucked into a big brother’s fights. It’s long overdue for somebody to stand up and say ‘What has the USA done for us?’ And don’t fall into the trap of raising the war in the Pacific as an example. Hawaii – according to several spokesmen I’ve seen on some news YouTube clips, does not really like being a State of the USA any more than the Falklands wants to be Argentine.
    America is desperately trying to start an economy-boosting war to make up for Afghanistan. North Korea? Iran? Venezuela? Taiwan? Chile? Xinjiang? Ukraine? How about saving Yemen? The yanks could stop that atrocity tomorrow, but there’s no money in it for them.

  5. Baby Jewels

    Let’s hope this backfires on him. Surely, in 2022, the people do not want another war – or even a war of words! Surely? Boot him out.

  6. Jack Cade


    But the skid marks would be just as obvious.

  7. GL


    The smell would be horrendous and considered toxic to all life.

  8. Phil Pryor

    Dutton’s childish overconfidence is matched by his lack of ability. He has no known knowledge of history, no skill in diplomacy, no awareness of negotiation, discussion, resolution, It is all beyond him, though bluster and bullshit remain weapons for the savage. Maps older than the existence of the USA indicate a China sea,a south China sea. We are not talking of intrusions into Monroe doctrine space, as in the Cuba crisis of 1963. If the USA is again to worry about planet ending missiles threatening Washington and New York, they might well be keen to talk sense. But the USA is a murderous nation, intrusive, uncaring, ruthless. USA policy would expend cheap skirmishers as pawns, Australia, Ukraine, Taiwan, anyone. USA policy has others wasted up front and Pine Gap alone means we will go in minutes, fried as we died. You can’t ask the dead of Vietnam, Iraq, Afgjanistan, Syria, parts of Africa, South and Central America…the USA operatives, executives, military and profiteering corporate oppressors just do not care. Dutton??

  9. Jack Cade

    Phil Pryor

    You are so much more eloquent – and effective – when you are are parsimonious with the adjectives.
    A good post indeed!

  10. Canguro

    It must be a source of some amusement to the Chinese to witness the idiot posturings of the Canberran political apparatchik… I suggest this with some experience after close to five years living in China; having a Chinese partner who herself was deeply experienced in local affairs – professional, academic, business, social – provided the opportunity to get close to many locals at different levels of strata per their lives. I can vouchsafe that the Chinese by and large are intelligent, in most cases wise, and have a deep sense of humour per the absurdities of life both locally and internationally.

    The kids in the playground down in Canberra have no idea what they’re setting themselves up against, and their putative antagonists are acutely aware of the foolishness currently on display. Ignorance & arrogance, a dangerous pair of attributes. The ex-copper and childcare business owner has no idea what he’s doing, or the potential consequences.

  11. Kaye Lee

    Dutton’s belligerence is entirely for domestic consumption. It is partly because the Coalition ALWAYS fall back on national security for an election but it is mainly Dutton’s audition for the top job in a party lurching to the right.

    LNP donors would be most unhappy if anything interfered with their businesses and Peter would shit himself if anyone actually started firing anything in anger.

    I think it may have been Gareth Evans who quoted Bill Clinton as asking the question of whether it was better to devote enormous resources towards staying top dog or, instead, towards having a voice in helping shape the world when you are not.

    Whilst I think Dutton carries very little weight on the international stage, I think it would be a wise move for both our security chiefs and the US to tell him to stop his public political posturing. Throwing red meat to the hounds to further your own ambition is despicable.

  12. Williambtm

    Peter Dutton is the Australian equivalent to the warmongering former CIA operative Mike Pompeo.

  13. Ted Ross

    ‘All wars are bankers’ wars’.
    A propaganda op is being acted out by a politico-media alliance on behalf of a class of trans-national entities and powerful elite. I doubt if the politicians and media analysists are aware of the degree to which they are being played.
    Why would any thinking person fall for it?
    The usual suspects, the Big Bankers Club, want a pre-planned war with a pre-planned winner. China is no fan of democracy, they are the anointed ones. They are the ‘safe hands’ to leave the surviving global economy in as far as globalists are concerned. ‘Build Back Better from Scratch’ might be an accurate description of where the banksters want to take us.

  14. paul walter

    (Laughs)… Hostage-taking again.

    The last spasms of a dying government…

  15. Henry Rodrigues

    I think Dutto is positioning himself for favourable consideration in the event of a leadership challenge, before or after the elections.

    His foreign policy experience was formulated in the redlight district of Brisbane, strutting about with a short handled stick, scaring the working girls and their protectors and pocketing wads of crinklies as he did so.

  16. leefe

    West: Why can’t China be more like us?
    China: Expands economic, social and military influence throughout Australasia
    West: NO! Not like that …

    Only a fool tries to start a fight they cannot possibly win (or even draw) purely over status.

  17. Kaye Lee

    Why would China attack us when they can buy whatever they want including our transport and energy infrastructure, our farms, our prime real estate, our companies, permits to mine our resources? As I have mentioned before, the Future Fund has millions invested in a Chinese armaments company and we sell them iron ore or let them mine it themselves here. Do you do that if you think they are making weapons to attack you? We rely on Chinese tourists and students coming here. We collaborate with them in scientific research. Dutton’s government made a FTA with China a priority ( even though it was really a dud).

    Tell me Peter, what does an appeaser look like?

  18. Ai Khan Singh

    Dutton is like a worm peeping out of a rotting apple.
    Australia’s image has already been trashed by the likes of the ‘suppository of wisdom’ and the ‘happy clapping non-hose-holding daggy dad’; will it be sunk further still by giving the top job to someone like Peter Dutton, who makes Gollum look like a cuddly intellectual? Or Frydenberg, whose humiliation by Jay Weatherill was a moment to cherish?

  19. ajogrady

    Something for Dutton and the Main Stream Media to understand.

    In1970 the United Nations General Assembly passed by acclamation (i.e. without dissent from either Australia or the United States) a Declaration on Principles of International Law .
    In the section of the Resolution regarding “the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples” was the following passage:
    By virtue of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, all peoples have the right to freely determine, without external interference, their political status and to pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and every State has the duty to respect this right in accordance with the provisions of the Charter.

    Some very interesting facts in this article below:

  20. Harry Lime

    We’ve had some colorful PMs,but Herr Dutton would be the first ghoul.

  21. Florence

    Dutton reminds me of what I call the little man syndrome, who picks on big men, knowing they are unlikely, unable to hit back. Unfortunately, I was married to one.

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