Dutton's appointment in Canberra hints at more hawkish stance on China
Published: Mar 31, 2021 06:03 PM
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been forced to reshuffle his cabinet after weeks of shocking allegations of mistreatment of women in federal politics. "Hawkish" Australian politician Peter Dutton - former home affairs minister - has now become the new defense minister.

Dutton has sharply criticized China for launching so-called cyber attacks against Australia, and smeared the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative. He is also an extreme populist with a strong tendency of racism. These characteristics have helped Dutton win the favor of Australia's populist and racist political forces and the US' ultra-right political forces. It's fair to say Dutton becoming defense minister is due to the support of ultra-right political forces inside and outside Australia.

It is expected that Dutton may strengthen military cooperation with the US, including purchasing military equipment from the US such as fighters, submarines and missiles. On the Indo-Pacific Strategy and the South China Sea issue, Dutton may further follow the US' suit and face China with a tougher attitude.

Australia has easily made money by exporting minerals to China. It does not care much about spending money on purchasing military equipment from the US because this can please the US, win the support of US government and military. Only in this way can the Morrison government consolidate its position and cabinet. 

In addition to the attitude toward China, Dutton's attitude toward New Zealand is also very tough. For example, he said earlier in March that Australia was "taking the trash out" by deporting criminals to New Zealand, which triggered the latter's political backlash. Dutton becoming defense minister will further widen the gap between Australia and New Zealand. However, Dutton is an extreme populist favored by Washington.

It is expected that Australia's neighbors will not welcome Dutton's coming into power as defense minister. Australia's relations with New Zealand, Indonesia and South Pacific island countries may all be impacted. But Canberra may believe that Washington's support is all it needs. 

Former Australian politician Stephen Conroy said on Monday that Australia "is clearly" looking underprepared for "any tension" in and around the South China Sea, according to Sky News. Dutton "needs to get on top of a number of issues," he said. 

Australia's attitude toward the South China Sea and many other issues is in line with that of the US. With Dutton being the defense minister, Australia will take further actions to cooperate with the US to stir up South China Sea issues. It is very likely that Australia will further meddle in the South China Sea issue together with the US, but it may not dare to enter China's 12-nautical mile territorial sea. Canberra does not yet have such courage and ability.

Australia has always been tough on Asian countries, which also shows its racism. Considering the history of the US-Australia alliance and the political, economic and regional interests that Canberra has gained from it, Australia's firm domestic support of the alliance will not change in the short run. Australia's national strength cannot be compared with that of the US, but it is learning the US hawks' attitude toward China and their diplomatic policies. Australia's current national conditions do not support the country to be aggressive in all aspects. However, it seems Canberra does not believe it will pay a price by confronting Beijing.

China-US disputes will be long-term, so are China-Australia disputes. China should guide its people to understand our "tug-of-war" with the US-led Western countries will exist in the long run. We should have patience, strategy and determination.

The author is chief research fellow at the research center for Pacific island countries of Liaocheng University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn