13 October 2022

Australia must be assertive over China, Defence Secretary tells public servants

| Chris Johnson
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Defence Secretary Greg Moriarty addresses the IPAA national conference. Photo: Region.

Defence Secretary Greg Moriarty has told a public service conference in Canberra that China poses the most concern for the Indo-Pacific region and that Australia needs to be assertive in dealing with it.

At the Institute of Public Administration Australia’s national conference, Mr Moriarty joined a panel discussion with host Leigh Sales and the ANZ’s head of geopolitical risk Cameron Mitchell under the banner of ‘no nation is an island, entire of itself’. The theme of the conference was ‘Adapt: Australia in a Changing World’.

During the discussion, the Department of Defence boss told the IPAA audience that for him, China was the main game.

“The fact that is most fraught is the rise of China … and the way in which Chinese power is becoming more assertive,” he said.

“Those trends are particularly focussed in the Indo-Pacific – our region. The United States is competing with China in the region.

“There is a sense that Australia has to be assertive, proactive … [practising] active statecraft that’s participating actively in our region to help build cooperation and avoid conflict.”

He said Australian values are still important in building partnerships.

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Australia doesn’t wish to contain China, he said, it just wants to see China rise in a way where cooperative economic and power balances are the norm.

“I think we are entering a more challenging era. Australian statecraft is going to be tested,” he said.

“We need optimism, but a clear-eyed focus on the fact that the world is not the way we would like it, that we can help shape the future in a coordinated and cooperative way.”

A critical approach was to nurture new partnerships and relationships in the region.

“It’s about doubling down on traditional relationships but also building new relationships,” he said.

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He said Australia’s Quad partnership with India, Japan and the United States – a diplomatic network committed to supporting a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific – was a good example.

Its agenda is to respond to the region’s most pressing challenges, including countering state-sponsored disinformation.

Australia also needs to work closely with Pacific Island nations on security and climate change issues.

Mr Moriarty said Russia’s war on Ukraine has highlighted that even internationally interdependent events, such as dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, won’t always deter conflict.

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