Will China Invade Australia?

On April 15th, 2018, three Australian warships were travelling through international waters in the South China Sea, on their way to Vietnam Out of the blue, they were confronted by the Chinese navy and warned away

It is the latest event in years worth of increasing tensions between China and Australia Australian air force planes have been challenged by China before This was the first time the Australian navy had been confronted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed that relations between the two nations have frozen Will this escalate to war? Will China invade Australia? If he wanted to, President Xi Jinping certainly has the manpower to invade Australia

The People’s Liberation Army could stomp all over Australia’s military Both countries spend about 19% of their GDP on their military, but where this amonts to $25 billion spent on Australia’s military, it translates to $215 billion spent by China As a result, the PLA boasts 23 million active personnel and another half a million in reserve, compared to Australia’s 77,000 active and reserve personnel

China’s land, air and sea forces are literally hundreds of times bigger than Australia’s Its navy is large enough to surround the Australian continent, and Australia has nothing to combat the thousands of Chinese fighter jets and tanks that would attack its shores If China wanted to wipe Australia off the map, it could deploy its 260 nuclear warheads – Australia could not retaliate, because it has no nuclear arsenal However, Australia is too far away and too big to invade easily Supply lines from mainland China would be very overstretched and vulnerable to attack at sea from Australia’s allies

An alternate war strategy might therefore be for China to try to choke Australia by attacking its ships As of 2017, the CIA ranks Australia’s merchant navy as the 39th biggest in the world This means it is not big enough to meet Australia’s needs If China were to attack Australian shipping, they would almost certainly end up attacking American, British, Canadian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Indonesian, German, Kuwaiti ships and sailors This is not to mention the fact that Australia is a member of NATO, which means that an attack on Australia would be considered an attack on 28 other countries

Such an alliance would be obliged to retaliate by attacking China So delicate are the tensions between the East and the West, it is easy to see how, by attacking Australia, China could quickly spark World War 3 Xi Jinping knows to avoid this Instead, he may be targeting Australia with subtler weapons In April 2018, academic Clive Hamilton told the US Congress that China is waging psychological warfare on Australia

He claimed China was subjecting Australia to a campaign of “subversion, cyber intrusions, and harassment on the high seas” Hamilton recently wrote a book about what he called China’s Silent Invasion – but before it went to print, the publishers withdrew it because of “threats to the book and the [publishers] from possible action by Beijing” After that, other major publishers expressed interest but also backed out for fear of China Hamilton says, “The shadow cast by Beijing over Australia is now dark enough to frighten a respected publisher out of published a book critical of the Chinese Communist party” That shadow takes the form of a disturbing level of control exerted by the Communist Party over Australian media and politics

In 2015, an investigation by Reuters identified at least thirty-three radio stations in fourteen countries that are part of a global radio network structured in such a way as to hide the fact they are owned by the Chinese government This global media network, including Beijing-controlled social media like WeChat and Weibo, filters out anti-China stories in the news In Australia, journalist Peter Cai says posts and articles are “censored and deleted all the time… due to the Chinese government’s ability to control key information portals” China has taken this even further by investing in Australian media As a result, news outlets are already censoring anti-China content

Australian-Chinese relations specialist John Fitzgerald says this is a passive approach in which “Media compliance comes about chiefly as a result of commercial pressures” This is all part of a wider strategy China has developed in the past decade In 2009, the Central Propaganda Bureau director, Liu Yunshan, said, “In this modern era, those who gain advanced communications skills, powerful communication capabilities, and whose culture and values are more widely spread, [are] able to effectively influence the world” More shockingly, December 2017 saw the culmination of a political scandal in which China was paying Australian politicians for influence In response, Australia banned donations by foreigners to Australian political parties

In retaliation, China is now refusing entry to Australian ministers for business and political trips As Prime Minister Turnbull said, ""Foreign powers are making unprecedented and increasingly sophisticated attempts to influence the political process, both here and abroad"" But why is China doing this? China says it has been provoked by Australia In November 2017, the Australian government recognised China is challenging the US’s position as the dominant power in the Indo-Pacific region, and is “concerned by the unprecedented pace and scale of China’s activities… Australia opposes the use of disputed features and artificial structures in the South China Sea for military purposes” China claims virtually the entire South China Sea, including busy international sea lanes and potentially huge undersea deposits of oil and gas

To this end, China has constructed seven artificial islands with airstrips and military bases In 2015, ten countries, led by the US, condemned China’s activities In 2016, Beijing ignored an international court ruling to stop its activities in the South China Sea Former Chinese ambassador to Australia, Fu Ying, retorted, “The West is too arrogant and must stop lecturing us and trying to change China Unless you can accept China as it is, there is no basis for a relationship

” Malcolm Turnbull then implied China was using “coercion, corruption and intimidation” to get its way But as Clive Hamilton says, “Beijing knows that it cannot bully the United States… so it is instead pressuring its allies” Australia is a prime target because, in China’s words, it has become a “distant propaganda outpost” for America All the same, it seems unlikely that China will invade Australia in the traditional sense China is Australia’s largest trading partner, and the comparatively small nation won’t risk provoking the red behemoth much further

As John Fitzgerald says, “It’s difficult to see any future for Australia that does not involve China in a big way, whether it is in trade, services, investment, regional security, cultural exchange [or] migration” Conversely, China won’t risk sparking a war with the entire world over the South China Sea Rather, it plans an invisible invasion: it wants to turn America’s allies, so they sympathise with its territorial ambitions At some point, China will feel ready to make its final move Quite what that will lead to – whether world war or victory for Beijing – is uncertain

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