ANU scholar urges Australia to act as US-China peacemaker

24 August 2016

A leading Australian defence scholar has urged the Australian Government to act as a peacemaker to help avoid a looming conflict between China and the United States (US).

Professor Hugh White of the ANU Strategic and Defence Studies Centre said the challenge for Australia was to try to find a future in which the US avoided a conflict with China without withdrawing from Asia and continued to play a strong role in the region.

 "There is scope for Australia to build a coalition in Asia of the non-great powers because we all want the same thing. None of us want to live under China's shadow," Professor White said.

"Australia should be looking for a way to help encourage the evolution of the regional order that suits our interests best, which is going to be one in which the United States plays the biggest possible role consistent with a stable relationship with Asia.

"It is going to require Australia to do some very active diplomacy."

Speaking at the National Press Club of Australia on Wednesday to launch the Canberra Writers Festival, Professor White said that while tensions were high, war between the US and China was not inevitable.

"They can build a new relationship with one another without going through the tragedy of war to get there. But the risk is very real.

"The stakes for us are very high. Even if the risk of a conflict is just a few per cent; and it could be higher than that. This constitutes one of the most serious risks Australia is facing in a very long time. If it happens, no one will be able to look back at today and say we didn't see it coming."    

ANU Chancellor and Honorary Professorial Fellow Professor Gareth Evans said Australia's capacity to build international coalitions, not least in Asia and Southeast Asia, did not go unnoticed by the US and China.

"I think we should use that voice with both sides in a way that calls the issues as we see them, without being over apologetic or over timorous," Professor Evans said.

For more information on the Canberra Writers Festival visit ANU Events.