China’s Grand Strategy and Australia’s Future

in the New Global Order

 

Geoff Raby

Carlton, Vic: Melbourne University Press, 2020

Paperback   232pp    RRP $34.99

 

Reviewer: Bruce Brown, October 2020

 

Few people would challenge the view that Australia’s relationship with China has become the dominant issue influencing its current diplomatic, defence and economic policy development. The perception that China’s expanding interests in the Indo-Pacific region challenge Australia’s interests has given rise to books, articles and media discussion contesting the way Australia should frame its foreign policy response. In 2020 the focus on China became even sharper with the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to an outbreak located in China’s Wuhan province. Criticism of the Chinese government by Australian politicians led to a diplomatic and trade spat between Australian and Chinese authorities and subsequent commentary on the way the relationship could be repaired.

Arguments over the Australia-China relationship have ranged from the need to encourage closer ties with China, to a view that Australia’s democratic values and attitude to human rights are at odds with those of a Chinese government seeking to dominate the world through whatever means it has at its disposal. In 2018 Clive Hamilton’s provocative book ‘Silent Invasion: China’s influence in Australia’ contended that the Chinese Communist Party and Australian democracy are on a collision course and  that the Chinese government is intent on buying influence within Australia to pursue its goals. On page 132 he referred to Geoff Raby, a former Australian ambassador to China, as lamenting ‘the influence of the defence/security establishment which . . . was placing too much emphasis on ’values’ rather than ‘economics’.

Two years on, Raby has provided his own up-to-date, informative and very readable perspective on the issue. His vast experience in a number of senior positions in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade culminating in his role as Australian Ambassador to China from 2007 to 2011. He writes, not as an apologist for China’s often truculent behaviour, but as an experienced observer of the forces shaping China’s attitudes and behaviour. As he writes on page 17 in his Introduction  

This book tries to understand how China sees the world, its security and threats, and more importantly the constraints on its actions and how it seeks to overcome these. It also tries to understand how Chinese leaders want to shape the global order so as to advance their country’s interests as defined by the party-state.

Raby’s academic background is that of an economist, but he also provides valuable insights into the complex nature of power in international relations. This includes a discussion of the origins of China’s Belt and Roads Initiative as well as the role of Soft Power as distinct from Sharp Power in enhancing a state’s national interest.

Raby’s final chapter includes a hypothetical scenario without the actual names of particular nation states which provides clarity in the way competing interests and power realities can be discussed. His final observation on page 193 cautions Australia to face economic realities in the post-Covid era

Economically, Australia is inextricably tied to China unless Australians are prepared to accept a big cut in their living standards. Australian foreign and strategic policy

needs to be reconfigured to reflect fully this reality.

Overall, this is a fine, well-sourced and accessible volume for both the academic and general reader.

 

 

The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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