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Fears Australia will be caught flat-footed in Asia as foreign minister embarks on region tour

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Warning Australia gets caught ‘flatfooted’ on increasingly aggressive China – as pundits urge Scott Morrison to ‘push back’

  • Australia threatens to be overwhelmed by Chinese influence in Southeast Asia
  • Defense strategist Peter Jennings said Australia needs to be proactive in the region
  • Secretary of State Maris Payne has embarked on a diplomatic tour of the area










A top defense strategy expert has said China is expanding its influence in Southeast Asia and Australia needs to be more proactive in the security of the region.

The executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Peter Jennings, said Australia still had a lot of consular catching up to do and should invest more in its diplomats and aid programs.

“We have to overcome the Australian notion that everything can be done on the smell of an oily rag,” he said.

A top defense strategist has warned that Chinese President Xi Jinping is expanding his influence in Southeast Asia (pictured in 2017)

“The more aggressive China becomes (in the region), especially around military bases, the more we need to do to push back and present an alternative.

“We’ve been way too relaxed about our position in Southeast Asia, probably thinking it’s stronger than it actually is, and we’ve been caught out on the amount of Chinese money.”

The US Department of Defense’s annual Chinese military power report last week indicated that Chinese armed forces have likely considered establishing military bases in Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia.

The Indo-Pacific has become a cauldron of security concerns, especially around the expansion of Chinese influence and power in the region.

Scott Morrison (pictured) recently announced an AUKUS security deal with the UK and America

Secretary of State Marise Payne is touring Southeast Asia

Secretary of State Marise Payne is on a tour of Southeast Asia (pictured right), while Prime Minister Scott Morrison (pictured left) recently announced the AUKUS security deal with the UK and America

Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who landed in Malaysia on Friday, said Australia’s relations in the region are paramount to counter the “unprecedented speed” of military build-up.

Senator Payne co-chaired the annual meeting of the Foreign Minister in Malaysia and met with the country’s leaders to discuss health security, climate change challenges and access to vaccinations.

The Foreign Minister’s trip includes visits to Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia to meet with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi in Jakarta to discuss security in the Indo-Pacific region.

The meeting in Indonesia comes after concerns were raised about the government’s handling of the announcement of its new trilateral security partnership with the US and the UK.

Key allies, including Indonesia, were kept in the dark about the AUKUS alliance and Australia’s plans to acquire nuclear-powered submarines until the last minute.

But the leak of the alliance to the press the night before the official announcement in September caused ripples through diplomatic telegrams as some foreign officials learned of the major security shock online.

The Australian government has announced a deal to purchase nuclear submarines from Britain and the United States (Photo: A British nuclear submarine)

The Australian government has announced a deal to purchase nuclear submarines from Britain and the United States (Photo: A British nuclear submarine)

Indonesia and Malaysia then expressed concern that Australia could be violating its nuclear non-proliferation obligations, a claim that has been rejected by Australian officials.

China is trying to use the AUKUS announcement to unite Southeast Asian countries against Australian and US interference, saying the purchase of nuclear submarines “would create risks of nuclear proliferation and undermine regional peace and stability.”

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a briefing last week that Australia’s plan to purchase nuclear-powered submarines and its cooperation with the US as part of AUKUS had “cold war undertones.”

The military power report revealed that China continued to develop and expand its nuclear capabilities and could have up to 700 nuclear warheads by 2027 and up to 1000 by 2030.

The Chinese military is known to regularly display its firepower in parades (Photo: Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles in 2015)

The Chinese military is known to regularly display its firepower in parades (Photo: Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles in 2015)

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