Jan 11, 2022 - World

Australia's key role in the Indo-Pacific

Charles Edel
Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Courtesy of Charles Edel

Australia is forging new security partnerships in the Indo-Pacific and playing a more important role than ever in U.S. foreign policy — in large part because of China's rise.

The big picture: "Australia has leapt to the front of the queue in terms of importance and relevance," Charles Edel, Australia chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told Axios.

  • "There is broad recognition in Washington that Australia is oftentimes the first country to be on the receiving end of China’s coercion efforts and malign influence, and often the first to respond," Edel said.

Driving the news: CSIS just launched the new Australia chair, the first DC-based think tank to create such a position.

  • "There’s a very well-developed think tank scene in Washington that focuses on all things Indo-Pacific," Edel told Axios. "What is underdeveloped is a conversation about Australia and its role in the region. There are Japan experts, Korea experts, a plethora of people on China, but very few voices on Australia and the greater Pacific region."
  • Edel previously taught at the University of Sydney and the U.S. Naval War College, and he served on the U.S. secretary of state’s policy planning staff from 2015 to 2017.

Details: Last year, the U.S., U.K., and Australia announced a new security pact, known as AUKUS.

  • As part of the agreement, the U.S. said it would help Australia acquire nuclear submarines — "only the second time ever in our history we’ve ever decided to share the crown jewels" of nuclear propulsion technology, Edel said.
  • The agreement represents more than just technology transfer, however. The larger goal is to persuade more allies and partners to collaborate more often and more closely in the Indo-Pacific.
  • "The more states get involved and take action, the more convincing becomes the argument that China is no longer operating in a permissive environment," Edel said.

Yes, but: It's not all about China. The U.S. is the top investor in Australia in foreign direct investment and is also a huge job creator there, Edel said, and there is a lot of interest in further strengthening bilateral economic ties.

What to watch: "I'm watching for new U.S. forces and capabilities, and new U.K. forces in and around Australia," Edel said. "I'm also watching how quickly Australia can get its infrastructure and industry up and running to support these efforts."

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