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Australia must boost military to deal with China rise: think tank

by Staff Writers
Melbourne (AFP) April 16, 2009
Australia must boost defence spending to give its military the hardware to deal with strategic challenges presented by China's rise as a global superpower, an influential think tank has warned.

China's growth meant the US, Australia's main military ally, would lose its dominant position in Asia in coming decades, creating uncertainty and a higher risk of conflict, the Lowy Institute for International Policy said.

The institute, in a report released this week ahead of a major government review into the defence force, recommended a huge boost in military spending to take it to 2.5 percent from 2.0 percent of total Australian gross domestic product.

It said Australia should triple its submarine fleet to 18 vessels and double its order for F-35 Joint Strike Fighters as well as increasing the number of infantry troops available for regional deployments.

The report's author professor Hugh White, who wrote the last major government defence review released in 2000, said China may not pose a direct threat to Australia but its rise was changing regional power dynamics.

"This power shift poses an unprecedented challenge to American primacy, which has kept Asia stable and Australia safe for many decades," he said.

"China's challenge to US primacy undercuts the most basic assumptions of Australian defence policy, and poses big questions."

White said Australia could not assume it would retain its status as a middle-ranking regional power as its neighbours expanded rapidly in what is being dubbed "The Asia Century".

"The long-term trends suggest that Australia has no choice but to spend more on defence or accept a steady decline in strategic weight," he said.

"A mere 20 years ago, Australia's economy was the second largest in Asia after Japan -- larger than either India's or China's.

"How quickly the balance has shifted."

The government's defence review is expected to be released before the annual Budget is handed down in Canberra on May 12.

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