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Australia ‘can’t rely on Hollywood to Bollywood strategic alliance’

Image: Kremlin [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Concerns about Australia’s future in Asia will not be solved by other countries, says professor

Australia will face a “lonely and complex” diplomatic future if it assumes that India will step up to challenge China’s growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region, one of the country’s top international relations analysts has said.

Hugh White, an emeritus professor at the Australian National University’s strategic and defence studies centre in Canberra, has warned that India is more likely to “cut a deal with China” to share power within the region.

“Will India save us from China? The Indo-Pacific concept that now lies at the heart of Australia’s foreign policy assumes that it will,” he writes in an editorial for East Asia Forum, an online opinion site run by the ANU.  

“It is founded on the belief that as America’s position in Asia fades, India will step forward to help balance and contain China’s power and prevent it from dominating countries like Australia.”

White suggests that Australia’s vision of Asia’s strategic and diplomatic future “imagines that countries right across a vast region stretching ‘from Hollywood to Bollywood’ will stand united and work together to contain China”.

However, this emerging policy position is being used “as an excuse to assume that Australia’s worries about its future in Asia will be solved by other countries, especially India, without much effort of its own”.

“It is the old, familiar story of Australians expecting a ‘great and powerful friend’ to look after it. Australia should be so lucky,” White says.

“The reality is that, rather than India leading a grand Indo-Pacific coalition against China, it is more likely to cut a deal with China to divide the wider Indo-Pacific region up between them. India will then have an unchallenged sphere of influence in south Asia and the Indian Ocean, and China will have the same in east Asia and the western Pacific.”

White was previously deputy secretary for strategy and intelligence with the federal Department of Defence and advised former Labor prime minister Bob Hawke on international relations.

His most recent book, How to Defend Australia, was published in 2019 by La Trobe University Press. It looks at the diminishing role and influence of the United States in the Asia Pacific and suggests Australia must plan for a future that does not rely so closely on its military alliance with the US.