Apologies for being a few days late to this, but since nobody else seems to have picked up on it, I wanted to point to Foreign Minister Rudd's speech to the Oxford Business Alumni on 13 October. He used what struck me as surprisingly strong language in listing China's ten ambitions for the next decade. This section is slightly garbled, but we can make out the meaning:
Number eight, as consequence also China's strategic objective is over time to reduce US military influence and, as a consequence US alliances in East Asia and the Pacific, both that with China, China has with Japan, that China has with the Republic of Korea and which the United States has with Japan, the United States has with the Republic of Korea and the United States has with us, as well as other relationships both with Thailand and [indistinct].
In the middle of that paragraph, he says 'China' a couple of times when he means to say 'United States', but then he corrects himself. What you're left with is an explicit statement from the foreign minister that China's goal is to reduce America's military influence in Asia, and as part of that ambition, it wants to reduce the influence of America's Asian alliances, including that with Australia.
That's a common theme of academic papers and seminars, but it's something else for the foreign minister to put it on the public record. The US alliance is the cornerstone of our national security, and the foreign minister is saying that our largest trading partner wants to weaken that bond. That's not a friendly gesture.
Whether Rudd is right or wrong about this is an argument in itself. More important is the fact that (a) Rudd believes it to be true, and (b) he said it publicly. Both point to a quite elevated level of concern about China's strategic ambitions, something reinforced by the next item on Rudd's list:
Objective number nine is protecting your sea lines of communication right out to the sources of China's long term energy supply, across the Indian Ocean to the Gulf where most of its oil supplies come from but also its land-based supply lines to various other countries in terms of delivery of natural gas as well.
China wants to protect its sea lines of communication all the way to the Persian Gulf? That would require a military footprint in Asia and the Middle East equivalent to that of the US, something which would completely transform the maritime power balance in both regions. Again, that's pretty strong stuff from Rudd, suggesting China is out to challenge the fundamentals of the regional order we depend on for our security.