A Deteriorating Regional Security Outlook; Australia’s Domestic Political Disarray and its Foreign-Policy Implications; Whither the Australia–United States Alliance?; Keeping China at Arm’s Length?; Australia and the South China Sea; Cautious Defence Engagement in Southeast Asia; Japan and India: Revitalising the ‘Quad’?; Conclusion

With the strategic outlook in the Asia-Pacific shifting towards greater uncertainty due to China’s growing power and ambition, North Korea’s nuclear-weapons activities, the election of Donald Trump as United States president and questions regarding the cohesion of Southeast Asia, Australia has important reasons to be concerned about its region’s security. At the same time, as a close ally of the US, a strong security partner of Japan, an important stakeholder in Southeast Asia’s maritime security and the Asia-Pacific region’s fifth-largest defence spender in 2016, Australia’s response to regional security dynamics is of importance to the region.

The conservative coalition government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has declared its objective of playing a stronger role in regional security in the face of the changing security environment there. The government’s ‘2016 Defence White Paper’ (DWP), released in February 2016, declared that Australia would significantly strengthen its defence capability and engage more closely with Southeast Asian countries’ armed forces. The DWP confirmed plans to develop the expeditionary capacity of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) over the coming decades, including through acquiring new submar­ines and frigates, fifth-generation combat aircraft, modern long-range maritime-patrol aircraft and an amphibious-warfare capability. To fund this major defence upgrade, the government also brought forward to 2021 its goal of spending 2% of Australia’s gross domestic product on defence. Between FY2016–17 and FY2025–26, the government aims to increase annual defence spending from A$32.4 billion (US$24.2bn) to A$58.7bn (US$44.9bn).

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