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RAA: Australia and Japan enter the “grey zone”

Written by: (Contributed) on 19 November 2020


As Cold War US-led operations and diplomatic rivalries have escalated in the Indo-Pacific region, official military and diplomatic statements have acknowledged they have now reached a 'grey zone' noted as being situated just below the level of open conflict.

Far from being traditional defence and security provision, US-led military planners appear to be inching toward real-war scenarios in the immediate region.

These developments have far-reaching implications for Australia as a regional hub for 'US interests'.

Recent high-level diplomatic initiatives between Australia and Japan, for example, have to be seen in this context, with specific reference to the South and East China Seas.

A recent media release from within the corridors of power in Canberra by a former deputy secretary for strategy with the Department of Defence and now employed by a right-wing think-tank, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), Paul Jennings, about the challenges facing the alliance with the US, noted Australia had entered the 'so-called grey zone operations just below the level of open conflict'. (1) In recent times military and diplomatic hostilities have soared across the Indo-Pacific region as US-led initiatives to challenge the rise of China have escalated in a common pattern.

The recent political instability and uncertainty inside the US system has also added to the general escalation of military and diplomatic tensions. The development is particularly worrying and any stabilisation is unlikely for the foreseeable future.

Japan-Australia Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA)

The recent period has also included high-level diplomatic meetings with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Japanese counterpart, Yoshihie Suga, where Australia and Japan established a defence pact which will include 'an in-principle reciprocal access agreement to streamline each nation's use of the others military bases'. (2) The RAA agreement has effectively linked Australia and Japan in preparation for future military operations. 

There is little ambiguity with the status of the RAA; it has been noted that it has followed the Special Strategic Partnership Australia already has with Japan and is now 'just below a formal military alliance'. (3) These are early days, however, for the warmongers. An official media release stated that 'Tokyo and Canberra are … inching ever closer to a full military alliance … it's getting very close'. (4)

Both Australia and Japan are designated hubs for 'US interests' in the wider region; the strengthening of relations of the triangular diplomacy has already been defined as an 'Asian NATO', a definition which has revealed military intentions and planning, saying that 'our defence forces can operate in and around Japan and Japanese self-defence forces can operate in and around Australia'. (5)    

The triangular diplomacy has also increasingly made use of India to establish the so-called Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD) which has been defined as 'the core of Chinese containment', a US-led diplomatic and military strategy conducted through allied partners which has included Australia returning to the Indian Malabar naval exercises in October. (6)   

It is highly significant, therefore, to note the recent RAA has also included provision for Japan 'to use force to protect Australian military assets', whereby the countries in alliance with the US are committed to defending the interests of other countries. (7) It has far-reaching implications for numerous countries and thousands of small, contested landmasses across the region.

Naval and maritime maps of the South and East China Seas, for example, reveal a myriad of small landmasses and reefs. (8)

Likely theatres of hostilities

Military and diplomatic media releases have already noted the South and East China Seas are likely theatres of hostilities with Australia and Japan increasing their joint operations. (9) The dangers Australia faces are clearly defined: the seas are areas where shipping-lanes have become increasingly congested, with diplomatic rivalries between various countries over small islands and atolls, historically used to mark access and egress with shipping-lanes.

When Japan nationalised about 280 small islands and atolls in 2014, the moves were accompanied by an official statement from Tokyo that the remote landmasses were 'important national territories'. (10)

It is not difficult to foresee future military conflict spiralling out of relatively trivial diplomatic matters between competing countries, with alliances then coming into play and leading to full-scale war.

Japan, for example, has long regarded the Senkaku Islands as part of their territory although China also has similar long-standing claims to what they call the Diaoyu Islands. (11) Elsewhere, the Takeshima islets remain at the centre of territorial claims between Japan and South Korea, two countries where diplomatic stand-offs have become commonplace. (12)

In the Philippines pro-US factions in the ruling presidential administration of Rodrigo Duterte have taken increasingly bolder positions toward China in recent times in relation to the South China Seas, even though the country occupies nine landmasses of the collectively named Kalayaan Island Group in the waterway. Seven of the landmasses are real islands while the remaining two are reefs. (13)

The escalation of diplomatic tension over the past decade has been both rapid and dramatic:     
 as China has challenged traditional US hegemonic positions across the region, Australian diplomacy has followed US leadership and shifted emphasis toward continual military assessments. What was once regarded as routine tasks for small numbers of military planners, would now appear to have become an obsession for thousands of analysts.

Australia, for example, has recently extended its regional network of defence advisors and military attaches to all South-east Asian countries. (14) The networks, however, remain US-led, and follow earlier Pentagon planning to transform the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) with an additional 1,600 'collectors' of military intelligence nearly a decade ago. (15)  

The program was closely associated with the US re-opening numerous military facilities across the Indo-Pacific region at the same time, usually as joint bases under host governments. (16)

The military intelligence assessments in the public domain leave little to the imagination: they regard China's occupation of artificially created landmasses in the South China Seas as altering the regional balance of forces. It was noted, for example, by US Admiral Philip Davidson, head of the Pacific Command that China 'will be able to extend its influence thousands of miles to the south and project power into Oceania'. (17) China is, therefore, regarded as an adversary although there is little evidence it has regional military ambitions beyond the usual defence and security considerations of its maritime fleet which are using sensitive shipping-lanes contested by other countries and therefore vulnerable.

It was noted twenty years ago by informed sources that 'the Pentagon is looking at Asia as the most likely arena for future military conflict'. (18) Today, the term 'most likely', has moved up several notches to become 'very likely'.

These are worrying developments for Australia; we are increasingly being drawn into US-led real-war scenarios.

                                          We need an independent foreign policy!

1.     The alliance is safe … but real danger still lies ahead, The Weekend Australian, 14-15 November 2020.
2.     Boost to military ties with Japanese, Australian, 16 November 2020.
3.     Historic deal … and a climate boogie dance, Australian, 18 November 2020.
4.     Ibid.
5.     Ibid; and, Trip emphasis that we and Japan are natural partners, Australian, 18 November 2020.
6.     International alliances key to containing China, Australian, 12 November 2020.
7.     Australian, op.cit., 16 November 2020.     
8.     See: East Indies, Mercators Projection, which charts regional shipping routes, naval bases and international boundaries together with other fine detail information.
9.     Australian, op.cit., 16 November 2020; see also, Australian, op.cit., 18 November 2020.
10.   Suga sign-on crucial to security, Australian, 17 November 2020.
11.   Japan to nationalise 280 islands, The Age (Melbourne), 10 January 2014.
12.   Japan puts disputed islands on school curriculum, The Age (Melbourne), 13 January 2014.
13.   Manila to tap US if Beijing fires on its fleet, Australian, 27 August 2020; and, Roque: We're not behind our rivals in reef development, The Philippine Inquirer, 9 May 2018.  
14.   Australian, op.cit., 16 November 2020.
15.   Pentagon plays the spy game, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 7 December 2012.
16.   US eyes return to south-east Asian bases, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 29 June 2012.
17.   China, The Philippine Star, 4 May 2018.
18.    Asia moves to forefront of Pentagon planning, The Guardian Weekly (U.K.), 1-7 June 2000.


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