Prime Minister Turnbull dismisses notion that Australia must choose between China and US


SINGAPORE –  Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says that he expects the Trump Administration will realize continued engagement in the Indo-Pacific region is in the  interest of the U.S., during a speech at an annual regional security summit in Singapore.

In a wide-ranging speech that was well-received by the audience, Turnbull also urged China to respect the sovereignty of other nations and called on regional countries to continue to work together to combat terrorism.

He was speaking at the keynote address of the Shangri La Dialogue, an annual intergovernmental summit that brings together defense and security professionals from the region and the wider world to discuss the security challenges that affect the region.

Turnbull gave a passionate defense of the rules-based structure that has existed in the region, crediting it with enabling regional countries to succeed “in creating the fastest growing, most dynamic part of the world,” adding that “the peace and stability of our region has been enabled by consistent U.S. global leadership.”

However, he also acknowledged the substantial cost of the U.S. commitment to stability in the region, noting that he understood President Donald Trump’s “request that those who benefit from the peace America secures do more militarily and financially to contribute.” Australia, for one, has firm plans to increase its defense spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2020-21, he said, in order for it to “pull its weight in an increasingly multipolar region” marked by the restoration of China and India to the ranks of economic giants.

Noting that “China’s growing power continues to be the topic of most intense debate,” he acknowledges that “it is natural that Beijing will seek strategic influence to match its economic weight.”

Turnbull denounced as “an utterly false choice” the view put forward by some quarters that Australia has to choose between its largest trading partner Beijing and traditional ally Washington, declaring that the “alliance with the United States reflects a deep alignment of interests and values” while describing China as Australia’s “good friend and partner”.

The problem of terrorism in the region was also touched on in Turnbull’s address, where he highlighted the twin problems: battle hardened and trained fighters seeking to return to the region, as ISIL’s so-called caliphate is destroyed in Syria and Iraq; and terrorist organizations like Al Qaida and ISIL continuing to be very active in the region.

This was evidenced by last week’s bombings in Jakarta, Indonesia and the Philippine military’s ongoing battle with ISIL-linked militants in that country’s southern island of Mindanao. In his speech Turnbull reminded the audience that “we all have a vested interest in each other’s security” and that just as the terrorists’ networks are transnational, so must be multinational collaboration to defeat it.

The speech has been praised by many in the audience, with Dzirhan Mahadzir, a delegate from Malaysia, telling Defense News he felt that Turnbull “balanced his thoughts pretty well by getting point across without being too provocative, delivering a message to China that working with the international system and respecting the rules would benefit them far greater than their current approach of running roughshod over everyone.”

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