Former Labor Foreign Minister Gareth Evans will urge Australia to say ‘no’ to the United States more and recognise that China is now a “global rule-maker”.
The arguments will be laid out in a speech to the National Press Club on Thursday where he will speak alongside former Paul Keating adviser Allan Gyngell who has recently written a book on Australia’s ‘fear of abandonment’.
While Australia should not walk away from the alliance, the country should demonstrate “less reflexive support” for the United States’ foreign policy, Mr Evans will argue.
“My own experience strongly suggests that periodically saying ‘no’ to the US when our national interests are manifestly different, makes for a much healthier and productive relationship,” he will say.
He said the Coalition’s support for the Trump administration’s missile strikes was defensible but had “problematic dimensions”.
Last Friday both the Coalition and the Labor Party supported US President Donald Trump’s move to launch cruise-missiles on a Syrian air base.
Mr Evans will accuse the Turnbull government of “absolute capitulation to US pressure” over nuclear disarmament after Australia joined the United States and Britain in skipping March talks on a nuclear weapons ban treaty at the United Nations.
He will say that the ANZUS guarantee may prove to be “flimsy” but it offers “notional deterrent protection”.
Mr Evans will say that in order to take a more independent stance Australia will need to build up its military and “keep an open mind” about nuclear submarines.
“In military terms, this certainly means building defence capability that involves not only more bucks than we are usually comfortable spending but getting a bigger bang for each of them,” he will tell National Press Club.
While Australia should not become “Beijing’s patsy”, he will argue that Australia should recognise China is now a “global rule-maker and not just rule-taker” and allow the superpower to have “some strategic space”.
Mr Evans will say he agreed with former China Ambassador Stephen Fitzgerald who recently said Australia should consider that the country could only have influence over China’s actions in the region if Australia was closer to China.
“It means getting close enough to the Chinese leadership to be seen, as Stephen Fitzgerald puts it, as a genuine ‘friend at court’, influencing positively their bilateral and multilateral behaviour,” he will say.
China had “overreached” in the South China Sea and Australia should be prepared to push back when it came to this issue, he will caution.
Mr Evans has recently raised concerns with the Coalition’s approach to foreign investment after two Chinese majority bids for infrastructure and agricultural land were blocked by Treasurer Scott Morrison.