CANBERRA, Australia, June 28 (UPI) -- Australia's military is shifting focus to the north and west, both to protect offshore energy fields and provide a possible counter to an expansionist China.
Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith has announced a review of current military doctrine and basing, and noted that the new threat perceptions will heavily influence the placement of the military's new hardware, including strike fighters and destroyers and new carrier-sized amphibious assault ships, the New Zealand Herald reported Monday.
Smith said, "All of the security and strategic challenges are to our north -- the growth of the Asia-Pacific region, the growing importance of the Indian Ocean rim. In World War II ... we saw that places like Townsville and Cairns, Darwin and Perth were essentially secondary defense areas. That can no longer be the case, with the growing significance of the Indian Ocean, the growing significance of the Asia Pacific and the growing demands on Australia to be in a position to assist the Asia-Pacific region in the face of ongoing tsunamis and earthquakes and the like. We need to make sure that all our force posture is right, that we've got the geographic disposition of our forces right. We're not just faced with the traditional security considerations. There are modern considerations and energy security is one of those."
Of particular concern to the military is how to defend the country's oil and natural gas deposits off northern Western Australia and in the Timor Sea from terrorist threats, as the deposits comprise an increasingly significant part of the country's economy, with $245 billion in planned new investment to develop the fields. The Australian government is projecting the value of the country's liquefied natural gas exports in light of such investments is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 27 percent to a projected $19 billion in annual sales within five years.
Besides protecting its offshore assets, Australia is watching the growing power and assertiveness of the Chinese navy with some concern, with its deployments causing friction with its neighbors, particularly over the Spratly islands. The Spratlys consist of more than 750 islands, islets, atolls and cays, and their offshore waters are variously claimed by China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. While there are no native islanders, about 45 islands in the archipelago are now occupied by Vietnamese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Malaysian and Filipino forces, all determined to assert claims of sovereignty.