research / Research reports

Conflict in the East China Sea: Would ANZUS Apply?

April 29 2015

This paper starts from the premise that insufficient attention has been given to the potential ramifications for Australia of conflict in the East China Sea, particularly in terms of whether Australia’s alliance obligations with the United States could embroil Canberra in a conflict. The paper is motivated in part by Defence Minister Johnston’s June 2014 remarks stating that the ANZUS alliance would not commit Australia to a conflict where the US had sent forces to support Japan. While reminiscent of remarks made a decade earlier by then-Foreign Minister Alexander Downer in relation to the prospect of Australian involvement via ANZUS in a Taiwan contingency, Johnston’s assessment has not attracted anywhere near the same level of attention and analysis as those made by Downer in August 2004.

This research seeks to fill this gap in Australia’s public and policy debate by analysing the circumstances under which conflict in the East China Sea could occur and the implications thereof for Australia. The paper answers three questions:

1. What does Australia’s alliance relationship with the US commit Canberra to in the event of conflict in the East China Sea?

2. What are the risks that Australia faces as a result of ANZUS and other associated international commitments?

3. What can be done to better understand and manage these risks?

Authors: Nick Bisley, Executive Director of La Trobe Asia and Professor of International Relations, La Trobe University; Brendan Taylor, Head, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

To read the full paper please download the PDF.