As the international scope of China’s economic interests has expanded over time, China’s strategic horizons have broadened correspondingly, and so have its military capabilities. China is engaged in the largest and most rapid expansion of maritime and aerospace power in generations. Based on its scope, scale, and the specific capabilities being developed, this buildup appears to be designed to, first, threaten the United States with ejection from the western Pacific, and then to achieve dominance in the Indo-Pacific.
Assuming ongoing US involvement and support, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is unlikely to be able to seriously threaten the environment in Australia’s immediate region, nor Australia’s sovereignty, in the immediate future. Absent assistance from allies and partners, China already possesses the capability to strike Australia from existing bases with bomber aircraft and long-range missiles. The expected introduction of additional PLA air and naval capabilities over time will worsen this asymmetry.
The prospect of Chinese military action against Australia remains remote. But defence policy operates in the realm of low-probability, high-consequence events. And the sheer ability of the PLA to take such extreme steps places pressure on decision-makers whose actions are weighted with the fear that force might be used against them.