Australia should expect Donald Trump to ask when it will send a ship to the South China Sea on a freedom of navigation operation, according to former deputy Defence chief Peter Jennings.
Mr Jennings, now head of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said Australia would be asked to do more in the region under a Trump presidency.
“I think we can expect an early phone call to say, ‘When, Australia, will you undertake a freedom of navigation operation through the South China Sea?” Mr Jennings said.
“For over a year now we’ve been saying that this is a vital Australian national security interest, yet we’ve declined to send a ship through the region.
“The Obama administration was distracted. Trump will probably have higher expectations of us and my view is we should be doing these things for our own security interests, not to please the Americans.
“But if Trump says, ‘What is your intention?’ I think the only sensible answer is we too, like the Americans, should be undertaking freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.
“We should frankly have the gumption to do it ourselves because it is in more of Australia’s strategic interests than it is the US.
“Given the volume of our trade which crosses that region and the fact we’ve kind of fudged this issue over the last 12-18 months, I think it really isn’t good enough.
“So if the alliance prompts us to take greater cognisance of our own responsibilities then that’s a good thing, but we should be really doing it because it’s in our interests rather than simply because it’s an alliance obligation.”
Last week former prime minister Paul Keating told 7.30 it was time Australia took a more independent stance.
“The foreign policy of Australia is basically we have tag-along rights to the US and we conduct our foreign policy, certainly since I left public office in the Howard years, with Iraq, you know, and in the years since, we’ve had more or less a tag-along foreign policy, tagging along to the United States.
“It’s time to cut the tag. Time to get out of it.”
Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Labor would consider its foreign policy over the coming months, and how best to effect any changes within the alliance framework.
Mr Jennings said Senator Wong’s comments were “ill-considered”.
“This is not a referendum on whether we like the president. Our alliance interests run deeper than that,” he said.
“They’ll survive this president and probably the next four or five presidents after him, and therefore because he says some things people don’t like really doesn’t mean we can now say we’re going to up sticks and reconsider our position. Just imagine if the Americans said that about us we’d be in an absolute panic, if we were getting similar comments from senior American politicians.”