The cargo, not the ships, should guide Australia’s responses to potential threats against seaborne trade and supply.

China’s maritime warfare capabilities become more potent almost daily. Thomas Shugart’s new Lowy Institute paper explores this and then imagines the potential dangers arising for Australia. Shugart’s US-centric perspective is nicely complemented by Hugh White’s and James Goldrick’s debate in The Interpreter, giving Australian viewpoints respectively on seaborne trade and seaborne essential item supply, both of which rely on merchant shipping.

Shugart looks to the medium term (5-8 years) and long term (8-20 years). The near term is effectively today with its worries over Taiwan and the South and East China Seas. If China were to take military action in the region soon, Shugart considers Australia would contribute expeditionary forces, but our remoteness means the continent would be little impacted.

This is reminiscent of Australia’s experience in the First World War and the Second World War’s first phase (1939-1941) when the country was so distant to major battlefields, it was irrelevant to both allies and adversaries. Australia went unthreatened, but it also meant that getting merchant ships to come to Australia was very difficult. The great powers simply had much more important tasks for the world’s shipping.

Please click here to read the full “Australia’s wartime seaborne trade: Insights from before” article published at The Interpreter, written by Griffith Asia Institute Visiting Fellow, Dr Peter Layton.