It’s time to start paying attention. The US–China spat is doubling down. The hardline speeches given by Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe and then acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan at the recent Shangri-La Dialogue revealed that both sides are preparing to fight their corners. In this, the most exposed countries are the Indo-Pacific’s middle powers, which are trapped between the feuding great powers.

Wei helpfully—and forcefully—told ASEAN countries that China’s newly acquired South China Sea islands are now its territory for ever more and it will fight tooth and nail to keep them. Displaying considerable chutzpah, Wei then declared that China has always been peaceful and never used force to capture any territory. The history of China’s armed seizure of Johnson South Reef (now an 11-hectare military facility), in which 64 Vietnamese soldiers died and two ships were sunk, has seemingly been rewritten—just as the history of Tiananmen Square has been.

For Australia and other regional nations that have China as their major trading partner, Shanahan’s speech also raises concerns. He launched the US’s new Indo-Pacific strategy, which advocates defence preparedness, military partnerships and networking to counter a revisionist China, a malign Russia, a rogue North Korea and diverse transnational challenges. In that document, China gets four pages; the others, one each.

Please click here to read the full “Beyond ‘balancing’: alternative US grand strategies for dealing with China and Russia” article published at The Strategist, written by Griffith Asia Institute Visiting Fellow, Dr Peter Layton.