Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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English (Australian) – Democracy

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Democracy, English (Australian)


Relates to democracy

From an Australian perspective, democracy is generally assumed to correlate positively with security, stability, and peace. With respect to Indonesia, for example, the 2009 Australian Defense White Paper observes that ‘Indonesia’s democratic development therefore continues to be very welcome. The evolution of democracy gives Indonesia a sound foundation for long-term stability and prosperity, and positive relationships with its neighbors. This is in keeping with Australia’s strategic interests.’[1]

The possession of a democratic system is perceived to be a critical consideration in determining the particular alliances and strategic alignments that Australia forges. The United States and New Zealand are the most obvious examples here, but an increasing emphasis on democratic values has also become apparent as Australia has deepened its security ties with Japan and South Korea. The March 2009 Australia-South Korea security statement, for example, explicitly referred to ‘committing to further strengthen the relationship on the basis of shared democratic values’.[2] Moreover, the fact that Australia has forged similar agreements with Japan (2007) and India (2009) – but not with China – appears to confirm this trend. At various junctures there has even been speculation that Australia may join a formal ‘alliance of democracies’, such as in 2007 when there were suggestions that the Howard government would commit Australia to a ‘quadrilateral’ alliance grouping involving the US, Japan and India.[3]

Despite the fact that democratic states are generally viewed positively in the Australian context, it is of note that democracy does not always substantively improve Australia’s relationship with other states and can, indeed, complicate them. In 2009, for instance, serious misunderstanding developed with India as a result of the treatment of Indian students in Australia and the way that treatment was presented in India’s democratic media. One analyst argues that these problems ‘put the Australia-India bilateral relationship back 10 years.’[4]

It is also curious to note that Indonesia’s democratization does not appear to have substantially improved Australian threat perceptions of that country. The Lowy Institute for International Policy’s 2010 poll on Australian foreign policy attitudes, for example, found that while Australians were generally warmer in their feelings toward Indonesia, 38% believed that it constituted the same threat, while 33% felt that it was now a greater threat than was the case 15 years ago.[5] A number of factors might account for these attitudes, including Indonesia’s growing material power, the conflation of terrorism and Islam in the Australian public consciousness, or the popular association of the arrival of asylum seekers with Indonesia.

Democracy promotion and the defense of democratic values have also been seen to play an increasing role in Australian foreign policy since the end of the Cold War, in line with the actions of the United States and other Western powers. This has perhaps been on display most clearly with regards to Australia’s response to the 2006 Fijian coup. Alongside New Zealand, and with the support of extra-regional democracies, Canberra has attempted to compel the Bainimarama regime to step down and transition power to a representatively elected transitional government.[6] However, after five years, this campaign has as yet failed to achieve any success in shifting the political status of the Fijian government, and if anything has complicated the Australia’s regional relations by creating a window for Chinese influence to grow. This experience has raised questions over both the practicality of coercively enforcing values, and more fundamentally the desirability of framing regional and sub-regional policies in moral terms.




[1] Commonwealth of Australia, Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030, Defence White Paper 2009, (Canberra: Department of Defence, 2009), p.35.

[2] Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd and President of the Republic of Korea Lee Myung-bak, ‘Joint Statement on Enhanced Global and Security Cooperation between Australia and the Republic of Korea’, Canberra, 5 March 2009.

[3] Colleen Ryan, ‘Downer rules our four-way security pact’, Australian Financial Review, 4 April 2007.

[4] Andrew Butcher, ‘Indian students in NZ: Australia as a cautionary tale’, The Interpreter, Lowy Institute for International Policy, 16 December 2010.

[5] Fergus Hanson, Australia and the World: Public Opinion and Foreign Policy, (Sydney, NSW: Lowy Institute for International Policy, 2010), p.7.

[6] See Matthew Hill, ‘‘A Velvet Glove? Coercion, and the Australasian Response to the 2006 Fijian Coup’, Security Challenges, vol.6, no.2 (Winter 2010), pp.41-58.



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