Cover: Regional Responses to U.S.-China Competition in the Indo-Pacific

Regional Responses to U.S.-China Competition in the Indo-Pacific

Australia and New Zealand

Published Dec 17, 2020

by Michael S. Chase, Jennifer D. P. Moroney


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Research Questions

  1. How do Australia and New Zealand view China's more assertive behavior and increased U.S.-China competition, and how are their governments responding?
  2. How should the United States work with Australia and New Zealand to counter Chinese influence and protect common interests in the Indo-Pacific region?

This report on Australia and New Zealand is part of a project examining the perspectives of U.S. allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific as they formulate and implement their responses to China's more assertive foreign and security policy and to a more competitive U.S.-China relationship. Australia and New Zealand have expanded their economic ties with China, but there is growing concern in both countries about China's rising power and influence. In response, Australia is strengthening its alliance with the United States and becoming more actively involved in the Indo-Pacific region, especially in the Pacific Islands. New Zealand is also strengthening its security ties with the United States and intensifying its regional outreach (particularly, with its Pacific Island neighbors).

This stepped-up engagement in the region creates opportunities for the United States and, specifically, for the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force to work with these two countries (and with other regional partners) in new and innovative ways, both operationally and using soft-power tools and approaches.

Key Findings

  • Australia views its alliance with the United States as the cornerstone of its security policy and sees strengthening it as playing an indispensable role in ensuring its ability to navigate a regional security environment that is increasingly complicated by China's more assertive behavior, including interference in Australian politics.
  • At the same time, while China is a major economic partner for Australia, particularly with respect to trade, Australia aims to maintain a stable relationship with China even as it pushes back against Chinese influence and interference.
  • There is growing concern in Australia that China's rising power and influence undercuts Australia's influence in the Indo-Pacific. Australia aims to gain back lost ground, particularly in the Pacific Islands, where it is stepping up its influence as it seeks to counter surging Chinese presence and become the partner of choice in the region.
  • New Zealand has benefited from a growing economic relationship with China since signing a free trade agreement in 2007, but it faces challenges associated with China's growing power and influence. New Zealand is also concerned about the durability of the regional and global order on which its security and prosperity depend.
  • New Zealand has responded by strengthening its security ties with the United States since the 2010 Wellington Declaration. Additionally, New Zealand is increasing its regional outreach, most notably by intensifying its engagement with the Pacific Islands.


  • Pacific Air Forces and the U.S. Air Force should develop options for expanding Enhanced Air Cooperation and consider conducting rotational deployments of U.S. Air Force bombers to northern Australia.
  • Pacific Air Forces and the U.S. Air Force should invest in efforts to better understand Australia's and New Zealand's bilateral engagement program, particularly in training, exchanges, exercises, institutional capacity-building, and infrastructural investments and strengthen mechanisms to coordinate and deconflict, where appropriate.
  • The Joint Force should further enhance U.S.-Australia and U.S.–New Zealand cooperation in space and strengthen U.S.-Australia cooperation in the areas of cyber and electronic warfare.
  • The Joint Force should strengthen cooperation on research and development of advanced capabilities with Australia and explore options for the codevelopment of capabilities in which both countries are contributing financial resources and manpower.
  • The U.S. government should continue to support Australia and New Zealand in taking a leading role in the Pacific (specifically, in Melanesia and Polynesia, respectively) and continue to encourage Australia's growing cooperation and engagement with other U.S. allies, such as Japan and the Republic of Korea, and emerging partners, such as India and Indonesia.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was sponsored by Brig Gen Michael P. Winkler (PACAF/A5/8) and conducted within the Strategy and Doctrine Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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