BA Hons (Melbourne); BPhil (Oxon)

Political science

My work focuses on three interconnected issues: the changing strategic order globally and in in Asia with the shift in relative wealth and power from the West to Asia; the implications of these changes for Australia, especially as they relate to our alliance with America; and Australia’s policy responses to them. 

On the first issue, I have argued since about 2005 that China’s rise marks a fundamental shift away from the unipolar US-led global order that seemed to emerge after the Cold War, and from the regional order based on uncontested US primacy that began with America’s accommodation with China in 1972. As China’s power and ambitions grow, America faces a choice between withdrawing from the region, accommodating China’s desire for more power and influence, or trying to resist and contain it. I have explored the option for sharing power, but in recent years the choice has narrowed to withdrawal or containment, and I have argued that US withdrawal from Asia is by far the most likely long-term outcome.

On the second issue, I have argued that Australia faces a fundamental shift in its international setting as a result of these changes in the regional order. China is by far the most powerful Asian country to emerge since European settlement of Australia. For the first time since then it is likely that Asia will no longer be dominated by a Western, ‘Anglo Saxon’, great and powerful friend. Since 2010 I have argued that as US-China strategic rivalry grows, Australia will face hard choices between supporting America and maintaining workable relations with China.  And if, as I now expect, America loses the contest for primacy in Asia and withdraws, Australia will have to learn to live in Asia without a great and powerful ally.  

On the third issue, I argued initially that Australia should try to encourage Washington to accommodate China’s rise and seek a power-sharing arrangement in Asia as the least-bad alternative to withdrawal or escalating rivalry. I now argue that Australia should prepare for a future in which East Asia and the Western Pacific are dominated by China. We should cooperate with other countries to manage this as best we can, but should not rely on others to sacrifice their interests with China on our behalf. I have looked especially at what this means for our defence policy, exploring whether, and how, Australia could defend itself independently against major Asian powers if, as I expect, we cannot rely either on America or on other Asian powers in the decades ahead.

John Locke Prize in Mental Philosophy, Oxford 1978

1. Hugh White How to defend Australia Latrobe University Press, Melbourne 2019

2. Hugh White Without America: Australia’s future in the new Asia [Quarterly Essay 68] Black Inc, Melbourne, 2017  

3. Hugh White The China Choice: Why America should share power, Black Inc, Melbourne 2017   

4. Hugh White Power Shift: Australia future between Washington and Beijing [Quarterly Essay 39]  Black Inc, Melbourne, 2010 

5. Hugh White ‘Great Expectations: Can Australia depend on its neighbours?’ Australian Foreign Affairs Issue 10, October 2020, pp6-29