The Sydney Morning Herald

By Peter Hartcher

Australia will declare exuberant confidence in the future of US power and commit to continue intensifying the alliance in new areas — including space.

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop will project in a speech on Wednesday that US power in the 20th century will continue undiminished into this century.

The speech, to be given to the Alliance 21 conference in Canberra, runs counter to the argument that Australia should shift strategic emphasis to a rising China.

As the former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser calls for Canberra to abandon the US alliance in a new book, Ms Bishop is to emphasise the need to intensify it.

"The US and Australia are working closely to further our joint aims in space," Ms Bishop's speech text says, "just one example of the ability of the alliance to continuously evolve to address new challenges in a changing environment."

The deputy Liberal leader is to speak of two major new space assets that the US is building in Western Australia, a radar station and a surveillance telescope.

The installations "will make use of Australia's unique geography to increase the southern hemisphere coverage of the US's Space Surveillance Network," she is to say.

According to Bradley Perrett of Aviation Week & Space Technology, "The radar and telescope on Australian soil would be active and perhaps crucial in any confrontation between the US and China."

Mr Fraser argues that the US alliance is a liability because it could entangle Australia in any war between it and China.

The joint US–Australian decision to build the facilities was made at a meeting of American and Australian ministers in 2012, the annual Ausmin meeting, under the Gillard Labor government.

But "Bob Carr and Stephen Smith were keen not to draw any attention to it at the time", said the executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Peter Jennings.

The C-band radar being built near Exmouth in WA "would plug Australia into the US global system to track movements in space, anything from missiles in flight to satellites to space debris to comets that come too close," said Mr Jennings.

At the moment, the US can track movements of Chinese and North Korean and other space assets in the northern hemisphere but not in the southern area.

"The Chinese are developing a sophisticated capability to do their own imagery through space-based satellites," Mr Jennings said.

Ms Bishop is also to speak of the changing nature of intelligence co-operation and the importance of tracking terrorists, and the new field of cyber cooperation.

Mr Jennings said that the minister's speech appeared to be part of a series by the Abbott government that "send a subliminal message to the US — a lot in this region rides on the continued willingness of the US to engage, 'so keep your eyes on the prize guys, seems to be the message' ".

This article was originally published in the The Sydney Morning Herald