AUSTRALIA has been quietly building a regional defence coalition to restrain China's increasingly ''aggressive'' and ''autistic'' international behaviour, says a new study by an influential adviser to the Pentagon.
The study bluntly contradicts Australian and US denials that they see China as a threat or want to contain its rise, but it also says that the US should support its allies in the region rather than trying to lead them.
That view contradicts Republican criticisms that the Obama administration is misguided in trying to ''lead from behind''.
''Australians view themselves as facing a strategic threat,'' writes Edward Luttwak in his forthcoming book, The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy.
The book praises Australia's strategic initiative in forging ties with countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia and India, that lie beyond America's natural security orbit, as well as broadening the defence networks of close US allies such as Japan.
''Each of these Australian initiatives derives from a prior and broader decision to take the initiative in building a structure of collective security piece by piece, and not just leave it all to the Americans,'' it says.
But a spokeswoman for Defence Minister Stephen Smith dismissed talk of containment.
''It is not possible for a country or countries to contain another country with a population of 1.3 billion,'' said the spokeswoman. ''The shifting strategic influences must be managed by the international community through constructive and positive bilateral relationships, though dialogue and through regional architecture.''
Mr Luttwak is a consultant to the Pentagon think tank the Office of Net Assessment who has high-level access to Chinese and US military officials.
His book, to be published in November, stems from a research project commissioned by the think tank's 91-year-old director, Andrew Marshall, the legendary ''futurist-in-chief''.
China's impact on Asia-Pacific security has been on display this week after it hardened territorial claims over the tiny Japanese-administered islands known as the Senkaku or Diaoyu group.
''If necessary, we could make the Diaoyu islands a target range for China's air force and plant mines around them,'' said General Luo Yuan in the state-run Global Times.
The Australian National University's Hugh White has argued that the US needs to ''share power'' with what is going to be ''the most formidable power the US has ever faced''.
For Mr Luttwak, however, the ''logic of strategy'' dictates that neighbours will naturally coalesce against the new rising threat, thus preventing China realising anything like the relative military power that has been projected.
This resistance arrived early for China because of the ''hubristic turn'' it took after 2008.
''They have been imbecilic enough to relaunch territorial quarrels with Japan, Vietnam and India more or less on the same day, when those three countries have more people, more money and more technology than China,'' Mr Luttwak told The Saturday Age.