Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop in her office at Parliament House. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
The editorial page of Monday's Global Times - the Chinese Communist Party's rabidly nationalistic tabloid - would seem to support Hugh White's prediction that Australia will pay a price for obstructing, rather than facilitating, the expansion of Chinese "leadership" in the region.
The paper derided Julie Bishop as a "complete fool" using a term that defies neat translation but could be construed even more harshly.
The personal attack raised eyebrows in the diplomatic corps in Australia and abroad, where Ms Bishop is widely considered to be the most competent Australian foreign affairs minister since Gareth Evans.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Canberra. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
What was Ms Bishop's sin? She dared to publicly air what leaders across the region have been saying privately to each other for quite some time.
On Wednesday, in her ministerial office, she told me: "We know that the optimum is deeper engagement [with China]. But we're also clear-eyed about what could go wrong. So you have to hope for the best but manage for the worst."
On Thursday Fairfax newspapers reported that this was the clearest statement yet of Australia's China policy in response to conflicts that have been brewing on China's maritime periphery.
But that doesn't mean that the policy that Ms Bishop articulated is new. In fact, her formulation is substantively identical to what Kevin Rudd put to Hillary Clinton in March 2009.
According to US diplomatic cables, as revealed by WikiLeaks, the then US secretary of state asked Mr Rudd how she should deal with her "banker," and this was his response: "Calling himself 'a brutal realist on China', Rudd argued for 'multilateral engagement with bilateral vigour' - integrating China effectively into the international community and allowing it to demonstrate greater responsibility, all while also preparing to deploy force if everything goes wrong. Rudd said the Australian intelligence community keeps a close watch on China's military modernisation, and indicated the forthcoming Australian Defence White Paper's focus on naval capability is a response to China's growing ability to project force."
In other words, all that is new in Ms Bishop's approach is that she is saying publicly what Australian leaders have been saying privately for at least five years.
Ms Bishop's statement to me was a response to what she deemed to be the "incoherence" of Labor's policy of publicly talking only about the economic upside, as exemplified by the Asia Century white paper, while speaking tough and preparing for the worst behind closed doors.
Sam Roggeveen, at the Lowy Institute, had this to say in his posting on The Interpreter website: "Bishop's statements at least show that the government is not in denial about the challenge China represents to the Asian strategic order."
But Hugh White, the Australian National University professor and former defence department strategist, came to the opposite conclusion. "This would be an important shift. The simplest explanation for the Abbott government's approach to strategic issues in north-east Asia so far is that they simply do not understand how serious the strategic rivalry there is."
Professor White is right on many things but he is wrong on this one. Whatever your view of Ms Bishop's (and Prime Minister Tony Abbott's) relatively strident advocacy against what they see as Chinese coercion, it does not come from ignorance (as Professor White puts it) or foolishness, as the Global Times claimed so eloquently in Monday's paper.
Successive Australian governments have not been in any kind of denial about China's challenge to the strategic order. In 2009, as Mr Rudd's comments implied, the perceived threat was considered in terms of potential.
Since 2011, however, when China flexed its paramilitary, economic and diplomatic might to dislodge the Philippines from the Scarborough Shoal, these concerns have risen to the "actual" level. And they rose to new heights in 2012 when China used military, paramilitary, economic and public diplomacy levers - including the Global Times - to frame their story and challenge Japan's control of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.
Professor White is wrong with other claims, too, such as this one: "Last week they signed up to [Japanes Prime Minister] Abe's plan to build a regional coalition of like-minded countries steadfastly to oppose China's ambitions for a larger leadership role in Asia."
There is room to debate the details of Mr Abbott's interactions with Mr Abe last week and the degree to which Australia's strategic calculus should remain unstated.
But this coalition is indeed emerging - in response to perceived Chinese coercion rather than "leadership" per se - whether or not Australia signs up to any kind of Abe plan. As Pentagon consultant Edward Luttwak writes in his 2012 book, The Rise of China vs The Logic of Strategy, Australia has been leading this loose coalition-building effort for many years: ''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.''
In the past two years, this informal coalition has hardly needed the leadership of Australia, Japan or even the United States. Countries that consider themselves "non-aligned", such as Indonesia and India, or former US enemies, such as Vietnam, are all clambering to bolster their strategic linkages with each other.
Chinese leaders didn't like what they saw as Mr Rudd's hypocrisy, which former foreign affairs minister Bob Carr makes clear in his diary. Nor do they like Ms Bishop's straight-talking, as suggested by the Global Times. But the fact that one arm of the propaganda machine wants to cut Ms Bishop down to size does not mean that she is anybody's fool.