Entitled “Against Complacency: Risks and Opportunities for the Australia-US Alliance,” the report is written by Richard Fontaine, president of the Centre for a New American Security and former adviser to US Senator John McCain, known for his hardline militarism. Fontaine spent four months as a fellow this year at the US Studies Centre as part of its Alliance 21 Program, designed to boost US-Australian ties.

The report focusses on the impact of China’s efforts to use its economic clout to counter the US “pivot”—a comprehensive diplomatic offensive and military build-up throughout the Asia Pacific region aimed at continued American pre-eminence. While the report is preoccupied with the Australia-US alliance, it reflects wider concerns in American ruling circles that the “pivot” is stalling, particularly given the uncertainty being generated in Asia by the American presidential elections.

Fontaine identifies “American decline, denial or dysfunction” as one of the key risks to the Australian alliance. He notes that the view that the US is in long-term relative decline and ambivalent about its commitments to Asia “is today increasingly common across the region.” That sentiment in ruling circles is compounded by the fact that both US presidential contenders—Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump—have publicly opposed the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which was designed to consolidate American economic predominance over China.

The fears in Washington have been confirmed by the foreign policy shift made by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who publicly declared during his visit to Beijing last week that he was “separating” from Washington in order to pursue closer ties with China. He was rewarded with billions of dollars in Chinese loans and investment. The US is concerned that other countries, including close allies like Australia, could follow suit.

Fontaine notes that despite US urging, the Australian government has not conducted a “freedom of navigation” operation in the South China Sea, and has taken decisions, such as the leasing of a commercial port in Darwin, in northern Australia, to a Chinese corporation, that have angered Washington. He suggests that Canberra should project a more aggressive stance, and “react more strongly than Beijing expects to its incremental actions, even if that reaction invites economic punishment.”

As the report explains, Washington regards Australia as a central component of its accelerating US war drive against China, figuring “more prominently in the thinking of American policymakers than at any time since the Second World War… With Britain’s troubles in Europe, observers in both countries have begun to describe the alliance as the Anglosphere’s new ‘special relationship.’”

Fontaine points to the risk posed to the US-Australia alliance by those in Australian ruling circles who have raised concerns about being too closely integrated with the Pentagon’s war drive against China. Referring to domestic Australian politics, Fontaine identifies political figures such as former Labor foreign minister Bob Carr, who has declared that “it’s not in our interests to slide into war with our major trading partner if there is a flare-up about uninhabited islands.”

Fontaine, however, is concerned, above all, about the gulf between the political establishment and the Australian population, which has been kept in the dark about US-led war preparations. “The gap between public opinion and the national security elite—and between popular opinion and government policy—presents a risk to the alliance, since it is not inevitable that elite views will always trump popular views when the two clash,” the report states.

It notes a recent US Studies Centre poll that found that respondents viewed the US as just as much of a threat as China, and were more likely to support a strong Australian relationship with China than with the US. Eighty percent thought that America’s “best years” were in the past. Among young people, more than half said that China was their country’s most important relationship, compared to just 35 percent for the United States.