Biden win offers Morrison the chance to reshape Australia’s ailing relationship with China


Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Joe Biden’s election as US president presents Prime Minister Scott Morrison with the opportunity to reset Australia’s ailing relationship with China. Encouragingly, Biden has signalled his commitment to rebuilding global alliances and restoring a degree of certainty in foreign policy.

In his victory speech, President-elect Joe Biden talked about an “inflection” moment in America’s history, the opportunity to take a different course.

Australian policymakers should, likewise, take advantage of the Biden victory to reassess China policy settings that, under present circumstances, are not serving the country’s interests.

Emphatically, this is not an argument for a quiescent China policy that disregards Beijing’s bad behavior. Rather, it is a case for more nimble policy-making in Australia’s own national interests.

China’s further stifling last week of Hong Kong’s democratic freedoms by forcing the resignation of pro-democracy legislators is another sign of its disregard of international obligations under the “one country two systems” agreement that heralded the territory’s handover in 1997.

Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers resigned en masse last week.
Jerome Favre/EPA/AAP

But whether we like it or not, whether it’s fair or not, whether China is a regional bully or not, Canberra needs to find a way to drag its relationship with Beijing out of the mire.

The Biden victory may facilitate this.

Canberra does not need to wait for a new American policy towards China to strive for a better balance between its foreign and trade policy interests and its security policy imperatives. Those efforts should begin now that the foreign policy deadweight of the Trump administration is being lifted.

The government has just signed a 15-nation regional trade deal that includes China, providing a potential avenue for improved relations. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is aimed at further liberalising trade in the Asia-Pacific.

Australia’s economic well-being demands a reset.

In its clumsy fashion, Beijing has sought to ease frictions. In an editorial foreshadowing a Biden victory, the Global Times, China’s nationalist mouthpiece, made an interesting reference to Australia

When the US-China relationship is about to see some changes there may be also a window for adjustment to the bilateral relationship between China and Australia. Australia is likely to be under less political pressure from the USA on key issues with China, and whether the Morrison government will continue to play tough with China will largely steer Australia’s economic prospects.

On the face of it, this represents a possible break in the clouds. It will reflect views at senior Chinese government level.

Former Australian ambassador to Beijing Geoff Raby had a point when he told the National Press Club that the China debate in Australia had been reduced to a binary argument between “sycophancy and hostility”. This stifles reasonable discussion of something in between. Raby said:

The main thing with diplomacy is not how loudly you speak but the outcomes you get.

He also made the sensible point that, for all the talk of alternative markets at a moment when China is restricting Australian exports, China will remain, for the foreseeable future, the world’s fastest-growing economy and dominant destination for Australian products.

Soaring iron ore prices in the first half of this year, as China sought to re-inflate an economy hit hard by the coronavirus, mask a slippage in Australian business with China more generally.

China’s economy is already springing back harder and faster from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic than its competitors.




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What would a Biden presidency mean for Australia?


The International Monetary Fund predicts China’s economy will grow by 8.2% in 2021 and account for about a quarter of global growth.

These are the realities that are sometimes pushed aside by threat obsession within the Canberra political establishment.

Morrison could do worse than review an Asialink speech he made soon after he was elected prime minister to remind himself of principles he laid down then for dealing with China, and which appear to have been honoured in the breach since.

Then he decried a “binary prism” through which conflict between the US and China was seen as inevitable. He also rejected what he called the “fatalism of increased polarisation”.

“Australia should not sit back and passively wait our fate in the wake of a major power contest,” he said, while extolling the virtues of “regional agency” in which Canberra sought to work more closely with its like-minded neighbours.

This was all sensible stuff.

However, Australia’s alignment with Trump’s chaotic “America First” foreign policy has overwhelmed talk of a Morrison doctrine that emphasises regional connections. In the process, global alliances have been trashed.

This in turn has tested Canberra’s ability to apply basic principles of statecraft by maximising its strengths and minimising its weaknesses in an era in which power balances are shifting.

In all of this, the national media have played a role in amplifying the views of those who would have you believe the country is under constant existential threat. Voices calling for a more measured approach to dealing with China have been drowned out.

A low point was reached this month when a government senator in a Senate committee demanded Chinese-Australians giving evidence about difficulties in a hostile environment were asked to denounce the Chinese Communist Party. This implied a “loyalty test”.

Clunky Australian interventions on critical issues such as Huawei and investigations into the origins of the novel coronavirus have facilitated China’s strategy of portraying Canberra as Washington’s handmaiden for its own self-serving reasons.

Australia’s conspicuous and injudicious lobbying of its Five Eyes partners to exclude Huawei from a buildout of their 5G networks caused more trouble than it was worth.

Morrison’s heavy-handed intervention – after a phone call with Trump – in presuming to appoint himself co-ordinator of a global investigation into the origins of COVID-19 added further to Chinese disquiet.

An inquiry under World Health Organisation auspices was going to take place anyway. Why Morrison took it upon himself to take the lead in instigating an inquiry at a particularly sensitive moment for China remains a mystery.

Joe Biden’s election offers Australia a chance to reshape its relationship with China.
Carolyn Kaster/AP/AAP

In their efforts to get a handle on the form Biden foreign policy might take, Morrison and his advisers could do worse than review the president-elect’s contribution to the journal Foreign Affairs in which he laid out his blueprint for American global leadership.

This is a comprehensive description of how Biden’s foreign policy might evolve in a world that has changed significantly since he served as vice president in the Obama White House. It also demonstrates that Biden would not be outflanked on China policy by his opponent.

His proposal for a global Summit for Democracy to “renew the spirit and shared purposed of the nations of the free world” would be a welcome initiative.

Biden’s reference to how to meet the China challenge is worth noting.

The most effective way to meet that challenge is to build a united front of US allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviors and human rights violations, even as we seek to co-operate on issues where our interests converge, such as climate change.

This is the Biden carrot-and-stick formula. Too often in the recent past, the Morrison government has found itself aligned, whether it likes it or not, with the wrong end of the American stick.




Read more:
Hopes of an improvement in Australia-China relations dashed as Beijing ups the ante


Note: this article was updated on November 16 to take in the trade deal announcement.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Hopes of an improvement in Australia-China relations dashed as Beijing ups the ante


Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Speculation China may be seeking to lower the temperature in its fractious dealings with Australia appears to be premature.

This follows confirmation that Chinese customers have been advised to defer orders of Australian thermal and metallurgical coal.

On top of this, Australian cotton exporters have been advised exports will be cut next year, a blow to a business worth about $2 billion annually.

Australian mining giant BHP has received “deferment requests” for its coal shipments, according to the company’s chairman, Ken MacKenzie.

On the face of it, this is the most damaging trade reprisal by Beijing against what it perceives to be Australia’s hostile attitudes to it in tandem with its security partner, the United States.

It seems more than coincidental that just days after Australia took part in a meeting in Tokyo of the Quad (previously known as the Quadrilateral Strategic Dialogue and involving Japan, Australia, India and the US), China took such action.

To put this in perspective, China has targeted Australia’s third-largest export commodity to the Chinese market behind natural gas and iron ore.




Read more:
It’s hard to tell why China is targeting Australian wine. There are two possibilities


In 2018-19, Australia’s exports to China of thermal coal for power stations and metallurgical coal for steel-making reached A$14.1 billion.

In the latest move in the Australia-China stoush, Chinese customers have been advised to defer orders of Australian thermal and metallurgical coal.
Dan Peled/AAP

The Quad session left no doubt about its purpose. It was squarely aimed at furthering a China containment strategy, and perhaps outlining an Asian NATO.

“Asian NATO” is the description Chinese propagandists apply to the Quad.

Australia finds itself in a grouping that includes a hawkish US Trump administration, a Japan that is understandably anxious about tensions in its own region, and an India that recently found itself in armed conflict with China on its Himalayan border.

In all of this big-power manoeuvring, Australia is the minnow. So it is more vulnerable to Chinese reprisals, trade and otherwise.

In a statement following the Quad, Foreign Minister Marise Payne avoided specific mention of China, but her message was clear. Australia was not hesitating to align itself with its Quad partners in confronting China. The statement said:

Ministers reiterated that states cannot assert maritime claims that are inconsistent with international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

This was aimed at China’s refusal to accept a mediation ruling under UNCLOS that contradicts its territorial claims in the South China Sea.




Read more:
China-Australia relations hit new low in spat over handling of coronavirus


However, even if Australia wanted to detach itself from a hard-edged American position on China, it would be difficult given the sort of rhetoric emanating from Washington.

For example, in a statement issued by US Secretary Mike Pompeo after his meeting with Payne, he said they had discussed “China’s malign activity in the region”.

Australia’s circumspect foreign minister would not have said this publicly.

The Pompeo remarks play into a Chinese narrative that Canberra is Washington’s appendage. In the conduct of its regional diplomacy in close co-ordination with the US, Australia tends not to challenge this narrative.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne meets US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the ‘Quad’ talks in Tokyo.
Nicolas Datiche/EPA/AAP

In an interview with Nikkei Asia, Pompeo said the Quad would enable participants to “build out a true security framework”. This will not have gone unnoticed in Beijing.

Nor would his description of the Quad as a “fabric” that could “counter the challenge that the Chinese Communist Party presents to all of us”.

Payne would not have gone this far.

In the wake of the Quad meeting, China’s strident mouthpiece, the Global Times, accused Canberra of using the gathering to “promote its own global status”. It asked:

[…] how much strength does Australia own with its limited economy and population? Moreover, if Canberra is bent on infuriating China, Australia will only face dire consequences.

This sort of bombast can be dismissed as simply another case of Beijing letting off steam at the expense of a country that is more vulnerable to Chinese pressures than other Quad members.

On the other hand, Australia’s vulnerability to trade penalties invites the question. What will come next? Will it be Australian wine exports to China worth more than A$1 billion a year, or will gas be the next target?

China has been picking off Australian exports over the past year as relations have soured.

It has slapped tariffs on barley, making the Australian commodity uncompetitive in the Chinese market. It has used non-tariff measures to stifle beef imports from five abattoirs. It has told Chinese students to look elsewhere for education opportunities. It has also discouraged Chinese tourists from visiting Australia.

The latter is moot, since the COVID-19 pandemic means inbound tourism has been stopped.

However, a series of trade reprisals should be deeply concerning for the Australian government as it wrestles with an economy hit hard by recession.

The last thing Australia needs in this environment is for its trading relationship with China to fall off a cliff.

The trade numbers underscore Australia’s unhealthy dependence on China.

In 2018-19, more than one-third, or A$134.7 billion worth, of Australia’s total merchandise exports went to China. On top of that Australia’s services business with China, mainly education, totalled A$18.5 billion.

In the first six months of this year, Australia’s exports to China neared 50% of total exports, mainly due to increased iron ore prices.

This level of business may be advantageous to Australia from a short-term perspective, but in the longer term such heavy reliance on a single market is highly undesirable.

It gives China the option of penalising Australia if Canberra’s policies do not correspond with Beijing’s wishes.

This is precisely what is happening now.

In the circumstances, it is hard to reach any other conclusion than that Beijing is targeting Australia as a means of conveying its displeasure that a regional united front appears to be forming to contain China’s ambitions.

In this context it is worth noting that despite a sometimes acrimonious “trade war” between the US and China, Beijing has, for the most part, refrained from penalising American business.

Of course, China exports far more to the US than it imports.

In the lead-up to the US election on November 3, Australia should be hoping for a Biden victory on the grounds that a more normal diplomatic environment will enable a reset of our relations with Beijing.

The alternative is further nasty surprises weighing on a critical trading relationship.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why the Australia-China relationship is unravelling faster than we could have imagined



Lukas Coch/AAP

James Laurenceson, University of Technology Sydney

The Australia-China relationship is unravelling at a pace that could not have been contemplated just six months ago.

In recent days, the ABC’s Bill Birtles and the Australian Financial Review’s Mike Smith were forced to flee China following intimidation by security agencies and the imposition of an exit ban, later lifted following negotiations led by Australian diplomats.

Chinese media outlets then alleged that Australia’s security agencies raided the properties of several Chinese journalists in June in connection with a foreign interference investigation involving NSW MP Shaoquett Moselmane.

With no sign of the political tensions between Australia and China easing, the big danger in all of this is the erosion of the economic and people-to-people ties that were once the glue holding the relationship together.

If this goes, the events of recent days might only be a starting point in a broader bilateral decoupling that offers little prospect for the protection — let alone advancement — of Australia’s national interest.

Cause for optimism amid declining ties

Political tensions between the two countries date back to at least 2017. Apart from a brief “reset” when then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull gave an upbeat speech on China at the University of New South Wales in August 2018, the trajectory of ties at the government level has been downhill since then.

Yet, the economic relationship continued to flourish, with two-way trade growing from $183.5 billion in 2017 to $251.4 billion in 2019.




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The world has a hard time trusting China. But does it really care?


And people-to-people ties appeared to offer cause for optimism, too.

The number of Chinese students and tourists arriving in Australia showed few signs of peaking.

Vigorous cooperation was seen in other areas, such as Chinese researchers emerging as Australia’s leading partners in producing scientific and research publications.

The belief ‘black hands’ are now at work

In the background, however, there were signs of worrying developments.

Ten years ago, it wasn’t hard for foreign academics to find Chinese colleagues willing to talk openly about politically sensitive issues in a private setting, or even modestly depart from the Chinese government’s line in a public forum, such as an academic conference.

But in June, Frances Adamson, Australia’s former ambassador to China and now head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, reflected that while China has academics who have spent their lives working on and with Australia,

when I read now what they say publicly, that nuance that existed before is gone.

This unwillingness to depart from the official line stems from the heightened censorship and illiberal turn China has taken in recent years. This has been instigated by the Chinese Communist Party — and in particular, President Xi Jinping — as they have become increasingly paranoid their grip on power is under attack.

China has become increasingly illiberal and bellicose since Xi came to power.
Mark Schiefelbein/AP

A prominent Chinese government narrative now alleges “black hands” connected to “foreign forces” are at work trying to undermine the country’s leadership.

This sensitivity has been sharpened by US government rhetoric. In July, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stopped not far short of declaring a policy of regime change in China, saying

We must also engage and empower the Chinese people – a dynamic, freedom-loving people who are completely distinct from the Chinese Communist Party.

But changing the CCP’s behaviour cannot be the mission of the Chinese people alone. Free nations have to work to defend freedom.

While the Australian government has deliberately put distance between itself and the Trump administration, Beijing remains wedded to the idea Australia is a US lackey, despite significant evidence to the contrary.




Read more:
Journalists have become diplomatic pawns in China’s relations with the West, setting a worrying precedent


‘Are we actually safe here now?’

Australians appear to have already been caught up in the consequences.

Academic and blogger Yang Hengjun, a China-born Australian citizen, has been detained since January 2019, accused of “engaging in criminal activities endangering [China’s] national security”.

Yang Hengjun has denied Chinese reports he had confessed to espionage.
AP

And last month, the Chinese-Australian journalist Cheng Lei was also detained under suspicion of carrying out “criminal activities” endangering China’s national security.

This came just weeks after the Australian government changed its travel risk advisory to warn Australians might be “arbitrarily detained” in China.

These moves have had a chilling effect on the people-to-people ties that once formed the ballast of China-Australia relations.

PwC’s Asia practice leader, Andrew Parker, said some in the business community are starting to ask the question, “are we actually safe here now”?

Concerns for Chinese academics in Australia, too

But importantly, not all the developments are one-way.

The ABC has reported that two leading Chinese academics in the field of Australian studies were also caught up in the investigation into the alleged Chinese plot to infiltrate the NSW parliament, resulting in their visas being revoked.

One of the academics, Chen Hong, the director of the Australian Studies Centre at East China Normal University, rejected the allegations.




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Behind China’s newly aggressive diplomacy: ‘wolf warriors’ ready to fight back


There were signs before the dramatic developments of this week that some Chinese journalists and academics were becoming wary of engaging with foreigners due to rhetoric directed at China, as well as policy actions taken by Australia.

In one of his last stories for the AFR before leaving China, Smith reported that Chinese academics had told him they were cutting off communications out of

fear they will be accused of being Communist Party infiltrators.

Some Chinese observers believe national security concerns are not the only factor in what is unfolding in Australia.

Moselmane’s lawyers are seeking an investigation into whether the media were tipped off before the Australian Federal Police raid on his home in June.

This possibility raises questions about whether the source of the alleged leak saw an opportunity for domestic political gain or to push another barrow, such as adding to Australia-China tensions.

At the same time, academics at Australian universities, many of whom were born in China, have been put under the spotlight in News Corp outlets for allegedly having links to the Chinese government. The fact that none of these academics have to date been identified by Australian law enforcement agencies as having done anything wrong appears to count for little.

It’s becoming clear the fears of being caught up as “pawns in a diplomatic tussle” (as Birtles described it) are real now for journalists, academics and business people — those who used to believe they could continue to work in both countries, without significant concerns about political disputes.The Conversation

James Laurenceson, Director and Professor, Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI), University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia has dug itself into a hole in its relationship with China. It’s time to find a way out



Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

In diplomacy, as in life, if you find yourself in a hole it is better to stop digging.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has excavated a diplomatic cavity for himself and his country as a consequence of an unwise intervention in the debate about China’s responsibility for a coronavirus pandemic.

After a phone call with US President Donald Trump on April 22, during which the two leaders discussed China’s responsibility for the contagion, Morrison took it upon himself to push forward with an Australian coordinating role for an independent international inquiry into the origins of the pandemic.

Morrison wrote to world leaders offering Australia as a coordinator for an investigation of how the contagion came about. This would include examining the role of the China-sympathetic World Health Organisation in managing its spread.

Why Morrison decided to pursue such an intervention immediately after a call to the White House remains a mystery. In the annals of Australian diplomacy, this may well go down as one of the more questionable forays into international diplomacy.

One would have to go back to Robert Menzies’s vainglorious efforts on behalf of Australia’s imperial masters to mediate the Suez Crisis in 1956 to find an apt parallel.

Tracing the source

More than half a century later, another Australian prime minister has fumbled his way into a contentious international dispute. The issue is to what extent China should be held responsible for its mismanagement of the early stages of the pandemic.

This is an open question, which an independent international panel should investigate. China should not be let off the hook.

But the question remains: what possessed Morrison to project Australia into a lead role in holding China to account? Why did he find it necessary to leave an impression that Canberra was doing Washington’s bidding in doing so?

When Menzies made his inept foray into the Suez crisis, Australia had virtually nothing to lose commercially by intervening beyond concerns about a canal lifeline between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.

But Canberra has much at stake in this latest diplomatic imbroglio. Unwisely, it has enabled Beijing go after an American ally vulnerable to economic blackmail due to Australia’s dependence on China trade.

All this calls into question the quality of Morrison’s China advice. In Canberra, it is an open secret that the moderating influences of the Department of Foreign and Trade have been sidelined.

Ragged China policymaking has enabled a ragtag group of anti-China government backbenchers, led by Liberal Andrew Hastie, a former SAS commander, to run riot. It was Hastie who, implicitly, likened China to Nazi Germany.

Lack of authority in the China-policy space is attributable partly to an unsteady approach by Morrison, and partly to a void in which the authority of Foreign Minister Marise Payne is barely visible.

No reasonable observer pretends that dealing with a surging and ruthless power in our region is anything but complex. This complexity requires a level of subtlety and firmness that has been absent from Australian policy-making towards China since the Malcolm Turnbull era.

In his legitimate championing of foreign interference legislation, Turnbull found himself in thrall to a hyperactive national security establishment and its hawkish anti-China posture.

As a consequence, he overreached in his declaration on three separate occasions Australia would “stand up” against foreign interference. This was a barely disguised – and highly provocative – reference to China.

No Australian prime minister has visited China since 2016.

In one of the more significant interventions in a vexed China debate, the influence of a security establishment was called out at the weekend by Dennis Richardson, a former director of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and head of both the Defence Department and DFAT, as well as a former ambassador to Washington.

Giving voice to widespread concerns about the pervasive influence of such an establishment inside and outside the bureaucracy, Richardson said:

If you’re going to shut the gate in respect of China, well, that’s fine provided we are prepared to accept that puts at risk more than $100 billion of exports that will impact on living standards of Australians. This is the problem when you try to wrap the totality of government under the umbrella of national security.

Trade as political weapon

Australia depends on China for one-third of its merchandise and services exports.

In the wake of Morrison’s diplomatic intervention, it did not take long for Beijing to exact crude penalties on an Australian government that had overreached.

China’s anti-dumping action against barley exporters has put in jeopardy trade worth about A$600 million a year. Its resort to technicalities to exclude meat shipments from four abattoirs has unnerved an entire industry.




Read more:
China might well refuse to take our barley, and there would be little we could do


Agricultural exporters are bracing themselves for further action. Australia’s lucrative dairy trade is vulnerable. Wine shipments are at risk. Wool sales might also be jeopardised.

China will have a long list of potential targets.

This includes thermal coal shipments. These were subjected last year to delays in coal carriers offloading cargo in the northern port of Dalian. Thermal coal from Indonesia and Russia was given preference.

At the time, it was assumed China was inflicting pain on the thermal coal industry in retaliation for Australia’s lobbying of its Five Eyes partners to exclude the Chinese telecommunications giant, Huawei, from a build-out of their 5G networks.

It is hard to exaggerate Beijing’s irritation over the Huawei intervention.

So what should the Morrison government do here that would be constructive diplomacy?

First, government officials need to get beyond a mindset that simplistically references Chinese bullying, as if this is a sufficient response to threats to Australia’s economic well-being.

The pressing question remains: how does Australia deal with a regional behemoth that seeks to bend a global rules-based order in its favour?

This is the reality we have to live with.

Morrison could do worse in the present situation than reset a clear policy towards China that defines Australia’s own interests in its own region.

He should restate words he used in an Asialink speech early in his tenure. He said:

[…] the government is fully aware of the complexity that is involved in our region and the challenges we face in the future […] And we are careful as a government to ensure that we don’t seek to make them any more complex than they need to be.

Morrison should have listened to his own advice.

He might consider writing personally to China’s President Xi Jinping along these lines. He needs to ignore those in his immediate circle and on a cacophonous backbench who would argue relations with China are a zero-sum game.

They are not. There needs to be give and take. This is not yielding to Chinese bullying. This is common sense.

Common sense should put a dampener on a belief that, at the wave of a wand, “supply chains” linking Australia and China can be remodelled. This sort of naïve view loses sight of the fact that, for as long as it is possible to foresee, bulk commodities will form the staple of the trading relationship.

Given this, Morrison would be advised to cease acting like a global traffic cop in efforts to hold China to account for the coronavirus pandemic.

What Australia should be doing – and should have done in the first place – is support international efforts to bring about an inquiry. It will have early opportunity next week when the World Health Assembly considers a European Commission resolution along those lines.

Morrison needs to pay less attention to a China-obsessed national security establishment and give more credence to advisers who actually know something about China. Most importantly, he should stop digging.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia’s links with China must change, but decoupling is not an option


Hans Hendrischke, University of Sydney

Two events this week have illustrated two fundamental tensions in Australia’s relationship with China.

The first event was China’s ambassador to Australia suggesting a Chinese boycott of Australian exports, due to Australia pursuing an independent inquiry into the early response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

In an interview on April 27, ambassador Cheng Jingye said Chinese tourists and students might have second thoughts about a country “not so friendly, even hostile”.

“And also,” Cheng added, “maybe the ordinary people will think why they should drink Australian wine or eat Australian beef.”




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China-Australia relations hit new low in spat over handling of coronavirus


The second event was the “blindsiding” of federal health minister Greg Hunt at press conference with mining magnate Andrew Forrest on April 29, when Forrest invited China’s consul-general for Victoria and Tasmania to speak.

The diplomatic kerfuffle wasn’t the most significant aspect. It was the point of the press conference: Forrest’s procurement through Chinese business contacts of 10 million coronavirus tests – increasing Australia’s testing capacity 20-fold.

These two events point to two fundamental realities about the economic relationship between China and Australia.

First, the two nations are deeply important to each other.

Second, this coronavirus pandemic has exposed the need to increase local manufacturing and reduce dependence on imports of critical supplies.

Australia’s recovery planning must include policies to underwrite local manufacturing capability. It means our economic relationship with China will change.

But despite the veiled threats from the Chinese government, and the desire in some parts of the Australian community for a split, a great economic decoupling is not an option.

Mutual dependence

Australia depends on exports to grow employment, tax revenue and welfare expenses.

About a quarter of all corporate tax revenue comes from mining. Most that is from exports to China, Australia’s largest trading partner by far. Coal and iron ore exports sales have been holding up well. Fortescue, in fact, expects to export more iron ore (177 million tonnes) this financial year.



There are no substitute markets of a similar scale to take up Australian exports in mineral resources, nor in agricultural produce or international education.

But China has few viable alternatives to Australia as well.




Read more:
Australia depends less on Chinese trade than some might think


Certainly not in the supply of iron ore, gas and coal.

Not for agricultural produce, where Australia has high a reputation in China.

Nor for education. There are few English-speaking countries to begin with, and the biggest market for Chinese students, the United States, is looking decidedly more hostile and unsafe.



So our dependence is mutual. Decoupling won’t happen.

Onshoring on the agenda

But nor it is an option to return to the pre-COVID-19 status quo.

The model of Australia “being willing to export commodities and import finished goods is old and broken”, declared a member of the federal government’s new National COVID-19 Coordination Commission this week.

The commission was established last month to advise the government on “actions to anticipate and mitigate the economic and social effects of the global coronavirus pandemic”.

Liveris is a Darwin-born chemical engineer who rose to become chief executive of The Dow Chemical Company (now DowDupont, the world’s biggest chemical maker. Top of the agenda he signalled this week is “onshoring”. In other words, restoring local manufacturing capability.

“Australia drank the free-trade juice and decided that offshoring was OK. Well, that era is gone,” he said. “We’ve got to now realise we’ve got to really look at onshoring key capabilities.”

A new form of globalisation

There is a clear national interest in developing our own manufacturing in critical export industries such as health, cybertechnology, renewable energy and agribusiness.

Doing so will include Australia in a global trend to reduce reliance on one continent or one country.

Some might call this deglobalisation. It is not.

Diversifying production and bringing it closer to markets and consumers is simply a new form of globalisation.

To achieve it, Australian businessess will need to invest heavily in new technology to take advantage of digital manufacturing, automation and artificial intelligence.




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A fourth industrial revolution is powering the rise of smart manufacturing


With the possible exception of some critically important services or products, only globally competitive manufacturing will be sustainable. It will need to be high-tech and innovative manufacturing. It will not mean the return of traditional manufacturing industries.

We’ll still need each other

Australia needs China to make this transition.

Advanced digital manufacturing requires substantial investment in technological capability and production facilities. China is already manufacturing and exporting advanced production equipment.

China will also be a crucial market for any exports, with many opportunities for Australian manufacturers that align with demand in the huge Chinese market. Chinese investment will help develop these export opportunities, as it has with exports like dairy.




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Vital Signs: Why can’t Australia be friends with both US and China?


So neither Australia nor China stand to gain from decoupling the two economies. Our economic co-operation will change with onshoring. But mutual dependence will not.The Conversation

Hans Hendrischke, Professor of Chinese Business and Management, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Jokowi’s visit shows the Australia-Indonesia relationship is strong, but faultlines remain



AAP/Rick Rycroft

Colin Brown, Griffith University

Indonesian President Joko Widodo – Jokowi – has shown himself to be generally less interested in international affairs than his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY). He has also been less committed to the Indonesia-Australia relationship.

Nonetheless, Australia’s invitation to Jokowi to address the parliament, and his acceptance of that invitation, suggests the bilateral relationship is strong, at least at the governmental level.

Both Morrison and Jokowi referred in their parliamentary addresses to the fact this year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and Indonesia. Morrison reflected backwards, noting Australia had been an early supporter of Indonesian independence, and had been chosen by Indonesia to represent its interests on a UN committee involved with the Indonesia-Dutch dispute then underway.

Jokowi chose to look forward, to 2050 and the 100th anniversary of the start of diplomatic relations. He identified four major steps he suggested the two countries should take together to strengthen their bilateral relationship, and to contribute to regional peace and security.

Two of these steps were fairly predictable recitations of established policy.

The first was cooperation in furthering democracy, respect for human rights, counter-terrorism and anti-radicalisation strategies. He spoke against identity politics, disputing the idea it was cultural clashes that divided the world. Implementation of these principles remains fraught with difficulties, but the parameters of the problems are well-known in Jakarta and Canberra.

Second, Jokowi argued for free and fair trade, both bilaterally and regionally, in the face of increasing protectionism. Here he welcomed the conclusion of the Indonesia Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which he described as opening opportunities for economic growth in both countries.




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It’s more than a free trade agreement. But what exactly have Australia and Indonesia signed?


But there were two other steps Jokowi wanted the two countries to take, which were perhaps different from what might have been expected.

First, he called for collaboration on protection of the environment. Some of his remarks were predictable, such as protection of forests and rivers. But he also argued for collaboration on lowering carbon emissions and handling climate change.

Jokowi did not explain what he had in mind with joint action to lower carbon emissions, or managing climate change. Indonesia is a major exporter of coal, and annual forest fires have substantially reduced forest cover. Its political and business leaders are even more divided than those in Australia on climate-related issues and how to deal with them.

What Australia and Indonesia seem to share, it might cynically be suggested, is internal disagreement over the nature of the problem being faced, and steps that might be taken to address it.

Second, Jokowi called for Australia and Indonesia to be “anchors for development programs” in the Pacific region.

Like Australia, Indonesia has recently been paying increased attention to the nations of the South Pacific. Last October, it established the Indonesian Agency for International Development, with a focus on the South Pacific. Speaking at the launch of the agency, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi noted assistance had already been provided to Tuvalu, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Fiji, as well as Myanmar and the Philippines.

Australia’s renewed interest in the South Pacific is linked to the increased Chinese presence in the region. But Indonesia’s concern is less with China than with the status of its easternmost provinces of West Papua and Papua. The movement seeking the independence of this region from Indonesia has its greatest support in the south Pacific, particularly in Vanuatu, though support has also come from Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands.




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Can Scott Morrison deliver on climate change in Tuvalu – or is his Pacific ‘step up’ doomed?


Indonesia has formally denied the establishment of the agency was aimed at countering international criticism of Indonesia’s position in Papua. But the suspicion there is a link will be hard to shake off.

Australia’s formal position on the Papuan provinces is made clear in the 2006 Lombok Treaty, which committed each party to supporting the territorial integrity of the other, and not providing support to separatist movements. There is, though, considerable support for Papuan separatism in the Australian community, reflected in the parliament particularly by the Greens. The Greens’ new leader, Adam Bandt, is reported to have told Jokowi, after his address:

Thank you for your speech, thanks for your comments on climate change, now please get something done on West Papua.

There is nothing new in the dilemma facing the Australian government on Papua, but the increased Indonesian focus on the Pacific region could well provide more opportunities for the two countries to differ than to work together effectively.

Finally, Jokowi’s speech was notable for what he did not say.

There was no mention of China’s increasingly activist foreign and defence policy position, especially in the South China Sea. However, given the issue was explicitly considered in the joint statement of the two leaders, the president may have deemed that sufficient.

The other significant omission was any mention of easing conditions for the issuing of visas to Indonesians to visit Australia. This had been widely discussed in Indonesia before the president left for Australia. Scott Morrison did commit to reviewing the visa situation, but Jokowi would be well advised not to hold his breath.The Conversation

Colin Brown, Adjunct Professor, Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Define the boundaries in new phase of Australia-China relationship: Wong


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Shadow foreign minister Penny Wong says Australia needs to “define the boundaries” of its engagement with China now the relationship between the two countries is in a new phase.

Focusing on China policy in a Monday address – released ahead of delivery – Wong acknowledges the “substantial and growing differences” in the bilateral relationship.

“It is inevitable that Australia will make more decisions that China doesn’t like. This means that the way the relationship is handled will become even more important,” she says in the speech, to the Australian Institute of International Affairs.

“Although there continues to be convergence of interests, the divergences have become more apparent and acute – due to both Beijing’s increasing assertiveness and greater awareness in Australia as to the implications of the [Chinese Communist Party’s] behaviour and ambitions. We must look at how best to engage effectively with China while always standing up for our values, our sovereignty and our democratic system.”

Wong says where limitations around engagement are needed, the “boundaries should be as restricted as possible and as robust as necessary,” with opportunities and risks identified.

Boundaries and terms of engagement would differ between issues and between sectors.

Thus on research collaboration, engagement shouldn’t be ruled out across entire fields, but export controls and visa checks could be used for “a narrow set of the most sensitive defence oriented technology”.




Read more:
‘Developing’ rift points to growing divisions between Coalition and Labor on China


Wong says while the government has to provide the leadership all stakeholders, including the opposition, foreign policy community and business, “need to work together to identify those opportunities for deeper engagement where our interests coincide and to manage differences constructively”.

She puts the onus on the media “not only to hold the government of the day to account but to ensure they themselves don’t unthinkingly or inadvertently reinforce China’s tactics or narrative”, including by amplifying CCP claims.

Wong says Labor wants to engage in a bipartisan way on China policy, but the government isn’t willing to do so and Scott Morrison “has no plan for dealing with this new phase in Australia’s relations with China”.

“There’s no doubt Scott Morrison is the best political tactician in Australia right now… Is it enough to be a clever political tactician, when key relationships with our nearest neighbours are at stake? Is it enough to play short term political tactics on something so profoundly important as the integrity of our political system or the assertion of our national interests?

“Australia’s Prime Minister needs to look beyond the next manoeuvre, stop undermining his foreign minister and trade minister, and develop a serious long-term plan for Australia’s engagement in the region and the world.

“A serious and long-term plan that can proactively navigate us through the strategic competition between the US and China, and manage this new phase in our relationship with a more assertive China.”




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In a series of sharp criticisms of Morrison’s handling of the government’s policy towards China and foreign policy more generally, Wong includes as examples the PM’s claim Labor was using racism in its attack on Liberal MP Gladys Liu, his labelling of China a developed economy, and his attack on globalism.

Wong’s speech follows the blunt words on China on Friday from Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton, who said the government had a very important relationship with China, but it was going to “call out” instances where the wrong thing was done.

“We have a very important trading relationship with China, incredibly important, but we’re not going to allow university students to be unduly influenced. We’re not going to allow theft of intellectual property and we’re not going to allow our government bodies or non-government bodies to be hacked into,”he said.

Dutton stressed the issue was not with the Chinese people or the local Chinese community in Australia, but with the Chinese Communist Party.

The Chinese embassy reacted with an angry statement, saying that Dutton’s “irrational accusations” were “shocking and baseless”, and a “malicious slur on the Communist Party of China” and “outright provocation to the Chinese people”.

“Such ridiculous rhetoric severely harms the mutual trust between China and Australia and betrays the common interests of the two peoples,” the statement said.

Morrison at the weekend sought to play down the Dutton comments. “What Peter was talking about was the fact that there are differences between Australia and the People’s Republic of China. Of course there are,” he said. Australia was a liberal western democracy; China was a Communist Party state. “I would warn against any sort of over-analysis or over-reaction to those comments. Because I think they just simply reflect the fact that we’re two different countries”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Tory leadership race: it’s Jeremy Hunt (who?) vs Boris Johnson (yes, really), with the future of the UK at stake


Ben Wellings, Monash University

The United Kingdom will have another prime minister by the end of July, when members of the Conservative party choose between Jeremy Hunt (who?) and Boris Johnson (yes, really).

Aside from the morbid fascination of watching this from afar, this leadership contest matters because it will determine who will (presumably) lead the UK out of the European Union, with or without a deal.

One way or another, this will affect Australia’s future trade relationship with the UK.

Selecting a new Tory leader

Selecting a leader of the Conservative party (or Tories) used to be easy. As late as 2003, a series of potential candidates would be “sounded out” behind-the-scenes by grandees, including lords and senior MPs, to see if they wanted the honour of leading the party (and, as a happy by-product, the country).

As with all leadership positions, not everyone wanted the job. When the men in suits offered Sir Alec Douglas-Home the honour of being prime minister in 1963, he famously replied: “Please, please not me!”

They ignored him and he went on to become one of the least successful prime ministers in British history.




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But the sounding-out process was democratised in 1998 so that the party base could have a say. The process for electing a new leader of the Conservative party is that any or all members of parliament (MPs) can put their hat in the ring. If they gain enough support from fellow parliamentarians, they compete against each other in a series of votes among MPs, until there are only two contenders left standing.

At this point, the party members in the towns and shires (the so-called grassroots members) get to vote on who next becomes leader.

This innovation came at a moment in time when the Conservative membership was becoming highly unrepresentative of the country as a whole. And since the late 1990s, the number of members in the Conservative party is declining, the average age is increasing, and the membership is overwhelmingly white. This has led some people to describe the conservatives as “pale and stale”.

Johnson vs Hunt

This time round there were 10 runners. The field became “pale, male and stale” when the two female contenders, Esther McVey and Andrea Leadsom, did not gain the required number of votes to progress to the next round.

Eventually we got down to Hunt and Johnson.

Johnson, the former London mayor and foreign secretary, needs no introduction. Yet, despite a campaign mired in controversy about his personal qualities and his avoidance of most TV debates, Johnson was still in front among party members as of late June.

He may scandalise opinion outside the Conservative party, but the grassroots members still rate him. This is partly because he stands for leaving the EU without a deal on Oct. 31, 2019 – an article of faith among Brexit-supporting Conservatives.




Read more:
Why Boris Johnson would be a mistake to succeed Theresa May


In contrast, Hunt, the current foreign secretary, is more measured and presents himself as the more likely of the two candidates to secure a deal with the EU, as Johnson is not taken seriously in Brussels.

What’s working against Hunt, however, is that he voted to “Remain” in the EU in 2016, leading some to call him “Theresa May in trousers”.

Of course, Johnson and Hunt’s respective positions on Brexit matter only so much because no change of leader affects the numbers in parliament. The real question then becomes, will the new leader call – or be forced into – a general election to break the parliamentary deadlock over Brexit?




Read more:
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt will compete to become the UK’s next prime minister – but could either win an election?


What this means for Brexit

Brexit has radicalised the Tory base, which is broadly in favour of leaving with a no deal (unlike the rest of the country). A no-deal, or hard, Brexit means the UK would leave the EU without any agreements in place to soften the economic shock of leaving its largest trading partner, the EU. This is now Johnson’s stated position.

Underlying this drift towards a hard Brexit is the de-alignment of voters from the two main parties, which has scared the Conservatives.

The success of the Brexit Party and a threat from the resurgent centrist and pro-Remain Liberal Democrats makes these challenging times for party strategists. In fact, the Conservatives are only united in their dislike of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Significantly, neither leadership contender really understands the multinational United Kingdom or seemingly cares about the strain Brexit is putting on the union.

Neither candidate has an answer to the Northern Ireland “backstop” issue, for instance, which seeks to avoid the reestablishment of a political border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland in Ulster (the source of past conflict). And a hard Brexit will see increased support for independence in Scotland.




Read more:
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What’s more, the results of a recent YouGov survey of Conservative party members and their attitudes toward Brexit added more weight to the idea that Brexit is, essentially, an English nationalism movement.

So, in keeping with the permanent state of political misery induced by Brexit, any outcome of the leadership contest and the subsequent UK-EU politics will make almost everyone unhappy.

Both sides feel like they are losing. This is a result of the referendum format; in an election cycle, you at least think your side might have a chance next time.

But deep divisions over Brexit mean that the future of the Conservative party is at stake. Like turkeys voting for Christmas, if Johnson is elected leader, there may not be a next time for either the Conservative party or the United Kingdom.The Conversation

Ben Wellings, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Chinese-Australia relations may not be ‘toxic’, but they do need to keep warming up


Tony Walker, La Trobe University

When former Trade Minister Andrew Robb took to the ABC’s AM program to sound off about a “toxic” relationship between Australia and China, he exposed a rippling debate about how to manage an increasingly comlex foreign and security policy challenge.

Long gone are the days of the John Howard formula that Australia did not have to choose between its history, meaning America, and its geography, meaning China. Choices are no longer binary.

While the Robb word “toxic” may be an exaggeration, stresses in Australia-China relations are such it is clear we have entered a new and more challenging phase.

For a start, China is undergoing what is, arguably, the most testing moment of an economic transformation that began in 1978 at the third plenary of the 11th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. This is when Deng Xiaoping re-emerged to initiate one of the more remarkable economic shifts of the modern era.

Apart from a hiatus caused by the Tienanmen uprising in 1989, and an economic soft-landing in the mid-1990s, China has bounded ahead economically, and has seemed unstoppable – until now.

China’s economy and political system has encountered the sort of difficulties that were inevitable. Put simply, an investment driven – as opposed to consumer-led – model is running its course, piling up massive government and bank debt in the process.

China risks becoming caught in a “middle income trap” in which a developing country, having enacted the easier reforms, gets stuck in second gear in its effort to push ahead with its economic transformation.

You can only build so many road, bridges, fast trains, airports, ports and housing developments. Many of the latter have become “ghost cities”.

At this month’s National People’s Congress, the annual session of China’s “parliament”, Premier Li Keqiang gave what was, by Chinese standards for these sort of cheerleading events, an unusually downbeat assessment of challenges ahead.

China, Li said, faces difficulties “of a kind rarely seen in many years”.

What is undeniable is that China’s economy is faltering, its ability to create millions of new jobs annually to employ a restless population is being stretched, and its management of a continuing economic transformation has come under unusual stress. US-China trade tensions are not helping.

In counterpoint to the need for a more dynamic economic environment, its leadership, under President Xi Jinping, is asserting even tighter political controls when it should be giving freer rein to its entrepreneurial class.

This is the central contradiction of a model that has delivered what is the most extraordinary event in world economic history since the industrial revolution. But that model clearly has its limitations compared with those, say, of neighbouring Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

From an Australian perspective, a slowing and, perhaps more to the point, anxious China is not good news. While economists might argue that a slowdown and thus the need for Beijing to stimulate its economy by ramping up infrastructure projects will benefit iron ore and coal exporters, economic pressures more generally should be concerning.

A Chinese regime that feels itself under stress from within and without may prove to be more cantankerous, and unpredictable. Australian policymakers should be mindful of the consequences of China getting through this difficult stage without mishap.

Of course, forests have been felled publishing predictions China would be unable to maintain its remarkable transformation since early glimmers of an opening to the outside world appeared in 1978, two years after Mao Zedong’s death.

This brings us back to Andrew Robb’s observation about a “toxic” relationship between Beijing and Canberra. Referring to the shelving of a plan to develop a health precinct in China to match that of the Texas Medical Centre – the world’s largest medical facility – Robb said central government officials had kyboshed the arrangement due to ongoing tensions with Australia.

Australian medical professionals would have helped establish the facility. Robb said Landbridge (the company for which Robb was consulting) was

told in no uncertain terms by the seniors officials that unfortunately the relationship between Australia and China had become so toxic that this would be put in the bin.

Leaving aside Robb’s own chagrin at losing a lucrative consultancy, what is the fair judgement about the state of Australia-China relations?

And, what of Robb’s criticism of sections of the Australian security establishment, notably the Australian Strategic Policy Institute? He accused ASPI, a hothouse of China negativity, of being “a mouthpiece of the US security agencies and its defence industry”.

Given ASPI’s hawkish views on China more generally, Robb has a point.

His assessment is correct that China-Australia relations were off-track when the decision was made to scupper the Landbridge-proposed medical facility. But it is also the true that by the end of last year the relationship had been “reset”.




Read more:
Australia and China push the ‘reset’ button on an important relationship


Foreign Minister Marise Payne went to China in November for what was described as a cordial exchange. This followed a two-year freeze in relations during which no senior Australian official was welcomed in Beijing.

China had made no secret of its displeasure over speeches delivered over time by both then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and then Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in which they had criticised Beijing’s expansionist activities in the South China Sea, and, in Bishop’s case, China’s political model.

Turnbull compounded the situation when he misappropriated an expression attributed to Mao in proclaiming the People’s Republic on October 1, 1949. Australia had “stood up”, Turnbull said, when unveiling laws designed to curb foreign interference in Australian domestic affairs.




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Australia needs to reset the relationship with China and stay cool


Next day, Turnbull made things worse by repeating Mao’s words in Mandarin in his description of legislation that was clearly aimed at Chinese influence.

So what of Robb’s comments? Whatever toxicity existed between Canberra and Beijing seems to have dissipated somewhat. However, real risks remain in management of what is Australia’s most challenging relationship.

It is no good pretending otherwise. China is not a benign power. It will seek to get away with what it can. It resists abiding by a roadmap for a rules-based international order, as we understand it. It will use cyber technology ruthlessly to advance its interests by dubious means, on occasions. It will “disappear” foreign nationals of those countries which incur its displeasure. It will invest in agents of influence in the Australian system. This includes universities.

All this requires a level of vigilance on the part of the security agencies, and, possibly, a new White Paper aimed specifically at just how Australia might manage a complex relationship that is likely to become, more, not less, complicated.

Bear in mind one in three export dollarsdepends on a functioning relationship with China.

This is an unsatisfactory situation, but it is the reality.

On the other hand, no purpose is served by yielding to a Canberra security establishment whose machinations risk chilling a relationship that needs to be warmed up, not cooled down.

Former ambassador to China, Stephen Fitzgerald, proffered some good advice this week when he said in a newspaper interview that Australia needed to deepen its engagement with China rather than draw back, since, unlike the US, we are “living in a Chinese world”.

That, whether we like it or not, is the case.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

No matter who wins the next election, managing the China relationship will be tricky – and vital



File 20190211 174873 1xkcvm3.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Since the Whitlam government in 1972, the major parties have taken a similar approach to managing relations with China, albeit with a few key differences.
AAP/EPA/Roman Pilipey

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

This is part of a major series called Advancing Australia, in which leading academics examine the key issues facing Australia in the lead-up to the 2019 federal election and beyond. Read the other pieces in the series here.


China policy will not be a vote-shifting issue in the 2019 federal election. As usual, the economy and tax in particular will dominate this election.

But from a foreign policy standpoint there is no more important issue than achieving a reasonable balance between the United States, Australia’s security guardian, and China, its linchpin economic partner.

Getting the balance right and thus avoid being wedged between its security and economic interests represents what is arguably the most significant foreign policy challenge in Australian diplomatic history since Federation in 1901.

Mostly a unity ticket – but with some key differences

In 1972, the Whitlam Labor government ditched an anomalous attachment to Taiwan as China’s legitimate representative. Since then, China policy has, for the most part, been bipartisan.




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Australia and China push the ‘reset’ button on an important relationship


Little separates Labor and the Coalition in a relationship that increasingly has been driven by economic ties. But there are nuanced differences.

Senior Coalition and Labor spokespeople have recently delivered addresses in Singapore that provide a useful insight into their thinking.

In January this year, Defence Minister Christopher Pyne spoke at the Fullerton Forum convened by the International Institute of Strategic Studies. A year ago, Labor’s foreign policy spokesperson, Penny Wong, addressed the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Both Pyne and Wong cautioned against allowing tensions between the US and China to divert Australia from pursuing its own interests, even if those interests do not accord with those of its security guarantor. Pyne said:

Unquestionably, rivalry between the US and China will be a feature of our international outlook in the foreseeable future. However, it is critical that US-China relations do not come to be defined in wholly adversarial terms.

In Wong’s case, she says simply that it remains “in the interests of all South East Asian nations that the US remains strategically engaged in the region”.

Where the two sides differ by degree lies in Wong’s assessment of risks to a “rules-based” international order posed by competition between an established and rising power.

She is gloomier than Pyne about the international outlook. She told her Singapore audience:

Whether or not you agree with President Trump’s view that the international rules-based system is not working, there is no disputing the international rules-based order is under its greatest period of stress since the end of the second world war.

Pyne was more sanguine. He said:

Cold War commentary fails to see a fundamental but defining difference, namely the world’s economies are far more closely integrated and mutually dependent than they were when the West contested the Soviet bloc.

How would a Labor government change the relationship?

Where this is leading is that a Labor government would probably make a more conspicuous effort to bolster regional partnerships with the ASEAN bloc and India as a hedge against tensions between the US and China.

Labor might also seek to give itself more flexibility in positioning Australia between its strategic ally, the US, and its dominant economic partner, China. This fine-tuning would need to be carried out subtly to avoid upsetting cornerstone security arrangements that have served the country well.

Wong uses the phrase “constructive internationalism” – borrowed from Labor’s former foreign minister, Gareth Evans, who coined it a quarter century ago – to define Australia’s national interests.

In the Evans formula, the phrase describes a policy that is motivated by values in pursuit of interests. “If interests describe the reasons for action, values describe the motives for action,” Wong told her Singapore audience.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne meets Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing in November 2018.
AAP/EPA/Thomas Peter

Where both sides of Australian politics converge is on the need to engage China, but not at the expense of disregarding Beijing’s flagrant attempts to assert its sovereignty in disputed waters of the South China Sea. Pyne put it like this:

There is no gain in stifling China’s growth and prosperity … We are not interested in containing China, but we are interested in engaging and encouraging China to exercise its power in ways that increase regional trust and confidence.

The building and militarisation of artificial features in the South China Sea, for instance, has not increased regional confidence in China’s strategic intentions.

This might be regarded as an understatement.

Labor’s position on China’s overreach in the South China Sea mirrors that of the Coalition. Wong said:

Should the Australian Labor Party form government, we will certainly be advocating resolution of territorial claims and the exploitation of fishing stocks and seabed resources through negotiations between claimants rather than through unilateral action such as the militarisation of artificial islands.




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In his Fullerton lecture, Pyne raised the possibility of Australia joining “multilateral activities in the South China Sea to demonstrate they are international waters”.

In his reference to so-called FONOPs (freedom of navigating exercises), he stopped short of indicating whether Australia planned to join allies in sailing within 12 nautical miles of China’s militarised features in South China Sea waters. The Coalition has not ruled out this possibility.

What is unarguable is that, after a long period of US strategic dominance, Australia’s security environment is shifting dramatically. Neither major party can escape this reality.

Pyne made some telling points that reflect the extraordinary complexity and dimensions of a region in flux – one that fleetingly, we should remind ourselves, anticipated an American century.

That prospect disappeared in the blink of an eye as China’s spectacular economic rise, linked with an expansion of its military capabilities, shifted the regional power balance.

The challenges ahead

Pyne’s scorecard brings home the scope of the challenge facing the next government, Coalition or Labor, in getting middle-power settings right. Or, put another way, to avoid being crushed by bigger players.

The Indo-Pacific is home to eight of the ten most populous nations on earth. Half of the world’s population calls it home.

Twelve of the member states of the G20, including the three largest economies in the world, are Indo-Pacific nations. And nine of the world’s ten busiest seaports are in the Indo-Pacific, as are seven of the world’s ten largest standing armies.

In the latest Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute (SIPRI) survey of global military spending, Australia ranks 13th. This is ahead of Canada and behind Italy. Five Indo-Pacific nations spend more on defence – the US, China, India, Japan and South Korea.

China’s military expenditures are six times those of Australia’s defence allocation.

Where the Pyne and Wong speeches overlap is in their warnings of the risks of isolationism. This can be read as a rebuttal of Donald Trump’s “America First” policies. Pyne said:

We fall short of our economic potential when parties choose to withdraw behind walls and withdraw from mechanisms designed to make us stronger.

Australia envisages a region that is more closely integrated and where we all collectively reject isolationism. We must work together not apart.

Labor would endorse those sentiments. Wong makes it clear that, for the time being, she would regard the prospect of the US reverting to a more collaborative posture as remote.

No matter who forms the next government, Australian policymakers are dealing with an end of certainty in a region remaking itself. They will need to be flexible – and resourceful.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.