Australia-China Diplomatic Reset
People's Daily Overseas Edition (人民日报海外版)
01 November 2019

The following is a translation of an article published by the state-owned People’s Daily Overseas Edition (人民日报海外版) on the diplomatic reset between Australia and the PRC.

How can Australia mend relations with China?

Jia Pingfan

Since October, Australia has frequently shown its goodwill toward China and there have been clear signs of warming in the relationship. The Australian-Chinese Relations Institute (ACRI) of the University of Technology, Sydney, released a new research report on Australia-China relations on October 29th. The report points out that some Australian scholars and policy makers should view China’s rise more calmly and rationally, and make objective judgements based on facts and evidence.

Since last year, anti-China rhetoric such as the “China Infiltration Theory” and “China Threat Theory” have spread throughout Australian political circles and some media, casting a shadow over the healthy development of China-Australia relations. Calls for changes in Australia’s China policy are now becoming louder. What course will China-Australia relations follow?

Sending friendly signals

“Ni Hao!” (Hello there!) Australian Prime Minister Morrison used Chinese in his opening remarks.

This took place at the beginning of October. According to an Australian “Sing Tao Daily” report, Morrison visited the Hurstville high street in the South Sydney Chinese community in early October and delivered a speech affirming the contribution of Chinese-Australians and the importance of China-Australia relations.

The report said that this is the first comprehensive statement on China made by Morrison since he took office. Morrison said, “China is very important to Australia. We are committed to developing long-term and constructive partnerships with China based on our shared values and mutual respect.”

Former Australian diplomat and commentator John Maynard praised Morrison for providing a basis for “a vibrant and mutually beneficial relationship between the two governments and people.”

The Australian newspaper reported Australian opposition Labor Party leader Bill Shorten saying in a speech at the Lowy Institute think tank, that if the Labor Party wins power, it will not follow the US in viewing China as a strategic threat. Instead, a more independent foreign policy will be adopted to balance US-China relations. Australia’s election next year is just around the corner and in the latest polls the Labor Party has received 54% support compared to 46% for the ruling coalition, the article said.

“China-Australia relations are clearly warming up. The Australian government has officially stopped publishing some criticisms of China and has expressed understanding and support for a series of China’s international strategic policies. This is an important symbol of the recovery of China-Australia relations.” Fei Cheng, Assistant Director, Oceania Research Center, Sun Yat-Sen University said that although China-Australia relations may move towards a positive recovery in the future, the relationship between the two countries may continue to have repeated twists and turns.

“Australia has sent a friendly signal of its intent to warm relations between the two countries, but as it stands it is far from reaching the level of ‘breaking the ice'”, said Guo Chunmei, an associate researcher at the South Pacific Research Office of the Institute of South and Southeast Asia and Oceania of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. In the interview, she also said that a series of Australian actions did have the intention of repairing China-Australia relations, but the short-term gestures of goodwill [from the Australian side] were more due to the pursuit of economic and trade interests.

Cooperating is better than blocking

According to the Australian Financial Review, the State of Victoria has bypassed the Australian Federal Government and has reached an agreement on China’s “Belt and Road,” becoming Australia’s first state government to officially support the initiative.

“The signing of the memorandum is a milestone in the development of Victoria’s relations with China,” said State Premier Andrews at the signing ceremony. He also said that China is Victoria’s largest trading partner and its government is committed to making the state an important “gateway” for Australia-China cooperation.

The Australian Financial Review commented that the Victorian move was a landmark event, indicating that local governments should go their own ways in seeking closer economic relations with China. The newspaper quoted Andrews as saying, “China has more than tripled its investment in Victoria and our exports to China have almost doubled in the past four years. We have said that we will restart relations with China. We are completing this task.”

Recently, The Australian published an article entitled “Working wisely with China will trump any veto”, saying that China is Australia’s largest trading partner and cooperation with China serves Australian national interests better than shutting it out.

“At a time when the contest between China and the US is intensifying, Australia cannot do without the security guarantee of the US, and it also needs China’s huge market,” Fei Cheng said. Further he said that “although the United States is a military ally of Australia, it has always openly opposed US trade protectionism, supported trade liberalisation, maintained multilateral trade mechanisms, and pursued common interests with China.”

The Lowy Institute published an annual poll on Australian attitudes towards other countries on June 20, 2018. According to the survey, 82% of Australians believe that China is more an economic partner than a military threat.

“China is not an enemy on the road of Australia’s development. On the contrary, our belief in China-Australia relations is in line with the principles adhered to at the beginning of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Australia in 1972,” said James Laurenceson of the Australian-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney. “China’s rise has provided Australia with unparalleled opportunities for development. At present, with China’s gradual transition to a high-income country, there is no brighter prospect for Australia’s overall economic development than this trend. This requires Australia to view China’s rise on the basis of facts and evidence,” he said.

The problem of understanding must first be solved

According to the Australian Financial Review, Morrison recently launched a “charm offensive” towards China to improve Australia-China relations. But the problem is that any goodwill that Australia shows towards China will be “upstaged” by sudden changes in US-China relations. Australia is caught between China and the US and is finding it difficult to manoeuvre.

According to Russia’s Sputnik satellite news agency, Australia recently excluded Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE from the construction of its 5G network on the grounds of national security, triggering Chinese protests. However, experts believe that national security is only an excuse. The real reason is commercial competition between the United States and China in the 5G market. Australia is just choosing sides in this competition.

“There are structural problems in China-Australia relations. The deeper reason is the mismatch between Australia’s security policy and economic policy,” Guo Chunmei said. “Australia still depends and relies on the US and the West for its security. Its sensitive security concerns are determined by its special geopolitical situation. On the other hand, with the development of China-Australia relations in recent years, Australia is economically very dependent on China,” she said. For Australia, there is a mismatch between the foreign policies for its political security and its economic policy, which in turn is triggering different voices in the country. Is the former or the latter more important? How can the two be balanced? Australia must make a choice.

In fact, State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi clearly pointed out the prerequisites for the improvement of China-Australia relations in the future as early as May 21 when then-Foreign Minister Bishop was at a meeting of the G20 Foreign Ministers. He said, “If the Australian side really wants this relationship to get back on the right track and achieve healthy and sustainable development, we must get rid of traditional thinking, take off our coloured glasses, look at China’s development from a more positive perspective, and provide more impetus for cooperation rather than ‘pulling back’.”

“Although there are major differences in history, culture and values, the economies of China and Australia are highly complementary. Seeking common ground while accepting differences, pursuing mutual benefits and mutual respect are directions for the future development of the relationship,” Guo Chunmei said.


Translation by: Chris R. Lanzit, NAATI Certified Professional Translator (Chinese-English), NAATI Practitioner ID: CPN0BC84W

Date of translation: 6 November 2018

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