Australian media: adjust China policy quickly, don’t wait for US

The Australian Dialogue, November 16, 2011, Original article: Biden’s win offers Morrison a chance to improve Australia’s poor relations with China, a country whose relations with China are currently in trouble. Biden’s election to the US presidency could provide Prime Minister Morrison with an opportunity to reset Australia’s relationship with China.

Australian policymakers should use Biden’s victory to reassess their current China policy, which is not in Australia’s national interest. Whether we like it or not, Canberra needs to find a way to drag its relationship with Beijing out of the mud.

Canberra does not need to wait for the United States to develop a new policy towards China in order to work towards a better balance between foreign and trade policy interests and security policy needs. Those efforts should begin now, as the Trump administration’s foreign policy burdens are being lifted. The government’s recent signing of the 15-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP), which includes China, offers a potential way to improve Australia-China relations, and aims to further liberalise trade in the Asia-Pacific. Australia’s economic well-being is also dependent on the resumption of relations with China.

Former Australian Ambassador to China Geoff Raby was right when he said that the discussion of Australia’s relationship with China has been reduced to a binary argument between “obsequiousness and hostility”. This has stifled the middle ground. He sensibly pointed out that despite all the talk of alternative markets at a time when China is restricting Australian imports, China will remain the world’s fastest-growing economy and a major destination for Australian products for the foreseeable future.

The Chinese economy has recovered from the epidemic faster and stronger than its competitors. The International Monetary Fund predicts China’s economy will grow by 8.2 per cent next year, accounting for about a quarter of global growth These are all realities, but sometimes they are cast aside by Canberra politicians who see only “threats” in their eyes.

Morrison’s emphasis on the importance of regional ties, but his alignment with Trump’s confused “America First” foreign policy, has led to such rhetoric becoming rhetoric. In the midst of this, Australia’s domestic media are also fuelling the narrative, amplifying the views of those who would have you believe the country is under existential threat. Voices calling for a more cautious approach to dealing with China have been drowned out.

Australia’s clumsy interventions on key issues such as Huawei and the investigation into the origins of the new coronavirus have prompted China to portray Canberra as Washington’s handmaiden. Australia’s conspicuous and impolite lobbying of its “Five Eyes Alliance” partners in an attempt to exclude Huawei from building its 5G network. This has caused Australia more trouble than it’s worth. Morrison (after his call with Trump) added to the Chinese discontent by presenting himself as the global investigation coordinator for New Crown Origins.

Morrison and his advisers would do well to recall the would-be president’s article in Foreign Affairs magazine as they try to grasp what form Biden’s (future) foreign policy might take. He suggested a global democracy conference to “reaffirm the spirit and common goals of the nations of the free world.” It was a carrot and stick scenario. And too often in recent times, the Morrison administration has found itself, like it or not, aligning itself with the wrong end of the American stick.