With the robust growth of China-Australia trade and China’s rising influence in the world arena, Australia’s dilemma of how to balance relations with its longtime ally the United States and its important economic partner China has become increasingly acute.
In a recent article published in the Australian Financial Review newspaper, former Australian ambassador to China Geoff Raby criticised Australia’s current foreign policy toward China and called for Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to be replaced, claiming that Canberra’s relations with Beijing would not improve until she was removed.
Bishop defended herself by saying Raby was out of touch with the current state of the relationship, which she described as “good and strong”.
As if to prove the truth of her words, Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo was due to arrive in Shanghai yesterday on a trip which he said is intended to reinforce ties with his country’s largest trading partner.
Yet the fact that some former high-ranking Australian officials, including Raby and former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, have expressed concerns and worries on the current undesirable status of China-Australia ties does point to the fact that the broader picture of bilateral relations is not as rosy as Bishop tried to paint. Even though she did admit that the two countries disagreed from time to time.
However, what her words ignore is the noticeable rise in Australian media’s anti-China rhetoric and the unwarranted accusations against China by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and members of his government.
Earlier this year, for instance, Turnbull wrongly cited China as a reason behind Australia’s legislative intention to ban foreign interference in its politics.
As such, it is Australia that has an outdated view of China. Raby was right when he pointed out in an article last month that Canberra is ideologically preconditioned to operate in the United States-led system.
This means it is finding it hard to adapt to the changing regional realities.
If Canberra continues to wish for the return of US leadership in the Asia-Pacific and refuses to face the reality of China-Australia ties, it will hit a stone wall.
It is to be hoped that Ciobo’s comment that he wants to ensure the relationship with China is afforded the priority it deserves means that Canberra is ready to put its bias behind it.