China-Australia relations remain strong despite headwinds, less certainties in world order

Source:Xinhua Published: 2016/12/10 12:37:20

Bernard Wright has a farm of 810 hectares 140 km north of Canberra. It was when he talked with great enthusiasm about how the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) helped him sell more of his Merino wool to China that you realize the foundation of bilateral relations is solid and the future bright.

The ChAFTA went into effect on Dec. 20, 2015, immediately bringing down tariff for Australian beef, wine, fruits and other products to enter the Chinese market more easily.

For Wright, he has 2,200 sheep for wool at this farm. Of the 10,000 to 12,000 kg of wool produced every year, 75 percent will go to China. For the 200 beef cattle at the farm, he got better price as a result of ChAFTA.

In an interview with Xinhua earlier this week, he said ChAFTA eliminated the quota for Australian wool to be exported to China. The volume of wool production in his farm increased more than 50 percent compared to that of a year ago.

Wright has used the increased revenue from more wool and beef sales to build new yard and shed, and give better health treatment to the cattle. With new machinery and more fertiliser, he is ambitious to have an even better year ahead.

His son is more ambitious to begin planting grape vines in the farm, aiming to export wine in a few years to the Chinese market.

However, stories such as Wright's failed to get attention from the Australian media. China-Australia relationship was a different story if you just follow the Australian media report. As former foreign affairs minister Bob Carr put it, Australia went through an "anti-China panic" and anti-China "hysteria" in 2016.

In September, Labor Senator Sam Dastyari, publicly at odds with the Australian government's policy on the South China Sea, was reported to ask a company run by a Chinese Australian to pay his travel expense. He was forced to resign his frontbench position.

Then there were groundless speculations and allegations that all Chinese-language newspapers in Australia are connected to the Chinese government. Some papers went even beyond absurdity to accuse Chinese visitors to Australia, with the total number of which exceeding 1.1 million in 2016, of espionaging.

Chinese investments have encountered more hostilities in Australia as Treasurer Scott Morrison twice vetoed Chinese bids to buy Australian assets on national security grounds. The first case was China's State Grid's bid for Ausgrid, New South Wales' main power distributor. The other one was the offer by Chinese company Pengxin to buy S. Kidman & Co, Australia's largest pastoral land holding.

In an article published earlier this year on the Australian newspaper, Carr warned his countrymen not to see China "through US eyes."

"Our interests aren't always the same as a great power's," Carr quoted former Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Secretary, now Department of Defense Secretary Dennis Richardson as saying.

If Carr was a maverick in the middle of 2016 in Australia's foreign policy, more people sharing his views came out to speak their minds by the end of the year thanks to the election of Donald Trump in the United States.

After Trump broke a nearly 40-year norm of US diplomacy by speaking directly with Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen, more Australian diplomats and strategists called for more independent foreign policy by Australia at a time of uncertainty which will certainly become a reality as Trump formally takes office in January 2017.

While some analysts complained that Trump failed to consult any of the regional allies, Australia being one of them, before taking the call from Tsai, some bluntly pointed out the reality that a Trump presidency means the United States has returned to great power politics.

"Now we have to make a real decision about how we manage our foreign and security policies. Are we still going to be locked at the hop with the US?" asked Geoff Raby, former Australian ambassador to China, in an article published on the Australian Financial Review.

It is a fact beyond doubt that how the United States chooses to deal with China has hugh implications for Australia.

The festive season is about to come in Australia and a month later in China. It is almost certain that more Chinese tourists would visit Australia during the Spring Festival season at the end of January and more Tasmanian cherries would be sold to China.

These would serve as a good reminder for Australian policy makers of where the foundation of China-Australia relationship is and to which direction it should be heading toward.

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