Turnbull changes tone on China, but for how long?

Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/26 23:08:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Ahead of his Washington visit, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told Sky News that "we do not see any hostile intent from China… We do not describe China as a threat." He said later that "we see China's rise as being overwhelmingly a positive for the region and for the world."

Turnbull's remarks contrast sharply with his previous opinions. He declared in Chinese last December that "the Australian people have stood up," indicating Australia's national sovereignty and dignity brook no infringement. His radical stance on China left a deep impression on Chinese.

Is Turnbull's China policy experiencing a U-turn in only two months? Has the Australian government finally realized that the country cannot afford worsening ties with China? Or was Turnbull acting tough against China only to divert public attention from domestic politics?

Australia became an anti-China pioneer in the last two years. The Australian government was even more active than claimants on the South China Sea issue. High-level Australian officials and media outlets have constantly hyped China's "infiltration" and spy threat.

From a Chinese perspective, Beijing and Canberra, geographically distant from each other, have no historic grudge or current territorial disputes. Australia's baffling behavior, although not particularly harmful, was repugnant.

International academia holds that Canberra needs to strike a balance between Beijing and Washington, or in other words, between economics and security, but often stumbles - restrained by its national strength and political wisdom.

Another factor is that the country's unhealthy political environment prompts its politicians to play the China card. Apparently, the above cannot be altered in the short run, and will exert long-term negative effects on Sino-Australian ties.

Beijing has exercised due composure and prestige in its Australia policy.

It's worth noting that China-friendly voices are often heard in Australia that will, to some extent, shape Canberra's diplomacy. Befriending China conforms to Australia's interests, a bare fact in the foreseeable future.

Australia is a middle power and China is a rising one. Both countries need to adapt to each other. China can learn experiences from Beijing-Canberra relations in handling ties with other middle powers. We cannot demand other countries be mature, but can only choose to enhance our capability in maneuvering and shaping peripheral diplomacy and geopolitics.

That said, Turnbull's remarks show positive signs for the Sino-Australian relationship. Canberra's complicated attitude toward Beijing will gradually take clearer shape in the long run.

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