Australia needs to rethink its identity to cultivate appropriate ties with China

By Hu Weijia Source:Global Times Published: 2018/5/20 22:23:39

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is reportedly scheduled to travel to China later this year, following a visit last week by Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo, who was the first Australian minister to visit China in eight months.

Ciobo's visit was a strong signal of a thawing relationship between China and Australia. Since the Turnbull administration flagged plans to implement new national security laws last year, bilateral ties have been significantly worsened by Canberra's anti-China rhetoric, crippling the future of Australian companies doing business in China. The frequent visits by Australian leaders to China are welcome, showing Canberra's intention to rethink its China policy.

For Canberra, its relationship with the US has long been an important consideration in Sino-Australia ties. For instance, the Department of Defence in Australia confirmed in February that it no longer uses any phones from Chinese company Huawei and is retiring mobiles from China's ZTE, according to Business Insider, after the US warned of possible security concerns. The mainstream ideology in the US has exerted a subtle influence on Canberra's political ecosystem.

As China-US trade tensions eased, Washington's attitudes toward China put Australia in an awkward situation. On May 13, US President Donald Trump tweeted that he had urged the US Commerce Department to give ZTE "a way to get back into business, fast."

The 180-degree turn by Trump would make Canberra look stupid if it continued its unfriendly attitude toward the Chinese telecom giant.

Washington has agreed to abandon any trade war with China and back off from imposing tariffs on Chinese imports in return for better economic relationships with China.

Should Canberra hold onto the old idea of the "China threat" theory hyped by US scholars and media? US companies will soon benefit from Washington's move, but Australian companies will remain victims of the "China threat" theory. It's time for Australia to rethink its China policy.

Australia needs to substantially improve its relations with China and ease investment restrictions on Chinese companies. Canberra must pursue an independent policy toward China. The key issue is Australia's self-positioning. On the one hand, Australia identities itself as an Asia-Pacific country because Asia is the fastest-growing economic region, so involving itself in Asia's industrial chain will bring tangible benefits to Australia's economy. If Australia wants to follow that strategy, it has to carefully deal with its relations with China to enhance bilateral ties.

On the other hand, Australia is used to seeing itself as a member of the Western camp, acting as a US ally over political issues. But politics is bound to affect economic ties and economic problems between the two countries are essentially a political issue. Rethinking its identity will help Australia adopt an appropriate policy to deal with Chinese issues.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.


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