Tensions run high, but all-out China-Aussie confrontation low

Source: Global Times Published: 2020/7/8 21:28:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Editor's Note:

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs updated its citizen travel advice for China on Tuesday, claiming they could face "arbitrary detention" if they live in and travel to China, recommending those wishing to return home to "do so as soon as possible." This signals an upgrade of ongoing tensions between the two countries. Will bilateral ties continue to worsen? Under what circumstances might bilateral relations be relaxed? Two Chinese experts shared their views over these issues with the Global Times.

Xu Shanpin, adjunct researcher at the Center for Australia Studies, China University of Mining and Technology

Economic ties between China and Australia, including bilateral collaboration in education and tourism, depend on their political relations, which are, for the moment, going through a downward spiral in a tit-for-tat manner. Canberra, which used to stick to its balanced diplomacy, is now rushing to pick Washington's side in the major power game between China and the US. 

Australia's diplomatic strategy is now controlled by heavyweight Australian departments, including the country's department of defense and the Australian Security Intelligence Organization. In the worst-case scenario, sweeping anti-Chinese stances can be spread to the entire Australian government and society. 

Breakthroughs in China-Australia ties will hardly occur in the short-to-medium term. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's administration is not in a hurry to improve ties with China as he consolidates his political status. On the other hand, Beijing will not unilaterally show its goodwill to Canberra after the latter stirred up the trouble first. 

If the bilateral relationship is to take a turn for the better, it may come about after the next US president is elected. In terms of prerequisites, high-level China-Australia strategic dialogues will be needed in an attempt to redefine their ties and map out future plans. 

The US has been influencing China-Australia relations with utter negativity. Yet at this time, the deterioration of bilateral ties has mainly been caused by changes in Australia's domestic political atmosphere. In other words, it is caused by Australia's extreme anxiety, which is triggered by drastic changes in the country's regional environment. 

Even if a Democratic US president assumes office later this year, and even if Australia will face less pressure from the US when it comes to its China policy, Australia's concerns over China's rise will not vanish. China should be prepared in case the bilateral relationship never returns to the past - China should make plans for the worst-case scenario. 

If Australia provokes China further, China will fight it to the end to defend its core interests. These include issues regarding the South China Sea, Hong Kong and international investigations into the origins of the novel coronavirus. Meanwhile, some Australian sectors such as education, mining and agriculture all desire improved ties with China. That being said, the possibility of a comprehensive confrontation is low. 

Su Hao, founding director of the Center for Strategic and Peace Studies at the China Foreign Affairs University

Australia's warning of the "arbitrary detention" by Chinese authorities goes against facts. China has never arbitrarily detained any foreigners. 

This warning is issued as a response to the recently enacted national security law for Hong Kong. As Washington's intimate ally, Canberra has to take actions that are consistent with those of Washington. The so-called arbitrary detention is only a pretext for Australia.

China-Australia ties have recently been deteriorating. When dealing with its relationship with China, Australia has to coordinate with the US. This jeopardizes bilateral ties between China and Australia. 

Indeed, tensions between China and Australia seem to have hit rock bottom. The situation will continue to worsen if no significant actions are undertaken to change the course of action. 

However, these sour days of Beijing-Canberra relations will not totally lead to a complete breakdown of the bilateral ties. 

As Australia's economy depends largely on exporting raw materials, such as coal and iron ore, its development is highly reliant on the Chinese market. Hence, compared with Washington, Canberra tends to be more cautious in coping with its relations with Beijing. Canberra will not completely break down its ties with Beijing. This is clearly not in Australia's interests.

Risks to the China-Australia relationship will not be easily mitigated in the short term. This is determined by the fact that Australia's strategy follows the US lead. Indeed, the US 2020 election is coming in a few months. Even if Joe Biden is elected the next US president, the rivalry between China and the US won't be changed. Nor will China-Australia relations improve significantly. These are structural problems that won't change quickly.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

blog comments powered by Disqus