Canberra’s engagement with Beijing won’t undermine ties with ally
Published: Mar 22, 2017 12:43 AM

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang kicks off his visit to Australia Wednesday, his first overseas visit this year. This visit is widely expected to lift the China-Australia comprehensive strategic partnership to a new height.

Amid increasing uncertainties in the current international situation, especially after the unhappy phone conversation between US President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the US' withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, worries are rising both within the US and in Australia about whether Canberra would move too close to China. Some observers even claimed that Australia needs a replacement for the US as its top partner and China is the only possible candidate.

Few Chinese scholars believe Australia would tilt away from the US and toward China. Australia has been a staunch ally of the US, on which it counts for security, for many years. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop recently called on the US to play a greater role as the indispensable strategic power in the Indo-Pacific. Australia has benefited from an Asia-Pacific system under US supremacy, and it feels closer than any other nation to the US in terms of core values. 

However, vowing to put "America first," Trump will focus more on domestic affairs. This will distract strategic resources from being thrown into foreign affairs, which means the strategic resources that Australia could acquire from the US will be greatly reduced. Therefore, Canberra needs to become more realistic and pragmatic. In this case, to improve ties with China is an option that is in the interests of Australia.

At present, calls for closer ties with China have been rising within Australia. According to The New York Times, Stephen FitzGerald, Australia's first ambassador to China, called on Australia in a recent speech to make China its primary focus of diplomacy and economic policy. The veteran diplomat's view is based on rational thinking on the changing strategic situation in Asia as well as China's increasing involvement in the construction of the international system.

The Sino-Australian relationship is facing new opportunities. China has been Australia's biggest trading partner for several years, and both have a strong desire to further improve and deepen economic and trade cooperation. Besides, China and Australia have shared a quite consistent position in supporting economic globalization, free trade and open markets.  

China won't force Australia to choose between China and the US. A healthy development of the China-Australia comprehensive strategic partnership doesn't mean a tilt away from the US by Australia.

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