Will Australian state's cooperation deal buffer bilateral tensions?
Published: Jun 08, 2020 04:33 PM

File Photo of Melbourne

Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham told the Australian Broadcasting Corp on Monday that their request for a talk with his Chinese counterpart hasn't yet been met. The complaint-like statement underlines the current state of China-Australia relations, which have slid to near freezing point due to disputes on multiple fronts.

Against such a backdrop, Victoria's Belt and Road deal with China may be a light in the darkness as it will offer the local economy a boost and has the potential to help ease tensions between the two countries. Economic cooperation between China and Victoria under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) offers the possibility of diversification to the deteriorating China-Australia relationship. Such an opportunity is uncommon and should be highly valued at the current time.

The Victoria state government is clearly pragmatic enough to see that the BRI will put its economic cooperation with China on more solid footing, and it is conceivable that the local economy will benefit from such pragmatism in the future. Despite escalating tensions between the two countries, discussions over BRI-related plans and further investment in tourism and education during the post-coronavirus period are ongoing between the Victoria government and China's National Development and Reform Commission, the country's economic planner, according to the South China Morning Post.

Australian politicians should be grateful for Victoria's decision to join the BRI because such a connection with China gives the country the potential to explore a multitrack approach to bilateral relations at a time when political disputes have thrown relations into a deep freeze.

Of course, it is up to Australia's federal government to decide if it wants Victoria's BRI cooperation to be a buffer for tensions with China. If the federal government supports Victoria's signing of a memorandum of understanding with China, then bilateral economic relations will see the possibility of diversification, which is essential in the context of the overall deteriorating ties.

It should be noted that the BRI is all about economic cooperation, and that there is no need to over-interpret or politicize it. It is not uncommon for close economic ties to act as a buffer amid cooling relations between countries. Victoria's BRI deal has the potential to become such a buffer.

We sincerely hope Australia's federal government is aware of the diversification possibility brought about by the BRI, and that it will thus support Victoria in becoming a turning point in bilateral economic and trade relations.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.