Canberra shows loyalty to US by checking China
Published: Dec 14, 2020 04:38 PM

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Since 2017, Australia has gradually become an "anti-China pioneer" in many ways. It might even be the most anti-China country in the world today. It seems Australia does not reject this badge of shame, but is flaunting its frontline role as a lead agitator. 

Since the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Australia, their bilateral relations have developed steadily as there is no major conflict of interests between the two countries. But today, China is confused why Australia has become so hostile and unreasonable. However, behind Australia's seemingly "irrational" anti-China approach, there are considerations about its own interests.

One issue is marginalization. In the 1980s, Australia's diplomatic status and international influence were on the rise. It started to integrate into Asia, participating in many cooperation mechanisms and regional organizations in the Asia-Pacific and East Asia. But since the beginning of the 21st century, with the rapid rise of China and US' pivot to the Asia-Pacific, the development of cooperation mechanisms in the region has gradually come to stall. Strategic competition between China and the US has now become the theme of the region, and Australia's diplomatic aura has faded, with its strategic space continuously compressed.  

Australia has also made many attempts to turn the declining tide and increase its influence. This included advocating for the establishment of an "Asia-Pacific Community" and actively promoting the "Trans-Pacific Partnership." Unfortunately, these efforts had few effects. 

With the rampant pandemic and rapid changes in the international economic and political order, Australia has chosen an extreme and irrational path. Canberra has adopted "megaphone diplomacy," with the hope to establish an image that it is "defying power and adhering to principles" and garner international attention. 

A second issue pertains to anxiety. During World War II, Australia was deeply threatened by Japan's invasion, which resulted in a sense of anxiety that its limited strength was unable to effectively deal with the challenge of geosecurity alone. This uneasiness has continued until now. With the transformation of the international system and the acceleration of power shift between the US and China, Australia's strategic anxiety is growing.

While Australia's security and strategic needs for the US are increasingly unprecedented, the US has implemented a global strategic contraction. It is constantly asking Australia to assume more alliance responsibilities and burdens, forcing it to put US interests above Australia's. 

Due to its high degree of dependency on the US for security and the growing concern about the rise of China in the region, Canberra is very worried that Washington's strategic contraction will aggravate risks of it "being abandoned" by Uncle Sam.  

In order to avoid a possible weakening of the US-Australia alliance in the future, Canberra is eager to express its strategic loyalty, value and will to Washington by checking and balancing China at every turn - even to its own economic detriment. 

Lastly, there are issues of diplomatic transformations. Australia used to be a firm supporter of multilateralism, free trade and the international system. It was astutely determined to play its role as a "creative middle power" and become a "good international citizenship." Nowadays, in the context of the intensified China-US strategic competition and the realignment of the Asia-Pacific political order, Australia's diplomacy has shifted from a geoeconomic paradigm to a geopolitical one. With the shift of its diplomatic strategy, Canberra has increasingly adopted a negative and pessimistic attitude toward China's peaceful development.

How to reset China-Australia relations? Since 2017, the main responsibility for the deterioration of China-Australia ties lies with Australia, not China. The restoration and reset of their relationship mainly depends on whether or not Canberra can uphold the principles of "respecting one another, seeking common ground while shelving differences, and fostering harmony in diversity." 

As the world faces profound changes unseen in a century and the center of world power gradually shifts from the West to East Asia, the best way for Australia to alleviate its strategic anxiety and enhance diplomatic influence is to seize opportunities and follow the trend of global power with deft diplomacy. Australia should abandon zero-sum thinking. Instead, it should seek security through cooperation, play an active role in communication between China and the US, and become a "stable" factor in the Asia-Pacific region together with China for peace and prosperity. 

The author is an adjunct researcher at the Center for Australia Studies, China University of Mining and Technology. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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