Albanese government needs to open up new path, resetting relations with China
Published: Jun 12, 2022 02:57 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese has been sworn in as the new prime minister of Australia, who is described by Australian voters as a man of "a different character" while his predecessor Scott Morrison had prided himself as being the "anti-China errand boy of the US government".

The change of government in Canberra is hoped to offer a rare and hard-won opportunity to reboot or rebalance the relationship between Australia and China. It seems the previous government's "Trumpist" hyper-politicization of national security has been categorically rejected by the Australian voters who yearn for a new policy approach from Canberra, favoring an inclusive and multidimensional approach to regional peace and cooperation. 

Albanese had previously held the ministerial post of infrastructure and he outshone Morrison in the election with his persistence and expertise in seeking low-carbon green growth for Australia. China, the world's most entrepreneurial industrial power, owns enormous experience in infrastructure construction and de-carbonization by developing hydropower, solar panels, wind turbines and new-energy cars.

The two countries share a range of areas to cooperate to cool down our living planet by combating climate change through curbing carbon dioxide emissions, and bring about tangible economic benefits to improve the livelihood of our peoples, instead of embroiling in endless ideological dispute and fight that the previous Morrison government was fond of. Morrison himself desperately played politics on China whenever he was in opinion poll trouble during the election.

By all metrics, Chinese people are elated with the change of government in Australia as they are hoping for a change in tone toward China, because the feud orchestrated by the previous two Australian governments must stop, otherwise inexorable damage would be made to bilateral ties. Also, China promptly sent the olive branch. Premier Li Keqiang sent an elaborate letter to his counterpart Albanese congratulating his election win over Morrison, which shows China's goodwill to improve relations. 

In the message, Premier Li said that the Chinese side was "ready to work with the Australian government to review the past, look into the future, and uphold the principle of mutual respect and mutual benefit, in order to promote the sound and steady growth of our comprehensive strategic partnership". 

Truly, Beijing wants Australia to treat China as an important partner, not a competitor or even an adversary as described by the China-haters in the US. China and Australia have abundant reasons to act as substantive stakeholders to promote peace and development in the promising Asia-Pacific region.

Albanese said that his Labor government will deal with China "in a mature manner", suggesting his government will probably move away from Morrison's aggressive anti-China rhetoric and stop the plunge of Canberra-Beijing ties. It will be quite a feat for his government and a blessing for the whole Asia-Pacific region if Albanese could deliver it. China and the Morrison's team had not communicated above the ministerial level for more than 2 years, and if the new Albanese government makes a breakthrough on this, the tensions of the relationship will certainly be thawed, and a phase of bilateral engagement will open up. 

China is the prime engine of the world's economy, and also is a key trading and investment partner for Australia. Even during Morrison's tenure  when economic and trade exchanges soured, up to 40 percent of Australian exports went to China, and Chinese nationals normally constitute the largest number of international students and inbound tourists to Australia. As a matter of fact, the jobs and prosperity of many Australians are hinged on China.

Observers on Beijing's diplomacy rightly say that, after a new foreign government is formed, China will usually adopt a "wait-and-see" approach, and will reciprocate that new government if it is cooperative and friendly, such as a pledge to abide by the one-China principle and a genuine welcome for Chinese nationals to visit and Chinese companies to invest. 

The previous Morrison government did the worst thing by demonizing and antagonizing China, as the Australian conservative-controlled media had promoted his reckless talk of "war" and the fear-mongering that was the hallmark of the Morrison administration. His hawkish inflammatory rhetoric wrecked the two country's traditional partnership, sending the relations to the abyss.   

It's time for a new path. China and Australia have in place a free trade agreement and are both members of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement. Prime Minister Albanese said during the election he believes in the strength of working with other people, rather than to seek division and conflict, and, he is a purposeful leader who will seek to build rather than to tear down. 

Right now, China, after containing a fierce resurgence of Covid-19 in Shanghai and Beijing and other cities, policymakers are resorting to wide-scale implementation of regular nucleic acid testing, and easing on all fronts including monetary, fiscal, housing, education and big-tech regulation, which is expected to lead to a full-fledged economic recovery in the second half of 2022. A Chinese boom is likely to rejuvenate the whole region, as displayed by the surging trade between China and ASEAN, and other economies in the Asia-Pacific region, Australia included.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of China-Australia diplomatic relations, which provides an opportunity to look back at all those good years and reassess the two countries' engagement and partnership. Now, let's open our eyes to see what measures the Albanese government will take to mend the broken relationship, and how Beijing will reciprocate. 

The author is an editor with the Global Times.