'Concrete actions required' for Albanese govt to replace 'microphone diplomacy' to improve damaged China-Australia ties
Albanese govt urged to work for Australia's own interests, not for US
Published: Jul 06, 2022 11:04 PM
China Australia Photo: VCG

China Australia Photo: VCG

Concrete actions, instead of "microphone diplomacy" have been called for by Chinese analysts to break the icy China-Australia relations after Australian media reported a string of "positive signals" in bilateral ties with China and analysts urged the Albanese government to reevaluate the consequences of closely following the US in containing China and to take actions out of the interests of Australia. 

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong negotiated with China to set up a meeting with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of the G20 summit for foreign ministers in Bali, Sky News said on Wednesday. However, no information about the meeting had been released from the Chinese side as of press time.

The Albanese government, although still in the shadow of the former Morrison government on policies of diplomacy and security and under the pressure from the US, has showed some flexibility in handling relations with China, and it has not followed the former Morrison government in making frequent and provocative actions toward China, Chen Hong, president of the Chinese Association of Australian Studies and director of the Australian Studies Centre at East China Normal University, told the Global Times.

A meeting between Wang and Wong in Bali, if it happens, will be a big step for senior diplomats to sit together and exchange views on how to improve relations and solve problems, Chen said, noting that the meeting between Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe and Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles last month, although significant, was more symbolic as more issues need to be solved at the foreign ministerial level. 

On June 12, Wei met with Marles on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Defense Summit in Singapore in the first face-to-face meeting between ministers of the two countries in almost three years. Subsequently, interactions between senior officials and diplomats from the two countries have increased compared with the sour and strained bilateral relations during the Morrison government.

For example, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Chinese Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Xie Feng met with Australia's Ambassador to China Graham Fletcher on June 30. 

Improving bilateral relations needs concrete actions from the two sides and China was active in this even before Australia's election. Chinese Ambassador to Australia Xiao Qian has had interactions with people from different fields in Australia since he arrived in the country at the end of last year, Chen noted. 

There is no "auto-pilot" mode in improving China-Australia relations. A reset requires concrete actions. This meets the aspirations of people in both countries and the trend of our times, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a press conference on Tuesday. 

News releases from the Chinese Embassy showed Ambassador Xiao's busy schedule of activities in the past two months. The most recent was on Tuesday when Xiao met with former Australian prime minister Paul John Keating and the first Australian ambassador to  the People's Republic of China Stephen Arthur FitzGerald AO on Tuesday to exchange views on bilateral relations.

It was Australia that took the first shot to damage bilateral relations. To cooperate with the US, the Morrison government had acted as a "deputy sheriff" of the US and had been doggedly antagonizing and provoking China. Now it needs to take concrete actions to solve problems instead of carrying on previous microphone diplomacy or provocations, Chen said.

On Tuesday, the Guardian Australia reported that Australia's Trade Minister Don Farrell has extended an olive branch to China and suggested a "compromise situation" or "alternative way" to settle trade disputes in talks with China. 

This was not the first time Farrell has called for talks with China since Australia's exports of wine, beef, barley and coal to China have been affected after the Morrison administration's provocation on China, which is Australia's biggest trade partner, caused bilateral relations to spiral to the lowest ebb since 1972. 

China-Australia trade had been the cornerstone of bilateral relations and was a stabilizer and booster for bilateral relations. Farrell's calls for trade talks with China shows the Albanese government is mulling how to solve current problems with concrete actions since so many people in Australia, from the business to the education field, have been calling to better relations with China for Australia's interests, Chen said. 

Vicki Thomson, chief executive of the Group of Eight, the peak body that represents elite Australian universities, expressed her strong wish to boost connections with China and called on Canberra to recalibrate its China policy during an exclusive interview with the Global Times previously.

Recent interactions are good signals to improve China-Australia relations, some analysts said, but they expressed prudent optimism about future relations. 

In an online survey conducted by the Global Times Research Center and the Australian Studies Center of the Beijing Foreign Studies University, nearly 60 percent of respondents in China are "optimistic" about an improvement in China-Australia relations under the Albanese government while 25 percent of the respondents are "pessimistic" about relations in the next three years. 

Australia has been acting as the US' spearhead in implementing its Indo-Pacific Strategy and in containing China - these have manifested in its domestic and diplomatic policies. "But it really needs to reevaluate the consequences of following the US and the consequences on Australia's own national interests," said Chen, urging the Albanese government to take an objective view on China and its development. 

Up to now, the icy bilateral relations with China have affected the Australian economy and Canberra has already pushed itself into a vicious circle in antagonizing China. Albanese has a real opportunity to pull himself out but whether he will take action remains to be seen, analysts said. 

According to a report by KPMG and the University of Sydney, Chinese investment in Australia declined by 69 percent, from A$2.5 billion ($1.9 billion) in 2020, to A$800 million in 2021, the lowest level in the past 15 years. Meanwhile, Chinese investment in Europe and countries along the Belt and Road surged significantly. The report prompted some Australian media outlets to claim Chinese businesses were "fast abandoning" Australia.