|How hard do you poke the dragon?
How hard do you poke the dragon?
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s recent official visit to China was bookended by two significant milestones.
It was 50 years ago that Gough Whitlam became the first Australian PM to visit China and it was the first time in seven years that an Australian PM had made an official visit of the Chinese mainland.
But in just seven years, never mind 50 years, the Australian-Chinese relationship has evolved and in a startingly radical way.
China’s increased strategic economic importance to Australia has had to be balanced with that country’s increasingly militant approach to its relations with other countries.
The Prime Minister says dialogue is the most effective way to protect Australia’s interests. On his visit, he headed to Shanghai to attend the China International Import Expo which was attended by Australian exporters then in Beijing, he met with President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Qiang and Zhao Leji, Chairman of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.
The benefits of this are obvious: the resumption of regular dialogue, greater co-operation in areas like trade, agriculture, climate change and education.
Already, China has agreed to remove trade barriers on Australian coal, barley, hay and other products. Chinese airlines are turning to Australian skies, bringing a boost to tourism.
But this is a fraught relationship: since PM Albanese’s China visit and subsequent trip to the APEC Leaders summit in San Francisco, Australian navy divers from the HMAS Toowoomba were forced to exit the water near Japan with ear injuries after a Chinese warship hit them with sonar pulses.
China’s increasing militancy towards other countries, especially Taiwan, is a red flag that perhaps Australia is too reliant on China.
A fine line has to be walked but how fine? Increasingly, that fine line seems to be military in nature.
The strategically important Darwin Port has been allowed to remain in Chinese commercial hands to the dismay of the right-wing media; the AUKUS nuclear submarine deal brought in by the previous Coalition government angered China; Albanese’s recent security deal with the tiny Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu, and the development of RAAF Base Tindall in the Northern Territory as an advanced forward air base to guard the north.
How far do you go in poking the sleeping dragon?
Exporters would say ‘not too hard’. Conservative media outlets and politicians would say ‘harder’.
History holds lessons for Australia’s political leadership; it says a balanced approach is crucial. An extremist view from either side of politics is likely to create more problems than it is meant to solve.
Editor in Chief