The “strategic partnership” announced this week between Australia and China is widely viewed within China and by experts internationally as a move in which Beijing hopes to start prising Canberra away from Washington on security matters.
But this is a long-term strategy, which is easier for China’s new leaders, who anticipate a 10-year term ahead, to conceive than the Australian government.
More immediately, this new arrangement, which involves annual top-level meetings, is seen as underlining Beijing’s prime focus on Australia as a source of resources, despite the emphasis by Julia Gillard during her visit on climate change and other issues.
“Ms Gillard’s visit powerfully demonstrates that economic and trading bonds prevail in today’s world over security concerns,” Zhu Feng, the deputy director of the Centre for International and Strategic Studies at Beijing University, told The Australian.
“Her engagement with China also provides a great visible hand to help shape China’s foreign policy outline.”
Australia’s global role as a member of “the liberal world order” – which Professor Zhu viewed as a benign influence on China – positions it as “a most effective tool by which Beijing can win friendships, and retain the gains we want”.
David Zweig, a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said that through the new deal Canberra was demonstrating to Beijing that the business links remain crucial, despite increasing regional tensions that are in part due to sovereignty issues over islands off east Asia.
“Gillard’s visit proves that Australia will not readily sacrifice its economic ties with China, even as it remains secure in its security ties with the US,” he said.
“But that is what the rise of China means for all US allies, particularly in Southeast Asia” where countries are still grappling with their priorities – the economy or sovereignty.
Professor Zweig said this meant “Australia must find a way to balance its security ties with the US and its economic ties with China. That is clearly in its national interest.
“It may not be able to do that in the long run, if China becomes more aggressive as Australian iron turns into Chinese guns and ships.”
In its coverage of the Gillard visit, China’s news agency Xinhua underlined the expectation that Australia would start to align its thinking and actions more with China’s.
It quoted Premier Li Keqiang as telling Ms Gillard that the two countries should enhance, in their dealings with multilateral organisations such as the G20, the UN and APEC, not only communication but also co-ordination.
It quoted Ms Gillard as agreeing that “Australia would like to step up macro policy co-ordination.”
Mr Li also called for “multiple means of co-operation in minerals and agriculture and expanded collaboration in rail, ports and telecoms”.
Su Hao, a professor at China’s Foreign Affairs University, said that “although Canberra has cooperated with Washington’s pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, it has defined itself as an Asian country, realising that China is an important nation in Asia” – as signalled by Gillard’s Asia white paper.
Australian National University professor of strategic studies Hugh White said that, for China, inaugurating the new regular meetings was “their answer to the Darwin deployment of American marines,” courting Canberra into its camp.
“It is a demonstration of China’s growing power. Beijing wants the new arrangement not because it wants to hear what Gillard has to say, but as an opportunity to make her listen to it.”
Professor White added that while the new top-level meetings were a welcome development, “what matters in such relationships is not the forum but the message conveyed.
“What has been lacking is not the forums in which conversations can take place – John Howard and Bob Hawke could always manage to speak with the Chinese leaders when they had something to say – but the content.”
He said that Ms Gillard “has to work out what she wants to say” about issues such as the access of Huawei, and Chinese direct investment, and the growing strategic competition between the Chinese and the Americans. “And she has to start talking to the Australian public about this.”
Linda Jakobson, the Lowy Institute’s East Asia program director who has been urging the creation of a top-level forum, viewed as a positive development the fact that Australian and Chinese leaders would “be forced to get to know each other a little, in different domains, too” – beyond the economics.
“Such familiarity helps us manage challenges, even in the face of two such different political systems,” she said.
“Australia is not viewed in China as a regional or strategic player but as an economic player” and only through such a platform would Australia’s greater aspirations stand a chance of being recognised.Source: The Australian – Beijing’s goal to wean Canberra off US
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