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China won’t weaken our close US security ties

30 April, 2013

CISS Fellow John Lee recently wrote a topical piece on the implications of Australia’s relationship with China and has been published in the latest edition of American Review.

 Julia Gillard’s first meeting with China’s new generation of leaders in April led to the conclusion of several agreements, including an annual Strategic Economic Dialogue between the Australian Prime Minister and the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, future military-to-military exercises and port visits by Chinese warships, and a direct currency exchange deal. During and immediately after Gillard’s trip, China-based journalists such The Australian’s Sid Maher and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Stephen McDonell labelled the visit a bilateral “breakthrough” that signalled the most significant development in Sino-Australian relations since Gough Whitlam recognised Communist China 40 years ago. Representing a rare Australian media consensus about the success and significance of the trip, Fairfax’s Mark Kenny labelled the agreements a “triumph” and “coup” for the Gillard government.

A domestic consensus by commentators that the visit represents a sea change in Australia’s relations with China is essentially driven by this argument: because Australia’s future belongs to a China-dominated Asia, its strategic ties with America will inevitably weaken. Indeed, China’s state-backed Global Times ran several editorials and opinion pieces arguing that the suite of agreements signed between Canberra and Beijing was a “big strategic victory” for China and indicated Australia was finally recognising that it needed to take a more “balanced” strategic approach by moving away from Washington and gradually towards Beijing.

But although the agreements are significant, they hardly represent any such developments. They neither represent a sea change or turning point (for the better) in Australia’s relationship with Beijing. The visit also provides scant evidence that China’s economic and strategic leverage is inexorably strengthening, and that it has scored a strategic victory at America’s expense by forcibly pushing Australia one step further away from Washington’s embrace. Instead, it is the normal stuff of a growing engagement with a major trading partner that is neither surprising nor groundbreaking. A few deep breaths, and skepticism of a narrative that sees every announcement with China as a historical turning point for Australia, is the more sensible interpretation of events from early April.

Click through to continue reading the rest of Dr. John Lee’s piece

Contact:Raelene Loong
Phone: 61 2 9036 9529