Are China-Australia ties boomeranging back?
Anthony Albanese is the first Australian prime minister to visit Beijing since 2016, as both sides signal their readiness to work on their long-running rift. At a meeting on Monday in the Great Hall of the People, Chinese President Xi Jinping said, “the China-Australia relationship has embarked on the right path of improvement and development” after years of trade spats and accusations of political meddling.
As the satirical Australian series “Utopia” illustrates, Canberra has to walk a fine line. China accounts for over a third of Australian trade, and is willing to use that leverage in political disputes. In 2020, when then-Prime Minister Scott Morisson called for an investigation of China’s role in the origin of the COVID-19 virus, Beijing slapped import restrictions on Australian agricultural products. Those remain in place, despite the thaw.
Australians clearly feel threatened by China, after allegations of political interference led Canberra to ban foreign political donations in 2017 and Huawei communications technology in 2018. In a poll this year, 75% of the population say they see China as a military threat in the coming years.The visit with Albanese seems further proof Beijing has accepted that its aggressive diplomatic tack in the late 2010s was unsustainable. It also bodes well for the summit between Xi and President Biden at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting next week in San Francisco, though the Taiwanese elections in January still loom large in the US-China dynamic.