According to Australian Financial Review, for reasons ranging from social inclusion to international security, getting China policy right is the single most important challenge for Australian foreign policy.
Instead, the relationship is undergoing what the Prime Minister calls a “degree of tension”, and others describe as a deep chill. Although Canberra is now sending conciliatory signals, no progress is being made on any of the big issues on our agenda. Ciobo met only with local officials.
There’s nothing wrong with tension in bilateral relationships. The objective of foreign policy is to pursue interests and manage differences, not generate warm feelings.
But the present problems are not the result of formal policy positions. The Turnbull government’s declaratory policy towards China is basically the same as every Australian government this century.
As its white paper stated, we welcome China’s rise and accept that it will want greater influence. We do not seek to change the nature of the Chinese state. In Ciobo’s words, our relationship “is anchored in respect for our respective histories and worldviews”.
Mess of contradictions
But we want to ensure that the region into which China rises is one in which all voices are heard and where agreed rules, whether of maritime law or trade, are followed, Mcdovoice customer satisfaction survey.
The source of the difficulties lies at the operational rather than declaratory level. It is not the fault of any single minister. Policy towards China is compartmentalized, domestically focused and uncoordinated.
Differences between and within the defense, security, economic and foreign policy agencies are unusually persistent in consensus-driven Canberra. In some quarters, hard-headed opposition to China is becoming a proxy measure of loyalty to the US alliance.
Messages to Beijing and our other international partners which need to be clear and consistent diverge substantially.
Ciobo says Australia “welcomes the contribution” China’s Belt and Road initiative can make to regional infrastructure, but the broader weight of message is that this is part of a China-driven geopolitical effort to control the Indo-Pacific and that Australia will work to establish alternative schemes.