Aletho News


Australia sees opportunity in China’s rise

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | February 27, 2018

From an Indian perspective, the visit to the United States by the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his meeting with President Donald Trump on February 23 turns out to be a reality check on the power dynamic in the Asia-Pacific. Australia is torn between two vital partners – the US in the security sphere and China in the economic sphere. The dilemma is acute insofar as Turnbull has voiced opinions on threat perceptions regarding China, which are contrary to the Trump administration’s assessment and, yet, the US and Australia are key allies.

A month ago, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop pointedly distanced her country from the US’ assessment of China (and Russia) being a strategic threat. The US National Security Strategy issued in January said, “China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea… It is increasingly clear that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model — gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions.”

Bishop refused to share that assessment, saying, “We have a different perspective on Russia and China clearly — we do not see Russia or China posing a military threat to Australia, we continue to work closely with China in fact we undertake military exercises with China as well as with other countries in the region and we will continue to do so.”

Turnbull openly endorsed Bishop’s remarks. In his words, “Apart from North Korea, there is no country in the region that shows any hostile intent towards Australia,” Mr Turnbull said, “We don’t see threats from our neighbours in the region, but, nonetheless, every country must always plan ahead and you need to build the capabilities to defend yourself, not just today, but in 10 years or 20 years, hence.”Turnbull reverted to the topic as he was embarking on the visit to the US last week. In remarks to Sky News, Turnbull said:

  • A threat, technically, is a combination of capability and intent. China has enormous capability of course, it’s growing as the country becomes more prosperous and economically stronger. But we do not see any hostile intent from China.
  • We don’t see the region through what is frankly an out-of-date Cold War prism. Neither, by the way, does Donald Trump. President Trump has a long experience in this part of the world as a businessman. He understands the significance, the economic significance of China’s rise and its opportunity.

Indeed, the joint statement issued after Turnbull’s meeting with Trump in the White House contains no reference to China or the disputes in the South China Sea. (Nor on ‘Quad’!) It doesn’t mention ‘freedom of navigation’, either. At the joint press conference with Turnbull, Trump said he’d “love” to have Australia back the US effort to assert the right to maritime freedom in South China Sea – “We’d love to have Australia involved and I think Australia wants us to stay involved.”

But Turnbull was unmoved. He made no commitments about Australia joining the US naval display. On the other hand, he emphasized the economic opportunities from China’s rise. Turnbull had hopes of persuading Trump to take a fresh look at the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, but Trump repeated his distaste of the trade pact. Trump said, “The TPP was a very bad deal for the United States, it would have cost us a tremendous amount of jobs, it would have been bad.”

Equally, in the run-up to Turnbull’s visit, there was speculation that a possible economic front comprising the US, Japan, India and Australia could be in the making to “answer Chinese and Russian infrastructure-building efforts” in the Asia-Pacific. But it turned out to be mere drum-beating. (Reuters / Bloomberg) The Trump administration is focused single-mindedly on America First and has no interest in doing the diplomatic heavy lifting to push back at China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Clearly, one substantive outcome of Turnbull’s visit has been in the launch of an Australia-US Strategic Partnership on Energy in the Indo-Pacific. This must be seen against the backdrop of the US gearing up to export LNG to the Asian market, especially China. While on the one hand runaway gas demand in China is transforming the outlook for LNG in Asia and could see a return to the seller’s market in 2018, on the other hand, Australia’s rapidly growing LNG exports are already finding a ready market. A joint press release in Washington spelt out the “core principles” and outlined a “work plan” for the proposed US-Australia energy partnership. (here)

China would be quietly pleased with the outcome of the Trump-Turnbull meeting in Washington. An editorial in the government newspaper China Daily noted, “if Turnbull is now choosing to look at China through a more objective prism that would obviously help build more trust between the two countries, which will only usher in a more cordial atmosphere for relations to deepen and grow. Yet the Australian government still needs to match words with deeds… In its most recent foreign policy white paper, Australia proposes that it can act as an honest broker between China and the US.”

The Global Times in an editorial, also commended that Turnbull’s remarks “show positive signs for the Sino-Australian relationship.”

February 27, 2018 - Posted by | Economics, Militarism | , , ,


  1. Interesting post; an informative and generally refreshing read! Thank you.

    Comment by roberthstiver | February 27, 2018 | Reply

  2. The website of the Citizens Electoral Council of Australia today (March 2) published an excellent article on this, with the heading
    “Australia plays double game, driving China containment in Washington, London”.

    The first paragraph states: –

    “If Australia wants a mutually beneficial relationship with China, it is time to stop the doublespeak. On one hand we praise the opportunities provided by China’s rise, upon which our economy has come to depend; on the other we cast China as a “threat” to the world. This is a two-faced approach to international relations that is not in Australia’s national interest, but in service of the Anglo-American world order mired in economic collapse and permanent war.”

    Comment by I Speak | March 1, 2018 | Reply

    • The words, “economic collapse” remind me of a quote by Maurice Strong: “Isn’t the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn’t it our responsibility to bring it about?”

      Comment by I Speak | March 1, 2018 | Reply

      • Remember, in previous times of economic collapse, the investment bankers have always snapped up other people’s assets at pennies on the dollar. Now they are buying the privatized state-owned assets of bankrupted governments, such as Greece.

        Comment by I Speak | March 1, 2018 | Reply

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