Australia and Asia relationship Australia and Asia relationship This essay analyses the Australian-China bilateral relationship since 1945 and in particular its political significance to Australia. Many global factors have influenced this relationship, including the advent of the Cold War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the collapse of the Soviet bloc European nations. In addition, internal political changes in Australia and China have both affected and been affected by the global changes. It will be analysed that Australia’s bilateral relationship with China has always had a sharp political edge but that approaching the new millenium economics and trade considerations are shaping Australias and for that matter Chinese politics. A central feature of the Government’s approach to foreign and trade policy is the importance it attaches to strengthening bilateral relationships.
Bilateral relationships are not an alternative to regional and multilateral efforts. Indeed, bilateral, regional and multilateral efforts are mutually supportive. When Australia works closely with another country on a global initiative, such as the conclusion of the Chemical Weapons Convention, it strengthens the bilateral relationship with that country. Similarly, cooperation within APEC helps to consolidate Australia’s relations with individual APEC economies. In this way, multilateral and regional efforts feed back into, and broaden, bilateral relationships (Aggarwal 1998). In the Cold War years of the late 1940’s and lasting well into the proceeding four decades (Vadney 1998) Australian government policy towards China after the Chinese communist birth in 1949, was virtually achieved by an overriding commitment to anti-communism. Australias participation in the Korean War and later the Vietnam War meant that in a very real sense China (which gave direct tangible support to both the North Koreans and the North Vietnamese) was Australias enemy (Vadney 1998).
Not surprisingly during this period there was a substantial body of public opinion which, either because of initiation at Australias involvement in both the Korean and Vietnam War’s, was because of interest in developing closer ties with China in economic and humanitarian grounds, was influencing the political orientation of the Australian government. The election of the Whitlam Labor government in 1972 saw the emergence of an explicit “recognition of China policy” and although this government was relatively short lived, its bilateral relationship with China was arguable its greatest achievement in Australias development in international affairs, especially in the Asia Pacific region (Cotton and Ravenhill 1998). The Fraser government continued this policy direction with China, which was strengthened even further during the Hawke and Keating years (1983-96). The Howard government has continued this policy and has chosen to place economic and trade considerations above ideology. Pursuit of a strong bilateral relationship with China by Australian Labor governments might have been predicted on political grounds but, increasingly, as the world moves to embrace a global village profile governments of all political persuasion’s are shaping the foreign policies on the basis of national economic self interest.
In handling bilateral relationships, the Government often claims to have adopted an integrated approach taking into account the totality of Australian interests. But, a closer analyses of this claim reveals it would be almost impossible to meet the totality of Australia’s interests in any bilateral relationship and this is especially true of China which has such a different socio-political system. This close relationship continues to raise political questions for Australia to grapple with, such as her relations with Taiwan, Tibet and Chinese human rights issues. In some instances Australias interests will be confined mainly to trade and investment; in the more substantial bilateral relationships, the Government will implement comprehensive strategies which attempt to integrate Australia’s security, economic and political interests with efforts to forge a wider network of contacts in such areas as education, tourism and cultural exchanges. A comprehensive approach to bilateral relationships also involves working closely with the Australian business community to expand market access and other opportunities for trade and investment. It means facilitating institutional links in fields such as the arts, sport, and education.
In this way, each strand of the relationship not only has value in its own right, but also contributes to building a broader base from which to develop and advance mutual interests, hence the burgeoning of cultural links between Australia and China since 1972 (Aggarwal 1998). Working through bilateral relationships also enables the Government to calibrate strategy to take into account national differences. This is particularly important in terms of regional issues. East Asia, for instance, is enormously diverse, and Australia’s regional policies must take this into account. The same is true of Australia’s interests in ASEAN and within the South Pacific.
In relation to China some Australian government policies, for example, supporting the student protest in Tiananmen square (Cotton and Ravenhill 1998) damaged its relation with China and engendered antagonism from some Asian countries that Australia seemed to impose its will on other nations in the region. John Howards meeting in 1999 with Chinese Leader Jiang Zemin was significant in that it skirted around controversial humanitarian issues (despite considerable public pressure) and concentrated on economic and trade matters. Arguably there appears to be an acceptance by Australian political leaders that China represents communism with a capitalist (if not democratic) face. The growing strength of regionalism means in turn that Australia’s bilateral partners will increasingly view issues through a regional prism, and with an eye to regional solidarity. This has certainly been the pattern among member states of the European Union, and it is likely to become more of a feature of Australia’s relations with the members of ASEAN (Aggarwal 1998).
As a nation with global interests, Australia must deal with countries in many regions. Each relationship engages Australian interests in different ways. This is not to suggest that the interests Australia pursues with each country are equally important, or that the Government can devote equal resources to each of them. The countries which most substantially engage Australia’s interests are those which are not only significant trading and investment partners, but which are also influential in their own right in shaping Australia’s strategic environment. China has the potential to become the most significant of all the nations with which Australia deals on a bilateral basis. Its on this basis of massive population size, increasing technological advances and market demand, China presents itself as an attractive trading partner to be negotiated with despite political differences.
Since 1949 China’s overriding concerns have been security and economic development. In working toward both of these goals, China has focused on its relations with the superpowers since the collapse of the USSR (1989) and because most of the developed world, with the exception of Japan, is fairly distant from China. China’s relations with the developed world often have undergone significant shifts. In the 1950s China considered most West European countries “lackeys” of United States imperialism, while it sided with Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The collapse of communism has left only one superpower – USA – and although China wants American trade (and vice versa) She also seeks to build strong ties in the Asia-Pacific region and this is deemed by Australian governments to be to Australias advantage because of our developed economy.
The developed nations have been important to China for several reasons: as sources of diplomatic recognition, as alternative sources of trade and technology to reduce reliance on one or the other superpower, and as part of China’s secur …