My Rival, My Friend
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The AUKUS deal signed in 2021 by Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States arguably marked a nadir in relations between Australia and China. The deal gave Australia new technology for nuclear-powered submarines, weapons that were obviously meant to counter China’s military power.
The deal followed China slapping tariffs on Australian coal, copper, sugar, and other goods in 2020 in retribution for Australian leaders criticizing China for permitting Covid-19 to develop in the country.
Today, however, relations between the two massive countries on the Pacific Ocean might be on the mend.
In November, for example, when Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, the two leaders said they enjoyed a stable and healthy relationship, reported Reuters.
That summit followed China’s release of Australian broadcast journalist Cheng Lei, who was detained for allegedly divulging state secrets to foreign actors, CNN noted.
China is also loosening the tariffs, added the East Asia Forum, as high-level contacts between the two countries resume. Australian politicians have stopped the anti-Chinese rhetoric over Covid-19, too. And despite deep concerns, few analysts believe Chinese officials, chastened by Russia’s poor performance in Ukraine, are now seriously considering invading Taiwan, either.
But some experts believe these positive developments in the relationship, while important rhetorically, will fail to deliver much tangible progress in permanently deflating the tensions between China and its Western-oriented rivals in the region.
Writing in his public policy journal Pearls and Irritations, former Australian diplomat John Menadue, for instance, admitted that Australia wants Chinese imports, including cars and other goods, while China needs Australian raw materials like iron, steel and lithium. But Australia remains dependent on the US strategically and militarily, meaning Chinese officials still must treat Australia as a potential threat.
“While currently on an upward trajectory, fundamental differences pose questions as to the level of intimacy the relationship can attain and the true nature of its resilience,” added the Diplomat.
Indeed, the two countries appear to be lining up allies in case they come to blows.
China has secured a string of ports from Indochina and Indonesia to Africa, Europe and the Americas that make it easier for the country to project power abroad, explained the Washington Post. China has also become close diplomatically to small Pacific nations such as Timor-Leste, a poor country on an island off Australia’s north coast, wrote the Guardian.
Albanese and Xi have far more ground to cover – and many more friendly gestures to make – if they expect the good feelings to last.