Alwaght- Australia is one of the countries that developed economically and industrially in the recent decades, with its realistic foreign policy playing the important role in this course. The foreign policy apparatus of the Liberal-led coalition government, which in 1997 replaced the Labor Party, is working hard to engage in economic talks and so realize as much as possible the country’s national interests. Canberra so far took effective steps towards striking deals of free trade with such countries as Singapore, Thailand, and the US as it also holds strong business partnership with Japan and China.
The Australian leaders have often put premium on adoption of a realistic approach in their economic relations to move in a balanced fashion in their ties with China and the West. When it comes to trade, Canberra holds warm relations with Beijing, and on the other side seeks strategic and ideological interests in its relationship with the West. But Australia may have to soon choose one between the two.
Australia’s hard choice
In designing its policies and strategies, Australia has always cherished high-level business relations with China and the EU. When it comes to addressing its defense needs, Australia relies on closeness to the US. For the Australian leaders, it highly matters to preserve the foreign policy balance that regulates the relations with China and the US. But the pressures have begun to build on Canberra by Washington, and it appears that 2018 will be the year of Australia’s hard choice between continuing business with the huge Chinese economy and the interests coming from the US. The global developments like the Korean Peninsula crisis, however, put strains on the Australians to save their strategic relations with Washington, established since the World War II, at the expense of profitable business ties with China.
As many economists and political experts put it, Australia will possibly sustain huge detriment to its economy as it is caught in the crossfire of the two global heavyweights. For decades, trade with China caused economic boom for Australia, and in case of any reduced levels of ties due to political causes, the Australian economy will go through a hard period. On the other side, the US, the experts believe, cannot make up for the loss caused by possible shrinkage of Australia-China business relations. China, on the opposite side, is uninterested to see Australia, and also New Zealand, to join the US-led camp in East Asia. In case of Canberra alliance with Washington in the vicinity of Beijing, the Chinese leaders will certainly scale down economic relations with Australia.
Why saving relations with the US matters
The US is involved in a strategic game in East Asia region. Militarily and strategically, it has on its side Japan and South Korea, and in economic terms it has such an ally as India. And Australia is another strategic ally for the Americans in the environment of the South China Sea. For the American decision makers, Canberra is one of the pillars of the US security plan beside New Delhi, Seoul, and Tokyo. In fact, Australia is viable to the US scheme to check the China’s ambitious programs in the region. Despite the fact that some political factions in Australia want their country out of the US circle of domination, Washington is never inclined to easily turn a blind eye to the Australian significance for building the East Asian security belt meant to encircle China. Therefore, along with boost in Beijing-Canberra economic partnership, China works on influencing Australia's politics, and efforts provoking US struggles to press the Australians to make a vital choice.
As it was mentioned above, the bolstered China-Australia encouraged the Chinese to seek influence in Australia’s home and foreign policy. In mid-December last year, Senator Sam Dastyari of the New South Wales was forced into resignation over the scandal of alleged links to China. Reports say that the High Court of Australia in the recent years has been flooded with cases connected to the Chinese interference efforts.
If China and Australia broaden their ties, the US will lose one of its strategic regional allies. Additionally, for more than one reason Australia needs alliance with the US. After all, it needs Washington’s help to deter potential terrorism risks. Canberra also is a destination of the American military aids. The US military presence in the region helps better secure the Australian and Philippine airspace. This US military amassment in the region provides the regional states with force to stand in the face of the Chinese territorial ambitions. According to the analysts, Australia can hardly overlook the military interests coming from relations with Washington in favor of economic interests coming from dealing with Beijing.
ASEAN-Australia special summit: Time to choose
The envoy of the Donald Trump administration has recently commented on the ASEAN-Australia summit in March, saying that the upcoming meeting is of significance. He called the summit a chance for Australia to appraise its relations with Asia in order to decide whether it is at the lowest point of the rank. The US administration’s comment comes to signal triviality of the Chinese relations with Australia. It is also a warning to Canberra telling it not to prefer economic ties with Beijing to its strategic alliance with Washington. The US Army Assistant Chief of Staff Colonel Tom Hanson said on September 1, 2016 that Australia must choose between a stronger US alliance or closer ties with China, and urged Canberra to take a tougher stance against Chinese claims in the South China Sea.
“I think the Australians need to make a choice ... it’s very difficult to walk this fine line between balancing the alliance with the United States and the economic engagement with China,” Hanson said on Australian Broadcasting Corp. Radio.
“There’s going to have to be a decision as to which one is more of a vital national interest for Australia,” Hanson continued.
However, as 2018 came, the US pressure on Australia increased, and the country is moving closer to the day of choosing. Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull in September 2016 at the ASEAN summit in Laos suggested Sydney to host an ASEAN-Australia special conference in March 2018. The Australian PM at the time asserted that the special summit in Sydney will improve the ASEAN-Australia relations and will draw closer the two sides’ businesses and the private sectors.
Responding to the US antipathy, the Chinese seeks to foil Washington’s anti-Beijing strategy of creating a network of rivals in the face of China. The Chinese leaders use their main card, the economic partnership, to this end. China struggles to move closer to Australia in a bid to thwart the US design in the region. But it seems that the US pressures are stronger that the Chinese business attractions. Under the American political duress, Australia should, like a colony, positively respond to the US calls of moving away from China, something taking Canberra’s devotion of own economic interests to those of the US.