Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said during his recent meeting with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Bangkok that China and Australia should step up joint efforts to enhance mutual understanding and trust, properly handle differences, and return bilateral ties to the normal track. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison hold the seventh annual meeting between the heads of government of the two countries on the sidelines of a series of leaders' meetings on East Asian cooperation in Bangkok, Thailand, on Nov 3. Photo: Xinhua.
He also expressed hope that the Australian side can meet China halfway and work hard to ensure a sound and steady development of bilateral relations.
These are positive remarks encouraging concrete steps toward real improvement in bilateral relations. They came after two years and a half when China-Australia relations started to crater and went in an undesirable direction.
Understandably, the downward spiral is against the interests of the two countries and people and needs to be stopped.
Since December 21, 1972 when China and Australia established formal diplomatic relations, exchanges and collaboration on a variety of aspects, including political relationship, security cooperation, investment and trade, education and tourism have flourished substantially, leading to a mutually beneficial comprehensive strategic partnership.
As China takes off economically, business and trade cooperation has helped stimulate Australia's economic development, helping the country successfully dodge the seismic impact of the 2008 global financial crisis and the aftershocks. Cooperation between China and Australia has in fact extended its enormous influence even beyond the two countries to the Asia-Pacific region.
Since the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement went into force in 2015, bilateral business and trade in minerals and energy resources as well as other agricultural and service products has been booming. In June 2019, China was the destination of 40 percent of Australian exports. With China imposing increasingly stringent air pollution restrictions, Australia's LNG exports to the East Asian nation rose by 37 percent in 2018.
Education and tourism are two other pillars of the Australian economy. There are now 153,000 Chinese students studying in Australia's higher education institutions, constituting 38 percent of all overseas enrolments. A total of 1.42 million Chinese visitors arrived in Australia in 12 months to September 2018, spending 11.5 billion Australian dollars ($8.24 billion) in the 12-month period.
Chinese exports to Australia have been soaring, bringing huge benefits to the economy and the societies of the two countries.
China and Australia proactively campaigned to promote the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership in times of free trade and globalization, which signifies the regional and global benefits that the two countries can jointly derive.
Such fruitful collaboration has reaped not only economic gains, but also promoted understanding, confidence and goodwill at both the government and the people-to-people levels. Any prudent person won't waste and abuse such a constructive partnership.
Since 2017, some voices with malafide intentions in Australia have created a cacophony of anti-China sentiments, echoing the so-called China threat theory contrived in Washington with a professed aim to contain and counter China's peaceful rise. Some media outlets, think tanks and politicians abetted the senseless mutilation of the bilateral partnership, leading to the current diplomatic logjam. Some Australian academics portray a ludicrously sensational silent invasion by China. Recently, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton even blatantly flaunted his antipathy against China's system of governance, as if castigation of China and the Chinese government would render him and his likes political benefits.
Labels such as those decrying China are convenient instruments but they can more often than not be misleading. They often misidentify and confound the superficial parallels and resemblances which can worsen the situation.
The current bilateral relationship is indeed at its lowest ebb, as former Australian ambassador to Beijing Geoff Raby pointed out while talking about Australia's fraying China policy at an event in La Trobe University on October 29. He appealed the statesmen in Canberra to return to diplomacy in managing our [Australia's] relations with China.
The great noble enterprise of diplomacy is the avoidance of war, he went on in his speech. When statesmen forget that, we do indeed live in dangerous times.
It takes two to tango, and the ball is now in Australia's court. It is hoped Morrison and his administration would likewise work proactively and constructively toward an improved bilateral relationship, which would benefit Australia, China and the larger region.
The author Chen hong is a professor and director of Australian Studies Center, East China Normal University. firstname.lastname@example.org
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison hold the seventh annual meeting
between the heads of government of the two countries on the sidelines of a series of leaders' meetings
on East Asian cooperation in Bangkok, Thailand, on Nov 3. Photo: Xinhua.