In his column in Australian Financial Review, former Australian Ambassador to China Geoff Raby slammed Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for not having visited China in more than two years while angering Beijing with “the most strident public comments on the South China Sea” and an “utterly bizarre speech” questioning Beijing’s regional leadership. “China relations can only be unfrozen with Julie Bishop’s sacking,” Raby appealed to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Bishop immediately hit back at Raby, accusing him of being “profoundly ignorant… about the level of engagement between Australia and China at present and the state of the relationship.” “The fundamental interests underpinning the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between Australia and China have not changed,” Bishop stressed. Turnbull stood by Bishop, criticizing Raby’s piece as “utterly wrong.”
Apparently, problems have emerged in Sino-Australian ties. Canberra’s relationship with its largest trading partner is overwhelmed by distrust, with its high-level officials several times accusing China of spying and interfering in Australia’s domestic affairs. From a Chinese perspective, Australia is tilting toward the US and has become an active pivot of Washington’s tough China policy and a major force in smearing China.
Australians advocating a friendly policy toward China are frequently vilified. Voices defaming China are commonly heard in Australian public opinion. Incidents involving international students from China being threatened or harassed in Australia occur from time to time. Sino-Australian relations have dropped to their lowest point. Raby said in his previous article that the key reasons are Australian officials’ distrust of China and the enormous influence of the security establishment on the Turnbull government’s Beijing policy.
In recent years, China has improved ties with Asian countries with which it has disputes, further highlighting Australia’s unfriendliness. Canberra has no concrete conflict with Beijing, and thus tensions in their ties are baffling.
While few Chinese neighbors complain about China’s so-called interference or infiltration, Australia is obstinate about hyping China’s threat, with its so-called evidence originating with its radical interpretation of Sino-Australian economic and cultural exchanges. China isn’t viewed as a contributor to the country’s economic and societal development but a destroyer of its national security.
Misinterpretation of Sino-Australian ties has only made more troubles for Canberra, not Beijing. The China-Australia relationship doesn’t carry much weight in Beijing diplomacy, and Chinese have no sense of urgency to improve ties with Canberra. But the situation is different for Australia. China has tremendous influence on Australia’s development. Canberra will certainly feel uneasy for upsetting ties with Beijing.
Bishop and Turnbull are clear that damage to Sino-Australian ties isn’t in the national interest, and perhaps that’s why they rushed to oppose Geoff Raby’s article. Australia’s relations with China are among the worst of all Western nations. The remaining business and cultural exchanges between the two sides lack vitality. Frozen Sino-Australian ties will not gain the current Australian government any bonus points.