Economically, China and Australia have never been closer, but culturally and politically, it appears the countries have never been further apart.
Two-way trade between the countries is now worth $175 billion but instead of recognising the important economic cooperation that has resulted in China becoming Australia’s biggest two-way trading partner, relations have soured.
Australian politicians, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, have been vocal in raising concerns over Chinese influence, both in the political sphere and in higher education.
Recent developments in business, Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei has been shut out of building or supplying components to Australia’s National Broadband Network and could be barred from the rollout of 5G mobile services, despite long-standing supply relationships with Telstra and Optus
Malcolm Turnbull points the finger at the media and his political opponents for developing a facade of a strained China-Australia relationship.
Turnbull said, “sometimes in the media you’ll see from politicians … a lot more negativity presented than is the case and therefore it is imperative to reinforce the reality” that Australia’s relationship with China is strong.
“It’s important not to be distracted by media and political commentary which is often designed to highlight difference, friction … or possibly to even accentuate friction,” he said.
Despite Turnbull’s effort to clear the air once and for all, the attorney general has recently defended the accuracy of Australian reporting of foreign influence after accusations from a Chinese diplomat that it “fabricates stories”.
On Thursday Huawei gave a response about how the company was still in talks with the Turnbull government about participating in the 5G wireless network and was un-advised of any government decision to block its participation on security grounds.
The trade minister, Steve Ciobo, downplayed anxiety about the Australia-China relationship and supported his point by pointing to $180bn of trade between the two nations.
Australia’s relationship with China is not in crisis — but no-one would blame you for thinking that it is.
There wasn’t a flicker of warmth in Beijing’s account of the meeting with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop after she met her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Argentina. The blame though was clear. It was, “due to the Australian side”.
“Do we agree with China on everything? No,” Ms Bishop said. “Does China agree with Australia on everything? No. But it is a robust relationship where we can manage our differences. “No two countries agree on every single aspect of foreign policy. We have our own foreign policy that we promote, in our national interest.
China has its foreign policy that it promotes, in its national interests. There are times when there will be differences, but it is how you manage those differences that counts, like any relationship.
“I can assure you that the Australian government is committed to a strong and enduring relationship with China that is in the best interests of both our nations.”