Opinion / Wang Hui

Change at top good chance for Australia to uplift ties with China

By Wang Hui (China Daily) Updated: 2015-09-24 07:37

Change at top good chance for Australia to uplift ties with China

Malcolm Turnbull, former Liberal Party leader and the communications spokesman for the Liberal-led coalition, smiles as he answers questions during a news conference in Sydney in this file picture taken September 3, 2013. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott will be challenged for leadership of the Liberal Party, the senior partner in the ruling conservative coalition, after Communications Minister Turnbull asked him to step aside on Monday. [Photo/Agencies]

The political earthquake in Australia last week, which pushed Tony Abbott out of the prime minister's chair and propped Malcolm Turnbull up on the seat, has provided Canberra with an opportunity to come up with policies that will have a major impact on its relationship with China.

Considering the increasing convergence of interests between the two countries, Turnbull only needs to make the right choice that would cater to the interests of his country's relations with China. He has a chance to lay his mark on Australia's policy toward China.

For the past few years, China has been Australia's largest trading partner, largest destination of exports and biggest source of imports. Of the every three Australian dollars the country gains from exports, one comes from China.

Under such a backdrop, the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, signed in June, could be a game-changer, something which both countries desperately need to boost their economic development and adjust the bilateral trade structure.

Yet such a reciprocal arrangement has met with some opposition in Australia, because Australians believe that under the ChAFTA, colossal Chinese investment projects in Australia will allow more Chinese workers to travel to the country and usurp Australian workers' jobs.

To allay such fears, Fu Ying, chairperson of Foreign Affairs Committee of China's National People's Congress, or the top legislature, said during a visit to Australia last week that the ChAFTA will facilitate investment and encourage more Chinese companies to invest in Australia that will help create more jobs for Australians.

The signing of ChAFTA will not change the fact that Australia has its own regulations on the scale of foreign investment, immigration, border control and requirements for skilled workers.

It is hoped the Australian parliament would give the green light by the end of this year. China, on its part, will remain committed to the free trade agreement even if it has to make more sacrifices.

Apart from ChAFTA, many people in both countries also hope Australia would not consolidate its alliance with the United States and Japan at the expense of its relations with China.

On Monday, Turnbull was reported to have advised China to stop island construction in the South China Sea. Turnbull's remarks bear the emblem of a foreign policy which is deeply influenced by the US, a country that leads a chorus to bash China over the issue.

China's legitimate activities have nothing do to with Australia, which lies thousands of miles away from the disputed waters. Canberra really does not need to get itself involved in the issue.

Also on the foreign policy front, many in China are waiting to see whether Australia will decide to buy submarines from Japan. The highly sensitive security issue is regarded as one among a series of steps Japanese revisionist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has taken to expand the role of its Self-Defense Forces to cover international "operations".

Australia could use the change in its leadership to scrap the controversial deal because it could dent the country's efforts to engage more closely with Asia.

With Abe acting and sounding increasingly rightist, it will not be surprising if many in Asia do not interpret Australia's proposed submarine deal simply as a business transaction.

Asian countries, China and the Republic of Korea in particular, believe Japan has not sincerely owned up to its military past. History is a sensitive issue in Asia, and by siding with Japan in security issues, Australia risks getting involved in the sensitive issue.

Therefore, if used sophisticatedly, the leadership change in Australia could mean keeping to the right path such as sticking to ChAFTA, and correcting mistakes like canceling the submarine deal with Japan and distancing itself from regional disputes such as the South China Sea.

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