‘Assertive, Not Aggressive’: Australia’s Stance on China ‘More Nuanced’ Under Labor, Says Academic

© AFP 2022 / Peter PARKSA visitor is seen at the Australia pavillion on the second day of the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai
A visitor is seen at the Australia pavillion on the second day of the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai  - Sputnik International, 1920, 25.05.2022
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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang wrote to new Australian PM Anthony Albanese this week to congratulate him on his federal election win. But Keqiang also demanded a “reset” in ties with Canberra. Meanwhile, some top Labor Party politicians in Australia have also called for a “good relationship” with Beijing following Albanese’s win.
Canberra’s stance towards China under the Labor Party government headed by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is “assertive, but not aggressive” as it was under previous administration headed by the Liberal-National Party coalition, an Australian political scientist has told Sputnik.

“Australia’s concerns about China have not necessarily changed with the change in government, but the Albanese government is already demonstrating a more considered and nuanced approach,” notes Professor Dominic O’Sullivan, who teaches political science at Charles Sturt University, New South Wales, Australia.

The Australian academic refers to Albanese’s statement that the new Labor government “seeks good relations with all the countries”, including China, which is Canberra's largest trading partner.
“The new government does want to restore normal economic relationships with China, that on its own terms and with the belief that it is China, not Australia, that must change its policy approach,” he states.
Albanese has called upon Beijing to remove sanctions on Australian imports, including coal, barley and wine, in order to begin restoring normalcy in ties, which have been strained since previous Prime Minister Scott Morrison demanded an independent probe into the origins of COVID-19 in 2020.
The relations between the two free trade partners deteriorated further after Australia announced its plan to develop nuclear attack submarines (SSNs) from American and British technology under the AUKUS pact, unveiled last September. Beijing has accused the US-led pact of “inciting” an arms race in the region.
Then, the Sino-Solomon pact unveiled last month stoked fears about a potential Chinese military base in the Pacific nation. Repeated denials by both China and the Solomon Islands that they don’t have any intention to set up a Chinese base have failed to assuage tempers in Canberra.
The pact figured prominently in the federal election campaign, with Albanese accusing the outgoing Scott Morrison government of a “policy failure”.
At the Quad Leaders’ Summit in Tokyo on Tuesday, Albanese professed his commitment to both AUKUS and the four-nation grouping.
O’Sullivan reckons that Albanese’s decision to swear-in as Prime Minister barely two days after his federal election victory just so he could attend the Quad Leaders’ Summit was a “statement to China about the new government’s strategic outlook”.
The political scientist also sees the Labor government’s pledge to boost its economic assistance to the small Pacific nations by $575 million as a “response” to Beijing’s security cooperation agreement with Solomon Islands.
Further, Albanese asked the other Quad states to intensify their involvement in the domains of climate change as well as information exchange in the Pacific region, which was reflected in the joint statement put out by the four governments.
The new Australian leader told his Quad counterparts that the Pacific region was entering a “new and complex phase”.
Australia’s new Foreign Minister Penny Wong is also set to embark on a visit to Fiji on 26 May, which will coincide with the whirlwind eight-country tour of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to the Pacific nations.
However, in spite of competing visits by Australian and Chinese foreign ministers to the western Pacific nations, O’Sullivan underlines that not many in the Labor government view that a “war with China is imminent”.
“… there is no evidence that the new government or its supporters think that a war with China is imminent,” argues the academic, as he rubbishes the warning by former Defence Minister Peter Dutton that Canberra must begin to prepare for a “war” with Beijing.
Dutton’s escalatory rhetoric against China became especially prominent during the final stages of the Australian federal election campaign.

“That claim from Peter Dutton, was more a rhetorical statement for a domestic audience - trying to scare people into supporting the government which was campaigning on the idea that it was better equipped at dealing with national security concerns,” states O’Sullivan.

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