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Can Australia and China Patch Things Up After All Their Disagreements?

By: Amy Li

China and Australia, two countries who've been in evolving tension since four years prior, are both signaling for a change for the better in political bonds since last month, when Australia’s new, center-left government came in power. However, for that to happen, both sides have stated that there were changes to be made, and conflicts to be resolved.

There were quite a handful of Australians who had a lot to say about some of China’s actions. An article published by the New York Times mentioned that during a speech made by Xiao Qian, China’s ambassador, there were protestors complaining about China’s ‘repression’ over Tibet, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong. One even shouted, “This man should be a pariah.” The new prime minister of Australia, Anthony Albnese, also had some conditions to propose. While Australia does wish to restore “high level dialogue” with its largest trading partner and resolve tension, he said, Beijing must lift trade sanctions on Australia. Mr. Albanese confirmed that there have been improvements. However, he also said that there was still a long way to go.

The Times mentions that only a few expect the relations to return to where they were in 2014, when the leaders of both countries announced the completion of a free trade pact. The tie quickly chills as Australia became wary of China’s “growing appetite” for Australia’s resources, namely iron, coal, wine, and some other farm goods. What alarmed the Australian leaders and capitals was the military dominance of the South China Sea. The Australian government quickly acted, and in 2018 banned Huawei and other Chinese telecommunication devices, and “covert political activities on behalf of a foreign government.” In 2020, a Chinese scholar drafted 14 grievances that were shared with the Australian media in 2020. This included the ban on Huawei, antagonistic news reporting on China, and security raids on Chinese journalists. Ambassador Mr. Xiao denied ever knowing about the “list.” Scott Morrison, former prime minister of Australia, comments that the list shows “how Australia is coerced by China.”

Earlier this month, Australian Fighter Jets were intercepted by the Chinese government during a dangerous maneuver. The Chinese appeared alarmed by the fighter jets hovering above the South China Sea. An article in the Guardian mentions that on Sunday, a statement written by the Australian government stated that on May 26th, an “RAAF P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft was intercepted by a Chinese J-16 fighter aircraft during a routine maritime surveillance activity in international airspace in the South China Sea region”.

The statement added: “The intercept resulted in a dangerous maneuver which posed a safety threat to the P-8 aircraft and its crew.”

The Chinese, too, had something to say about this. There were also several news articles the Chinese published regarding this situation, including two articles from Sina (新浪新闻) and Sohu(搜狐,新闻页面). Sohu starts the article by stating, “Some Australian politicians staged another 'fighting’ scandal.” The article recounts that only four months ago, the Chinese Navy was accused of pointing a laser at an Australian patrol aircraft. The article observed that some Australian Politicians deemed this as “dangerous, and reckless,” according to Morrison, Australia’s former prime minister. The Chinese side showed a recording, and the aircraft was about four kilometers away from the Chinese ship. “[The action] seemed full of malice, and is very unprofessional,” the article had commented. It seemed, the article observed, that they were pulling that card again. The Chinese military had argued that it was completely reasonable of them. A Chinese military authority said that if it were on the high seas (directly translated from “公海”), the Chinese planes would not have taken flight. If they did, it would’ve meant that either the patrol jet was approaching Chinese air territory, or the patrol was performed without any notice. They also stated that the Chinese had “given out repeated warnings.”

All to be said, it is clear that the two countries have many steps to take before actually becoming friends. The political disagreements will have to be resolved before taking another step.

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