The Thaw in Australia’s Relations With China Could Be Fleeting

The Thaw in Australia’s Relations With China Could Be Fleeting
Chinese Australian journalist Cheng Lei is greeted by Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong upon her return from China after three years of detention, Melbourne, Australia, Oct. 11, 2023 (Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade photo by Sarah Hodges via AP Images).

The release last week of Cheng Lei, an Australian journalist who had been detained by Beijing for more than three years, has highlighted a noticeable thaw in relations between China and Australia since Prime Minister Anthony Albanese took office in May 2022.* That it comes ahead of an anticipated visit by Albanese to Beijing to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping suggests both sides have agreed to put the acrimony of recent years behind them.

But while the Albanese government has changed the tone of relations with China, the substance of its policy—on China, but also more generally—has largely represented continuity with that of its predecessors. In fact, nowhere has that continuity been more evident than with respect to what is perhaps the defining foreign policy and national security question for Australia: how to manage the impact of a powerful and assertive China on both Australian and regional security.

Under the government of Albanese’s predecessor, former Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and now under Albanese’s government, Australia has arguably made its long-debated “China choice.” Rather than attempt to convince Washington and Beijing of the security benefits of a great power “concert” in the Indo-Pacific, Canberra has decided to actively do more to sustain U.S. power in the region. This is based on the not unreasonable conclusion that U.S. hegemony has provided Australia with an extraordinarily amenable regional status quo.

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