Foreign and Military Affairs

Gillard's first Asian tour

Updated: 2011-04-27 07:59

By Han Feng (China Daily)

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Australia and China should strengthen and broaden cooperation to ensure regional stability and prosperity

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is in China on the final leg of her three-nation Asian tour.

As her second major diplomatic tour since replacing Kevin Rudd as Australia's prime minister on June 24, 2010, Gillard's Asian tour, which also took in Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK), underscores the important role East Asia plays on the Australian government's diplomatic chessboard.

Gillard's first visit after taking office was to the United States, demonstrating Australia's US-tilted foreign policy and security strategy. However, East Asia has assumed an increasingly prominent position in Australia's foreign policy in recent years.

It is close economic ties with East Asian countries such as China that have helped Australia maintain its steady economic development. Exports to East Asian countries accounted for 67.3 percent of Australia's total exports in 2010, while imports from the region accounted for 52.4 percent of its total imports.

With the rapid development of economic and trade ties with China in recent years, China has replaced Japan as Australia's most important trading partner.

Gillard's trip has come at a time when East Asian cooperation and integration have entered a crucial stage, as indicated by the trilateral cooperation among China, Japan and the ROK and their bilateral free trade areas. The expanded East Asian Summit membership, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other cooperative mechanisms have also strengthened the cooperation among East Asian nations.

For Australia, participating in this East Asian cooperation is of vital importance and smooth coordination with China will help facilitate and expedite this.

China and Australia are both members of many multilateral cooperative mechanisms, such as the East Asia Summit, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the G20 and they share common interests. China's ongoing economic restructuring and its efforts to transform its development model will also benefit Australia's industrial and economic development.

After some setbacks and difficulties in 2009, Sino-Australian ties are now back on the track, but Canberra is yet to set out its comprehensive policy and strategy toward Beijing.

To effectively tackle the global financial crisis, China and Australia should strengthen both bilateral and regional cooperation and enhance communication and coordination on a series of major issues.

The traditional economic complementariness of China and Australia and their trade and investment expansion are no longer enough to ensure the development of a much-needed all-round bilateral relationship. It is essential that they expand the scope of bilateral cooperation and deepen their cooperation to strengthen future ties.

To this end, the two countries should expand mutual cultural and non-governmental exchanges and cooperation, and tap their cooperation potential in culture, education, science and technology, and healthcare, to enhance mutual understanding and increase the stability of bilateral ties.

At the same time, greater cooperation in agriculture, the dairy sector, animal husbandry, forestry and food processing, in which both enjoy certain advantages, should also be pursued.

Considering their common interests and the common challenges they face in regional finance, monetary and fiscal policies as well as crisis management, China and Australia should also strive to expand cooperation to fend off risks.

Despite their different ideologies, China and Australia are both in the Asia-Pacific region and both need regional stability and prosperity. Currently, regional security in the Asia-Pacific region is undergoing some profound changes, which makes it particularly important for China and Australia to enhance mutual trust and increase security cooperation as a way to promote a peaceful and secure Asia-Pacific region.

During Gillard's visit to China, some political issues, on which Canberra has long been hoping to play the bridge between the East and West, are very likely to be touched upon. However, due to their huge differences in political systems, democratic models and human rights, no major consensus on these issues is expected within such a short period of time.

The issue of China's deferred investment in Australia is also likely to be raised during Gillard's visit. Canberra has long been ambivalent toward China's Australia-bound investment, fearing that Beijing's expanded investment, which is mainly focused on energy and resources, will worsen its environment and cause its economic lifeline to be controlled by the Asian giant.

In a weak government, Gillard has had to take stances to gain support. However, her remarks, when she attended an Anzac Day dawn service in Seoul before heading for Beijing and said Australians need to remember the Korean War (1950-1953), were inappropriate.

Gillard made Japan the first leg of her Asian tour, her predecessor Kevin Rudd skipped Japan during his tour in 2008.

Australia's China policy is still evolving, but Gillard's diplomacy seems to be moving in a conservative direction.

The author is deputy director of the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

China Forum

(China Daily 04/27/2011 page8)


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