At first thought, the title of this article may look inappropriate. Indeed, Australia has a political and military union with the USA, while Beijing (the main geopolitical opponent of Washington) is considered as a source of foreign policy troubles. However, Canberra (in contrast with Washington) tries not to use the term “threat” in this case.
Therefore, how can we say “between” while talking about Australia’s positioning in respect of the participants of the main geopolitical duet of the USA-China?
However, the real life does not often fit the simple schemes. The trip of the Australian mega-delegation headed by the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to the USA from February 21 to February 23 is a bright demonstration of this maxim.
The Joint Statement following the results of the negotiations between the honored Australian guest with the American President contains the mandatory in such cases set of political and diplomatic clichés that form the (undiscussable) “symbol of faith” of the union members.
In particular, it says about an American-Australian alliance that is “rock solid and based on a common purpose: to promote peace and prosperity” and commitment “to fostering an Indo-Pacific region where all countries abide by international law”, and that “there are no greater friends than the United States and Australia.”
Only after a careful reading one can see in the document the traces of the discussion of the main topic of the current policy, which is the revival prospects of the project for the creation of the “Four” in the region, that is a (quasi)union of the United States, Japan, India, and Australia.
However, this topic is shifting to the center of the U.S. regional policy. Most likely, the transition from the long-standing conversations about the formation of the “Four” to practical events will be the main task of the new US Ambassador to Australia, Admiral H. Harris.
On the eve of Prime Minister’s visit, Australia believed that the general topic of “security” would be prevailing during the upcoming negotiations. It has found its reflection in the Joint Statement in the passage about the readiness to the joint struggle with “terrorism, cyber activity, or transnational crime”. It mentions the DPRK, of course, which tries to obtain the nuclear weapon illegally.
As for the “Four” project, the phrase “our two nations are committed to deepening our engagement with our allies and all partners” apparently demonstrates that this topic has been discussed (most likely).
It is worth mentioning that even the current government of the Australian Conservatives avoids taking any definite anti-Chinese position on the security issues in the region. Meanwhile, the “Four” project has a clear anti-Chinese sentiment.
Before going to Washington on February 20, Malcolm Turnbull, in an interview with Sky News, said that he did not view China as a source of threat because he did not see any “hostile intentions” coming from there.
As we have repeatedly noted on these pages, Australia’s restrained position on the issue of turning China into a global power is essentially connected with the exclusive advantage of developing trade relations with it. In summer 2015, the parties signed an agreement on a gradual removal of duties on the goods purchased from each other.
For the country, a quarter of whose GDP depends on the foreign trade, any measures promoting its development have a vital meaning. It is exactly for this reason that Australia is one of the 11 participants of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which further presupposes the gradual establishment of a free cross flow of goods and services.
Let us remind you that the TPP included 12 participants until January 2017. But then the new US President, Donald Trump, by his very first decree withdrew from the TPP its main participant, thus putting the entire project on the verge of collapse. It was saved in the “TPP without the USA” format mainly by efforts of Japan. Its “presentation” is to take place at the summit of the member states on March 8 in Chile.
Even now, the remaining 11 members of the TPP still hope for the possible return of the USA to the project, the country with the biggest domestic market. Donald Trump’s statement at the last forum in Davos has revived this hope. However, the entire statement is rather vague.
The probing of the “recent trends” in Washington in respect of the TPP was evidently the second main issue of the negotiations between Malcolm Turnbull and D. Trump. However, the result of this probing is still as unclear as it was after the discussion of the first topic.
The Joint Statement covering the issues of economic cooperation does not mention the TPP at all. It contains the most general statement, for example, “we are cooperating to ensure that the international trading system is rooted in market-based principles, fair competition, private sector-led development, and good economic governance.”
It notes that the USA is the largest foreign investor in Australia. Of course, it does not mention that PRC has long been Australia’s largest trade partner. The trade turnover between these two countries is 5-6 times larger than the volume of the U.S.-Australia trade.
China might easily steal leadership from the USA in the field of investment in Australia’s economy. However, Canberra (like Europe and the USA lately) protects it from excessive Chinese penetration for “strategic” reasons. Earlier, we commented on the failure of Beijing to invest in the Australian power distribution network system to the tune of 8 billion dollars.
In general, the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s visit to the USA has brought nothing new in the splitting, which has long characterized Australia’s positioning in respect of the two world players.
In order to end Australia’s political insanity, the USA sends one of its main military hawks to Canberra as an ambassador. Let us see how successful he will be at this important but civil position.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”