The 7th China-Australia Dialogue: Charting a new course
Imran Khalid


Editor's note: Imran Khalid, a special commentator on current affairs for CGTN, is a freelance columnist on international affairs. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

On September 7, Beijing is hosting the 7th China-Australia High Level Dialogue, facilitating a pivotal platform for delegates hailing from the spheres of industry, government, academia and media. This event promises a dynamic exchange of insights, enveloping the vast landscape of the China-Australia bilateral partnership.

Encouraging constructive discourse, the dialogue is expected to delve into multifaceted matters encompassing trade, investment, interpersonal connections, and regional as well as global security. This occasion bears great significance in forging stronger ties and fostering mutual understanding between these two nations. The dialogue holds profound significance, encapsulating Australia's commitment to reinvigorating economic ties and interpersonal exchanges with China.

This delegation, featuring former ministers from both the Labor and Liberal parties, symbolizes Australia's unified pursuit of a constructive relationship with China. It marks a significant milestone, coming more than three years after the annual event was halted amid tensions. This high-level dialogue serves as an instrumental platform to bridge gaps, rectify misunderstanding and find common ground for collaboration.

Notably, reflecting bipartisan support, Australia's former Trade Minister Craig Emerson will co-chair the Australian delegation. Former Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, is also participating as a delegate and session lead, reinforcing the perception of a bipartisan approach; while Li Zhaoxing, former Chinese minister of foreign affairs and honorary president of the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs (CPIFA), will co-chair and lead the Chinese delegation.

This event, guided by leaders with substantial diplomatic experience, indicates a fresh start in the bilateral relationship, rekindling hope for improved cooperation. In 2020, tensions escalated between two major trading partners as the Australian Liberal government adopted a confrontational anti-China stance, demanding an inquiry into COVID-19's origins. However, with the Labor administration assuming power in May 2022 and China subsequently removing tariffs on Australian barley exports in August, bilateral relations have entered a positive phase, showing signs of improvement.

After conducting an extensive review of the evolving barley market, China took the commendable step of lifting the anti-dumping and countervailing duties imposed on Australian barley imports since May 2020. This decision received a warm and appreciative response from Australia, with both Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Foreign Minister Penny Wong expressing their approval. Beyond signaling Australia's constructive approach, this move also snubbed efforts to fuel discord between the two countries by evoking concerns about the so-called China's coercive diplomacy. It also underscored the potential for amicable relations and cooperation in the bilateral context.

Factually speaking, a tacit understanding has emerged on both sides, advocating the wisdom of moving beyond past grievances and directing their energies toward a shared future. This reset is not only a positive catalyst for the resurgence of trade but also a pivotal step in enhancing overall diplomatic relations and cooperation. Beyond barley, Australia has resumed substantial exports of thermal coal and lobster to China after a two-year hiatus. 

These developments signal a promising chapter of collaboration, exemplifying the potential for renewed engagement and mutual benefit between the two nations. Since Albanese assumed office in May last year, both Canberra and Beijing have jointly endeavored to bridge the divide created by the previous Scott Morrison administration, aiming to recalibrate Sino-Australian relations towards a healthier trajectory.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Bali, Indonesia, November 15, 2022. /Xinhua
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Bali, Indonesia, November 15, 2022. /Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Bali, Indonesia, November 15, 2022. /Xinhua

A pivotal moment in this process was the meeting between Albanese and the Chinese leader in Bali during November last year,  a significant event that signaled a thaw in relations. Notably, the Albanese government has distanced itself from supporting entry of China's Taiwan region into the Comprehensive Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a significant departure from its predecessor's stance. This overture has not gone unnoticed by Beijing. Additionally, Albanese has expressed willingness to visit China. These developments collectively signify a promising era of diplomacy and cooperation. 

The dialogue presents an opportunity for productive discourse encompassing various critical domains, ranging from trade and investment to fostering people-to-people connections and addressing regional and global security concerns. Nevertheless, it is also a fact that both nations grapple with misunderstandings across multiple fronts, potentially leading to policy missteps. Therefore, this dialogue assumes the vital role of charting solutions for contentious issues. Economic and trade relations serve as the bedrock and catalyst of Sino-Australian ties, and the warming of these relations holds the promise of overall improvement.  

Australia's keenness to engage with the Chinese market and products is accentuated by its economic challenges and soaring prices. In particular, as China advances significantly in new energy and materials, Australia aspires to foster cooperation in these burgeoning sectors. Ironically, in the realm of security, Australia continues to pursue alignment with the United States, particularly with respect to maintaining the status quo on the Taiwan question and issues concerning the South China Sea.  

Australia's integral role in the U.S. "Indo-Pacific Strategy" reflects its alignment with American policies, especially in relation to China. The evolving dynamics of China-Australia relations are undoubtedly influenced by the strategic partnership between Australia and the U.S.  

However, it is imperative for Australia to reevaluate and safeguard its national interests amidst this intricate geopolitical equation. The forthcoming trajectory of China-Australia relations hinges on whether the Australian leadership can exhibit the political acumen and strategic foresight needed to recalibrate and enhance their approach towards China. In this regard, there exists a cautious optimism regarding the direction in which China-Australia ties may evolve, as both countries navigate these complex dynamics. 

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