Federal Election: China has 'given up' on Scott Morrison

A change of government is needed to get Australia's relationship with critical trade partner China back on track, according to one expert on the matter.

Yahoo News spoke to James Laurenceson, Director of the University of Technology Sydney’s Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI) about the fractured relationship between the two countries and how it can be repaired.

Anthony Albanese in the House of Representatives chamber at Parliament House
James Laurenceson, Director of the University of Technology Sydney's Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI), believes Anthony Albanese and Labor in government will have a better chance at fixing Australia's fractured relationship with China. Source: Getty

Laurenceson believes that due to a number of diplomatic mistakes by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his senior ministers, Beijing has “given up” on the government.

“You probably are going to need to see a change of Australian government for the China relationship to get back on track,” Laurenceson said.

“Any government is always going to have a challenging relationship with China. China has now got sufficient economic and strategic weight that it feels it has every right to push its interests.”

Laurenceson believes ties between Australia and China are currently worse than they've been in 50 years.

“The relationship between the two countries is in no doubt the worst shape since 1972, when formal ties between the two countries were established,” he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during question time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House
Prime Minister Scott Morrison's diplomatic blundering has damaged the relationhsip with China so badly it will take a change of government to repair it, says Laurenceson. Source: Getty.

Covid-19 blame game soured relations

Laurenceson said the relationship worsened in 2020 when Australia joined the US in criticising China regarding the spread of Covid-19.

“Morrison did two things in 2019 that he stopped doing in 2020. The first thing was he would say things like we’ve got plenty of differences with China, but I’m determined not to let the differences define the relationship.

“The second thing was he was very deliberate in putting some distance between his government’s position and that of Washington.

“In April 2020, Peter Dutton started making remarks that gave China every impression that the Australian government was working with the Trump administration to attack China over Covid-19. It wasn’t just Dutton, it was Morrison and Marise Payne, seemingly confirming that this is what Australia is now doing.”

Refreshing diplomacy with new government

In November 2020, China significantly increased trade tariffs on the export of Australian wine to the country, practically wiping out the trade to China overnight. Laurenceson added that this was also the time that ministerial meetings and dialogue between the two countries broke down.

He said a new Labor government could put a fresh face on diplomacy with China as the Morrison government had damaged the relationship too much to fix it themselves.

“One thing they [Labor] have every prospect of doing is handling the relationship with more diplomacy,” he said.

“I think Beijing has given up on the Morrison government. When I look at what Morrison has said over the last two years he’s really doubled down on promoting the US-led order in Asia and that’s something China cannot live with, so I can’t see how that’s going to work."

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