Former Prime Minister John Howard said Australia should not become “mesmerised” by China, despite its economic importance to the country and WA in particular.
Speaking at the WA Local Government Association convention in Perth today Mr Howard said China still faced “enormous challenges”, including an ageing population that would have big implications for its future.
“We shouldn’t mesmerise ourselves about China,” he said. “It’s still an authoritarian country and it faces some enormous challenges.
“As the years go by China will have to put more and more resources into looking after an ageing population and that will have implications for her domestically.
“But China is important to our country. It’s particularly important, given the resource base of this State, to the future of Western Australia.”
Mr Howard rejected the idea Australia faced a choice between aligning itself with China or with the US.
“Let’s not imagine that China is running around looking for a fight,” he said. “She has far too many internal domestic problems to deal with.
“China will assert herself. Every nation that acquires economic strength will enterprise a defence capacity to match it.
“We don’t have to choose (between China and the US), we can be friends with both.”
But he said the values Australia and US shared meant they would inevitably be closer than Australia and China.
“In the end, the things that bind nations together more tightly than trade or even iron ore and coal is, of course, common values,” he said.
“The values that we share in common with the United States are deeper than those that we have with China.”
In a wide-ranging address Mr Howard expressed some understanding of WA’s frustration over the GST carve-up and would be lobbying just like Premier Colin Barnett were he in his shoes.