'Risks abound': Confronting China warning for Australia ahead of US election

Experts are warning Australia should brace for uncertain times in its hardline approach on China’s global threat regardless of the result of this week’s US election.

While Australia’s alliance with the US has enjoyed a strong relationship in recent months, strengthened by both nations’ desires to seek answers from China over its role in the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and a collective rebuttal of Chinese interference, a Trump re-election this week could prompt an “emboldened and unconstrained” Washington to go it alone in international foreign affairs.

“A second Trump administration could spell the end of the alliance system and the postwar liberal international order,” Brookings Institution foreign policy analyst Dr Thomas Wright explained in a report published by the Lowy Institute for International Policy.

“There is no reason to believe that President Trump will follow in the tradition of other Republican presidents and pursue a more multilateral and cooperative strategy in his second term.”

Either candidate could prove problematic for Australia's frontline approach against China. Source: Getty
Either candidate could prove problematic for Australia's frontline approach against China. Source: Getty

And according to University of Sydney Professor Simon Jackman, chief executive officer of the United States Studies Centre, Australia will likely lose its rank among the US’s allies and be seen as “just one of many”.

While Biden appears committed to building on the strong US-Australia relationship, Canberra will undoubtedly hold reservations he could take a softer approach to China in the way Barack Obama did.

Australia undoubtedly goes into the US election in a strong position, and while a victory for either party has the potential to reap reward for Canberra, the power and decision to maintain a strong relationship is firmly in the hands of the US’s president for the next four years.

“Few countries enter the Washington post-election environment with as much goodwill, a position of strength that will serve Australia well under either election scenario,” Prof Jackman said.

“Australia’s alliance credentials and our ‘frontline’ status with respect to China are tremendous assets here.

“But risks abound, with NATO partners understandably keen for a post-Trump reset of strategic US priorities and alliance management, along with internal competitions for resources across the US government threatening to distract attention from the Indo-Pacific.”

Australia will have envisaged such a scenario, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s $270 billion defence pledge in July is evidence of an understanding the nation may need to stand on its own two feet more often than not.

Another trade victim feared

Australia and China’s relationship continues to deteriorate as a robust Mr Morrison refuses to back down on a series of disagreements between the two countries.

Such a stance has prompted a tit-for-tat response, with China repeatedly targeting Australian exports such as beef and wine.

On Monday, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham responded to reports lobsters are the next target after tonnes of Australian lobster were reportedly left on the tarmac at a Chinese airport.

"We are aware of reports of customs clearance issues related to premium shellfish imports into China and are working closely with the industry to secure clarity on this matter," he said in a statement on Monday.

"So far as any industry concerns imply a breach of World Trade Organisation or China-Australia Free Trade Agreement commitments, Chinese authorities should rule out the use of any such discriminatory actions."

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