Repair ties with China: Australian business groups

Nation may turn to other countries for imports

Australia-imported meet is shown in Shanghai in November 2018. Photo: IC

Australian business groups have called on the country’s officials to repair and improve relations with China rather than take it for granted, after reports said the federal government would be absent from the Second Belt and Road Forum (BRF) for International Cooperation, which will be held in Beijing from Thursday to Saturday.

“Australia has enjoyed a record 27 years of uninterrupted economic growth, and our relationship with China has been an important contributing factor to this success. It is an important relationship Australia should never take for granted and should continually foster and improve,” said Helen Christine Sawczak, CEO of the Australia China Business Council (ACBC), commenting on reports that Australia will not send federal ministers to the BRF. Sawczak will attend the CEO Forum of the BRF.

In contrast to the federal government, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews will attend the BRF, the Australian Financial Review reported, after the Australia state of Victoria signed a Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) memorandum of understanding with China last year.

“The Victorian government is [more] acutely aware of the important role that China has played in its economic success,” Sawczak told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Liu Qing, director of the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the situation also shows a “divergent attitude” inside the country on its stance toward China and the BRI project, which has been recognized by many countries as an effective platform that could boost trade and economic development.

Liu said that watching more countries’ participation in the BRI, especially Italy, Australia might be weighing the issue but the decision is hard to make as it still faces pressure from the US.

In March, Italy signed a BRI memorandum of understanding with China, becoming the first G7 member to do so. Switzerland also plans to sign a BRI accord with Beijing later this month, media reports said.

There may be an opportunity for Australia to reconsider its position on the BRI, as the federal election will take place in May, Sawczak said.

The ACBC has been a longstanding supporter of the BRI, as the initiative offers many opportunities for Australian companies to participate in infrastructure projects around the world and international multiparty transactions, Sawczak added. “Australia is well-placed to assist in regions that have large infrastructure deficits and an urgent need for improvements. By joining the BRI, Australia could be closer and more aware of the opportunities presented by the BRI.”

Chinese analysts warned that the Australian federal government should find ways to repair its fraught relationship with China, which is at a low point and shows no signs of recovering, by reconsidering its stance on the Huawei issue. Otherwise, China might continue to turn to other countries for imports like dairy products and insurance services.

“Not only will bilateral trade be hurt, Chinese students and travelers going to Australia might also decline accordingly, and its neighboring country New Zealand might be a beneficiary of that,” Yu Lei, a research fellow at Sun Yat-sen University in South China’s Guangdong Province, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Relations between China and Australia soured after Australia blocked Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei from participating in a local 5G network construction, citing national security concerns.

Sawczak said that the way the Australian government treats Huawei must be balanced with a transparent and consistent approach. “Just as we expect Australian companies to be treated fairly when they invest and operate in China, so too should Australia treat Chinese companies with respect and transparency when they operate in Australia.”

Liu said Australia has been trying to mend its relationship with Beijing. For example in March, the Australian government announced the establishment of a foundation to boost relations with China, which Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said aims to “strengthen one of Australia’s most significant bilateral relationships.”

“Australian companies are always keen for bilateral relations to be harmonious with our No.1 trading partner China,” Sawczak added.

Source: Global Times

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