Turning the Page on Sino-Australian Relations

Publication: China Brief Volume: 8 Issue: 4

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi was in Australia on February 5 for the inaugural ministerial-level strategic dialogue between China and Australia (Xinhua, February 5). Foreign Minister Yang’s visit marked the first high-level visit by a Chinese delegation to Australia following the election of Kevin Rudd’s center-left Labor Party in November 2007. The meeting was widely heralded as a product of President Hu Jintao’s official visit to Australia in September 2007 (People’s Daily, September 7, 2007).

According to multiple Chinese news sources, the launch of the high-level strategic dialogue between Foreign Minister Yan and his counterpart Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd already produced a consensus on deepening cooperation in energy and natural resources, and five major issues that will act as the pillars for the burgeoning bilateral dialogues. First, strengthening high-level exchanges and enhancing mutual political trust. Second, expanding mutual interests and deepening bilateral cooperation. Third, expanding people-to-people contacts and increasing friendly exchanges in cultural and educational sectors. Fourth, strengthening dialogue and understanding mutual concerns each side has regarding sensitive issues. Fifth, strengthening regional cooperation to promote regional peace and stability (China Daily, February 5; Sintao News Network, February 5).

In his official visit to Tokyo last month, Foreign Minister Smith revealed that China had expressed concerns over Canberra’s participation in Japan’s initiative to expand the trilateral dialogue of Australia-United States-Japan to include China’s neighbor India. “One of the things that caused China concern last year was a meeting of that strategic dialogue, plus India, which China expressed some concern with … I indicated when I was in Japan that Australia would not be proposing to have a dialogue of that nature,” Foreign Minister Smith said (The Age, February 5). Australia’s apparent about-face on an initiative that was widely embraced by the former prime ministers of both countries, Shinzo Abe and John Howard, suggests that the Rudd government is placing China more prominently into the centerpiece of its vision of multilateral security in the Asia-Pacific region. Australia will continue to hold trilateral talks with Japan and the United States.