China’s activities in the Asia-Pacific region threatens its ties with Australia

Diplomatic tiff is looming between Australia and China over the latter’s move to militarise ports around Australia. The bilateral relation between the two countries started dipping last year after Canberra asked for an independent inquiry into the source of China’s Covid-19 prompting Beijing to suspended imports of barley and beef from Australia as a part of economic embargos.

However, recent China’s aggressive military expansion in Asia-Pacific and intentions to invade Taiwan appear to have rattled Australia which has vowed to adopt assertive military postures in response.

Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton has asked Australian armed forces to turn their attention to nearer shores amid growing threats from China. “We need to recognise that our region is changing. China is militarising ports across our region. We need to deal with all of that, and that is exactly what we are now focused on,” said Dutton, after paying tribute to tens of thousands of Australians who saved the country from foreign attacks during the Anzac Day to mark the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.

His remarks come a few weeks after, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged threats emanating from China’s increasing military and economic expansion “It’s an imperative we create a sovereign guided weapons capability as a priority,” Morrison said. Australia has upgraded its missile technology and guided weapons system to counter Chinese aggression.

China has incensed Canberra by initiating talks with the government of Papua New Guinea (PNG) to build a city on the island of Daru, which is just a few kilometres from Australia.

A report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) suggested infiltration of Australia by China maritime and port expansion. “Beijing’s greater willingness to flex its muscles, both politically and militarily, is supported by its overseas investments in critical infrastructure. The People’s Republic of China has become increasingly willing to project military power overseas while coercing and co-opting countries into accepting the objectives of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP),” reads the report. 

The bilateral relation between Australia and China relationship is at its lowest point since its establishment in 1972.

Compromise on key national interests

China has demanded Australia to compromise on key national interests as a prerequisite for the resumption of talks and for cooperation, said Australian Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Frances Adamson. "As China adopts a more authoritarian approach domestically and asserts itself internationally in ways which challenge and undermine those rules, Australia is experiencing a range of difficulties in its bilateral relationship with China… China expects compromise on key national interests for dialogue and cooperation,” Adamson said.

Some argue China wants to establish its hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region as part of its plans to replace the US as the sole dominant global power, but Australia is proving a hard nut to crack. Michèle Flournoy, who was a senior defence official working with former US President Barack Obama, has lauded Australia’s hardline stance against China. “Australia is seen as very courageous in Washington right now in that you are standing up for your interests, you are standing up for your values,” she said.

By bringing Taiwan into the international forum, which China consider its integrated part, Australia has sent a clear signal on its position Dutton said the chance of a conflict involving China over Taiwan should not be discounted.