November 13, 2018
Australia’s reliance on its giant trading partner China could get a little stickier going forward.
Yesterday, Australia’s new Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged to increase his country’s military and diplomatic engagement in the South Pacific amid concerns the nation’s influence is waning as China continues it headlong regional hegemony pursuits, particularly in the contested South China Sea.
Morrison said that his government will set up an AUD$2 billion (US$1.46 billion) infrastructure fund for the region, increase naval deployments and carry out more military exercises with island nations. In comments released by his office, Morrison said, “This is our patch. It’s where Australia can make the biggest difference in world affairs.” His comments also come amid growing backlash against what many in Australia see as Chinese interference in its political process, while others have warned for years that the country was too reliant on natural resource exports to China.
This growing anti-China sentiment for long-time U.S. ally Australia also comes as President Trump pushes against China in trade so hard that it has already started to slow down manufacturing expansion and economic growth, with further projects for the same. It also comes as Australia joins the US, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, UK, France, India and others to enforce freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea, much to the angst of Beijing who claims 90 percent of the sea in what it refers to as “historical rights,” a dubious claim that could be used by a myriad of other nations in the region.
Thawing a diplomatic chill
However, Beijing replied quickly to Morrison’s vow to increase naval deployments. China’s top diplomat Wang Yi said that China and Australia should be cooperating in the South Pacific and not cast as political rivals. Reuters said Wang…