When then–Prime Minister Tony Abbott was asked by Angela Merkel about Australia’s relations with China, he summed it up, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, in two words: “Fear and greed”. For a visual embodiment of such sentiment, take the graph charting which countries have been buying the bulk of Australia’s exports this century.
It seems like a long time ago, but Japan was still Australia’s biggest customer until the global financial crisis. That changed dramatically when Beijing launched a huge stimulus package to drag its economy out of a potentially deep recession in 2008. Since then, Australia’s trade with China has never looked back.
The fear came later, when reality set in in Canberra that Australia’s most valuable trading partner might also be a formidable geostrategic rival. As Australia’s trade with China relative to the rest of the world has soared, so too have bilateral political tensions, and the fear that Beijing might use business to advance its regional aims. It is a tension that I suspect Australia will be living with for decades to come.