SINGAPORE – Australia and China need to find common ground despite their differences, as the economic relationship between the two is important, said John Howard, former Australian Prime Minister.
“The economic relationship between Australia and China is very important and there are tensions in that relationship and they need to be monitored,” Howard said on Wednesday on the sidelines of the Singapore summit.
Relations between the two countries have been fraught with tensions, with Beijing last month launching an investigation into some wine imports from Australia following actions on other raw material imports.
“I certainly do not think in any way that Australia should be in a situation of abandoning its relationship with China; it is very important to us. Our raw material exports (such as) iron ore, coal and the like are very important to the Australian economy,”
China is one of Australia’s most important trading partners, with the Asian economic powerhouse buying much of the raw materials produced Down Under.
The recent downward spiral in China-Australia relations was triggered by Canberra’s call for an international investigation into the origin of coronavirus, which was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Howard did not mention the probe, but stressed the need for Australia to take a balanced approach to its relationship with China – even when tensions between the United States – Canberra’s closest ally – and China are simmering.
“I do not think we should be defined by whom we should support between China and the United States. We can have good relations with both of these countries, albeit of a different kind because we are different societies,” he said.
“I see the bilateral relationship between Australia and China as something we need to take care of and nurture according to our own special interests, and of course I always remember that we are part of a group of Western countries that believe in some fundamental values. . , “Howard added.
Instead, Australia and China need to find some consensus despite their different histories and political systems, he said.
“It is extremely important in these difficult times, especially in the face of the pandemic, to take a balanced approach, to try to find areas of common ground,” Howard said.
Regarding issues around raw materials like wine, Howard said that “let the process work, let’s not overdramatize some of the differences that arise.”
China’s authoritarian regime ‘a fact’
Howard said that although China has taken a more confident stance internationally since President Xi Jinping took office, its internal political system has not changed much – it is just being enforced more strictly now than in the past.
“China has been an authoritarian country run by the Chinese Communist Party since 1949, and it is a fact that we must work within it,” he added.
“You can not expect a country that has a fundamentally different political system to agree to change this system, you have to live with it – without, of course, giving any reason for things that are important to our own values,” he said. . .
So instead of frustrating the economic ties between the two countries, Australia needs to work to maintain its core values while preserving the mutual benefits of the economic relationship with China.
“It’s more than just common sense, it’s a matter of long-term sensible policy,” he said.