What would “shirt-fronting Tony” do? Australia’s pivot to Russia and China

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January 30 , 2018 – Fort Russ News – 

RT Russian  – by Inessa Sinchougova

Canberra does not view Russia and China (PRC) as a military threat – as stated on Monday 29th January by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Australia, Julie Bishop. Attitudes towards Moscow and Beijing were revised after Prime Minister Tony Abbott left the Cabinet of Ministers, and his seat was taken by Malcolm Turnbull. Experts note that the position of the incumbent government vis-à-vis the Russian Federation and the PRC differs markedly from the point of view of Washington. 

In an interview with Sky News Australia, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said that Canberra is ready to continue its close work with the countries of the region, primarily with China. She added that the Australian authorities do not share Washington’s views on Russia and the PRC.

Unlike the Americans, who called the growth of Chinese and Russian influence in the world a key challenge to national security, the Australian side expresses fears only in connection with the policy of Pyongyang. This was previously said by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. 

In April 2017, the DPRK authorities threatened Australia with a nuclear strike if it continues to “blindly follow” Washington’s political course This statement was made by the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs after the speech of Australian Foreign Minister Bishop, in which she described North Korea’s nuclear plans as a threat to the whole world.

However, the confrontation with Pyongyang does not prevent Canberra from building a close cooperation with Beijing. As  Bishop said on January 29, Australia continues to work closely with the PRC – it is not just about economic, but also military-political cooperation.

“We are holding joint military exercises with China, as well as with other countries in the region, and we will continue to do this,” the head of the Australian Foreign Ministry said.

According to the Australian press, in the middle of January Bishop criticized her colleague, the Minister of International Development for Oceania Affairs, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who rebuked the PRC of using dubious financial instruments to increase its economic influence in the region. 

In an interview with The Australian, Fierravanti-Wells said that China is building “a lot of useless buildings” in the countries of Oceania and roads leading nowhere. These statements of the Australian minister were negatively received in Beijing. Commenting on this story later, Bishop said that “the Australian government welcomes investment in the developing countries of Oceania.” 

Experts note that in recent months, China and Australia have had disputes over economic issues, but Canberra avoids any politicization. Canberra also distances itself from the anti-Russian and anti-Chinese hysteria that has engulfed the political and military circles of a number of NATO member countries. 

However, there is no need to go as far as to talk about friendly relations between Moscow and Canberra just yet, experts warn. 

Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull, presenting the updated version of the White Paper on the country’s foreign policy in November 2017 –  Russia directly and indirectly affects Australia.

“In relations with Russia, we will be cautious, promoting our interests where we see that this is possible. At the same time, Australia will work with partners to oppose Russian policy when it threatens global security, “the politician said.

“Russia will remain a significant strategic player in the Indo-Pacific region,” the minister explained, speaking at the conference “Foreign Policy in an Uncertain World.”At the same time, the key goal of Canberra is the pragmatic promotion of its own interests in the world, primarily in the Indo-Pacific region. As the head of the Australian Foreign Ministry noted earlier, Russia plays an important role here.

Evident restraint in the use of accusations appeared in the political discourse of Australia after Tony Abbott resigned as Orime Minister in 2015. Abbott was a supporter of radical initiatives in foreign policy and often made rude attacks on foreign states and leaders. Against the backdrop of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014, the politician promised to “shirtfront” the Russian president at the G20 summit in Brisbane. (To punch with one’s chest – translation from Australian English.) However, Abbott never dared to venture even close to the Russian president. Revisit the hilarious moment: 

In addition to the standard sanctions imposed by US allies in 2014 against Russia, Abbott’s government broke the 2012 agreement on the supply of Australian uranium for enrichment to Russia. 

Australia has about 30% of the world’s uranium reserves, while the country does not have the technology for its enrichment. However, the restrictions are more symbolic, since two years after the signing of the treaty, Australia imported only 100 tons of raw uranium into Russia. It should be noted that Canberra’s plans to establish uranium enrichment on its own territory met with resistance from the US administration.

The total trade turnover between Australia and Russia in 2011 was $ 1 billion, most of it was attributed to Australian imports. After the introduction of sanctions, trade began to decline, and in 2015 the volume of mutual trade amounted to $ 677.3 million.

In the opinion of Alexey Martynov, director of the International Institute of the Newest States, Australia, although a longtime ally of the United States and Great Britain, is geographically located in close proximity to China.

“If Washington can make sharp statements from afar to Asian countries, Australia is in the zone of a possible conflict and is not interested in fomenting confrontational relations,” the expert explained. “- Therefore, Australia, as a rule, adheres to a more sober policy. An exception was the period when Tony Abbott was Prime Minister. For example, the aggravation of relations with Moscow, a number of sharp attacks towards the Russian leadership were associated with the personal position of Abbott.”

Today, Australia regrets that Canberra, following in the US example, took such a radical position, which did not envisage dialogue, Martynov added.

A similar point of view is held by the leading expert of the Center for Military and Political Studies, Mikhail Alexandrov.

“The Australian authorities have always considered the US their loyal allies and supported Washington even against their own views, as was the case during the Vietnam campaign,” the expert commented. “But now the Australian establishment feels that the Americans are going too far and this can turn into unpleasant consequences for Australia itself, if it does not distance itself from this dicourse.”

Canberra’s stance is similarly affected by the example of Turkey, the interests of which the US did not give much thought to recently, despite its allied relations. Therefore, Australia is wondering whether the Americans would defend its interests in the face of serious confrontation.

“The conflict of American foreign policy is starting to irritate the Australian side, it is noticeable,” Alexandrov added.

According to the expert, there are lobbyists of American interests in the country, but for now the ‘reasonable’ wing in the Australian establishment prevails. The greater part of the population is less interested in foreign policy and most often simply adopts the course of the current government, so the appearance of some serious pro-American or anti-American movements is unlikely.

The trans-Pacific impasse

In 2015, China and Australia signed a free trade agreement, under which 97% of Australian exports to the PRC are subject to zero tariffs. The total trade turnover between the countries for 2016 amounted to $ 119.5 billion – this is 21% of the total foreign trade of Australia. In second place are the United States – during the same period, the countries traded goods worth $ 49.5 billion, in third place – Japan.

The trade between Australia and the United States was to be promoted within the framework of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP). The trade union was also supposed to include Japan, Mexico, Singapore, Canada, Chile and other countries – 12 states. The agreement on the creation of the TTP was signed in February 2016, but in January 2017, Washington withdrew from the project after a decree was signed by the head of the White House, Donald Trump. 

According to experts, the White House’s initial pushing of the legislation, and then withdrawing from it strongly undermined confidence between the US and Australia. Australia initiated further negotiations with Japan, New Zealand and Singapore on the continuation of the project without the participation of the US – even the option of the inclusion of China was considered. In the original TPP – Russia and China were specifically left out of the trading block.

“Anti-Russian sanctions have similarly been detrimental to Australia, which the country joined into under the previous prime minister. And since Washington now ranked as threats not only Russia, but also China, the Australians became seriously worried. Australia risks becoming isolated in the region and is afraid of that. We are talking about relations not only with China, but also with a number of other states in the densely populated South Pacific region,” Mikhail Aleksandrov summed up.

The US has shown to be an unreliable ally to Australia in recent years. In this light, Australia is exploring a new vector in its foreign policy – one that seeks closer but careful relations with Russia and China. 

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