The Australian Embassy in China has reportedly extended an invitation to Foreign Minister Wang Yi to visit Australia.
The expected visit would be a “return visit” following Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s trip to Beijing last December to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic ties, during which they held the sixth round of China-Australia Foreign and Strategic Dialogue.
Like Wong’s December trip to China, the reported invitation to Wang is a fresh sign of the two governments trying to thaw a relationship that had been in deep freeze over the past few years. These may not suffice to bring the relations to where they used to be, but they are worthy endeavors in both sides’ interests. To what extent the two governments succeed in fence-mending, however, hinges on what lessons they have learned from the fraught relationship.
The Chinese foreign minister was correct in saying there are neither historical grudges nor fundamental conflicts of interest between China and Australia, so they have every reason to become cooperative partners who benefit each other.
Friendly, robust economic and trade relations served both countries well until they were taken hostage in the geopolitical game directed by Washington. Through two previous administrations, politicians in Canberra unilaterally sabotaged relations with China under such pretexts as a “China threat”, “national security” and “virus origin probe”.
At the same time, Canberra’s active participation in the US-led “Indo-Pacific” strategic deployments has further deteriorated the political atmosphere for improving bilateral ties. Its roles in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and the AUKUS alliance, for instance, are obvious thorns in Beijing’s side.
Having benefited so much from their once thriving economic and trade exchanges, both Beijing and Canberra have felt the need to repair ties. Considering the complex non-economic factors involved, however, there may be no easy solution.
Easing trade ties may be a viable first step. But how much strategic autonomy the government in Canberra can demonstrate under pressure from its Western peers notwithstanding, the very negative public feelings and ideological biases against China the past two administrations had instigated will also be a hurdle for any substantial progress toward better China-Australia relations.
The less-than-favorable perception of China that holds sway in Australia has proven to be sticky. That is why when they met on the sidelines of the July ASEAN+1 foreign ministers’ meeting in Jakarta on July 13, Wang told Wong the two countries should cultivate a friendly atmosphere in which the two peoples understand and appreciate each other.
That is something the two sides must make efforts to achieve.
Editorial, China Daily