Year-end: 2014: A successful year for Australian diplomacy | 作者: Wang Zhenyu | 时间: 2015-01-14 | 责编: 李敏捷
Adjust font size: + -




2014 witnessed a great leap forward for the Australian government in its engagement with its partners through various channels.

The most remarkable were achieved during the G20 Summit and related meetings hosted by Australia. Australia, as a middle power, has left its footprint in the global agenda, despite Australia's reluctance to cover climate change in the leaders' communique.

Such multilateral events always bring about extra value to the host in its promotion of bilateral relations.

The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit — the first PM visit of India to Australia in almost three decades — was said to be a great boost to the relations between the two countries. The rapid development of the bilateral relations was testified by the exchange of visits of the two prime ministers in two months. In addition to the economic cooperation, Australia's signing of an agreement to sell uranium to India, which is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, during Abbot's visit to India and the Framework for Security Cooperation during Modi's visit were the most eye-catching developments.

The improvement of relations with Indonesia was also achieved through the G20, to which the new President of Indonesia Joko Widodo was personally invited by Tony Abbot at the former's presidential inauguration. President Joko attended the G20 Summit, on the sidelines of which Abbot and Joko held a brief meeting. The two meetings improved relations between the two neighbors, which had been negatively impacted by Abbot's management of the refugee boat issue and the spying issue.

The browbeating of Russian President Vladimir Putin by Western parties in the G20 was unprecedented. And Abbot's "shirtfronting" of Putin can hardly be considered diplomatic. While it gained Abbot credit among Australia's traditional security partners, the solidarity and synergy necessary for the dialogue and agenda setting on global economic growth was inevitably undermined.

On the margins of the G20 Summit, a trilateral summit meeting was held between Australia and its security alliance, the US, and what Abbot called its "strong ally" Japan. It ended with an agreement to "deepen the already strong security and defense cooperation." This was the first trilateral meeting since 2007, when then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in his first term, called for quadrilateral security dialogue (QSD), including Japan, the US, Australia and India.

Before the trilat, the Australia-Japan relations had already improved economic-wise and security-wise. In April, Abe and Abbot announced conclusion of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) during the latter's visit to Japan, and the two countries signed the agreement during Abe's visit to Australia in July. Abe's visit immediately after his cabinet's reinterpretation of constitution ended with enhanced security relationship between the two countries. Ironically, what Abbot and Abe acclaimed "a new special relationship" and "a partnership for peace, for prosperity and for the rule of law" was widely interpreted as a measure that would destabilize security relations in the region.

An image of a helpful Australia has been projected because of its cooperation with Malaysia and China in searching the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 since March 8. The tragedy brought Australia closer to both Malaysia and China, and to East Asia.

One of the most impressive achievements of Australia's diplomatic efforts in 2014 is the improvement of its relationship with China.

The relationship was upgraded to a Strategic Partnership in the first half of 2013, when the Australian Labor Party was in power. But toward the end of 2013, the bilateral relations encountered a real challenge when the Abbot Government improperly commented on China's establishment of its Air Defense Identification Zone. But, with the help of the new strategic partnership, the two countries steered out of the crisis.

In April, Abbot's trip to North East Asia concluded with his visit to China, accompanied by a 600-strong trade mission, Australia's largest ever. Abbot expressed his aspiration to be a "true friend" to China that would be "richer still."

Abbot's good will was reciprocated by President Xi Jinping in his state visit to Australia in November. The visit upgraded the Strategic Partnership to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which China shares with very few countries. Through all ups and downs of the past eight years, China and Australia have moved from a 21st Century comprehensive cooperative partnership, to a strategic partnership, and now a comprehensive strategic partnership.

During the visit, the two sides declared the conclusion of negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement, which was hailed as a landmark agreement by both sides. It will be a great boost to the trade and investment relations between the two countries. The great potential of economic complementarity will be further tapped when the agreement is signed and implemented. With many rounds of negotiations in the past nine years, the deal came at the right time — when China is undergoing in-depth reform and economic restructuring with the bonus of reform yet to be released and the vast service market more liberalized. Australia, a traditional resource supplier, will find a new niche in China's service market, and Chinese investors will have better chances to prove trustworthy in the Australian market.

The deal will also have regional ramifications as the two sides can move further to promote the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which both are members of.

As an essential element of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, the two sides strengthened anti-corruption cooperation. And a host of joint projects were established, covering mining and energy, infrastructure, agriculture and husbandry.

The bilateral relationship was also enhanced in 2014 when China hosted APEC meetings and Australia hosted G20 Summit. The two sides' constructive consultation and cooperation on the issues covered by both APEC and G20 have made the two processes more relevant to each other.

Xi's state visit to Australia took the bilateral relationship to a new level. But the establishment of the comprehensive strategic partnership will not be fulfilled with the announcement alone.

The two parties shall be prepared for the various challenges and mindful of the various risks, especially given the US pivot to Asia strategy and the evolving geopolitical scenario.

Xi emphasized his commitment to common peaceful development and Asia Pacific cooperation in his address to the Federal Parliament of Australia.

The Abbot government is essentially practicing pragmatic diplomacy in the Asia-Pacific region by strengthening the security relations with the US, Japan and a couple of other regional players while missing no chances to beef up economic engagement with regional partners, including China.

This policy has often put Australia in very awkward positions. The more precisely carved Abbot policy could hardly fare better, as his fellow Australians have reminded. It is advisable for Australia to gain respect (or true friendship) from the region and best serve its interests in the long run by way of cooperation with all as an independent partner rather than through coalition with a few as a secondary player.



By Wang Zhenyu, Associate Research Fellow with China Institute for International Studies, Director of China National Committee for Pacific Economic Cooperation

(Source:, Panview, December 24, 2014)