Despite deepening economic ties, not all is rosy in relationship between Australia and China. Australia, along with Japan and the United States, condemned China’s establishment of an ADIZ/ Canberra even summoned the Chinese ambassador to discuss the move. Australian Prime Minister Abbot has called Japan Australia’s “closest friend” in Asia. Abbot has been unapologetic in the matter, even in the face of severe Chinese criticisms: “We are a strong ally of the United States, we are a strong ally of Japan, we have a very strong view that international disputes should be settled peacefully and in accordance with the rule of law and where we think that is not happening, or it is not happening appropriately, we will speak our mind… China trades with us because it is in China’s interest to trade with us.”
China’s Foreign Ministry has said: “the entire Chinese society and the general public are deeply dissatisfied” with Abbot’s remarks.
However, Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop focused on economic matters with her Chinese hosts during her trip to Beijing. She was hopeful, after eight years of talks on establishing a bilateral FTA: “There are many opportunities for our economic relationship to be broader and deeper and more diversified and the potential for a Free Trade Agreement was discussed…Indeed, the Vice-President indicated that he thought we had the opportunity to conclude a Free Trade Agreement in the very near future.” China is Australia’s largest trading partner.
The relationship between Australia and China is important not only in its own right, but also because it symbolizes the relationship between China and many of America’s Asia-Pacific allies. Although China is their largest trading partner, these nations play up the “China threat” for domestic political purposes. Beijing has used economic leverage to extract political concessions in the past. The Australian government may have overplayed their hand by publicly wading into the treacherous waters of the East China Sea.