At the G20, Anthony Albanese showed Justin Trudeau the smarter way of dealing with China’s Xi Jinping

Home Politics At the G20, Anthony Albanese showed Justin Trudeau the smarter way of dealing with China’s Xi Jinping
At the G20, Anthony Albanese showed Justin Trudeau the smarter way of dealing with China’s Xi Jinping

There are two very different ways to deal with China’s President Xi Jinping — the smart way and the not smart way.

Recently, Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese showed the smart way. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau showed the other way.

Both examples were on display at the G20 meeting in Bali last month. It’s instructive to examine both cases given that Australia’s relationship with China is going to be important for many decades and we need to carefully manage this tricky but highly-consequential relationship.

In Australia, rhetoric about China has reached dangerously emotive and ideological levels. Both supporters and critics of China have escalated their language, often abusing those who disagree with their views of what form Australia’s relationship with China should take.

Anthony Albanese and Xi Jinping smiling and shaking hands
Anthony Albanese could have been following the rule book of Bob Hawke or John Howard when it came to his recent meeting with Xi Jinping at the G20.(Twitter: Anthony Albanese )

The supporters of China often deride any mention of China’s human rights abuses. The critics of China become enraged with any contact with China — even Albanese’s recent meeting with Xi was seen as unacceptable. Many of the critics suggest a strange course: that if given a chance, Australia should not engage in dialogue with the leader of Australia’s major customer.

The reality is that for 50 years, most Australian prime ministers have got the relationship with China basically right.

In 1972, Gough Whitlam, understanding the growing importance of China to the region, established diplomatic relations. He was ahead of most democratic countries, and was followed soon after when Washington did the same thing, exemplified by the famous visit to China by president Richard Nixon.

Rewinding back to Bob Hawke

Once Australia’s diplomatic relations were established, Bob Hawke laid the foundations for Australia’s economic relationship with China. 

In 1985, when Hawke stood atop Mount Channar in Western Australia with Chinese premier Hu Yaobang, looking across the rich red dirt of the Pilbara, the two men made an agreement: China would get much of that iron ore to begin dramatic economic growth. It would lift hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty and Australia would get the abundant wealth that would underwrite 30 years of unbroken economic growth.

Two years after the meeting on Mount Channar, Australia and China signed Beijing’s first foreign investment deal, heralding the beginning of Australia’s resources boom and China’s economic growth.

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