Published: 12:22, June 17, 2024
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Canberra taking steps in the right direction
By China Daily
Chinese Premier Li Qiang arrives in Adelaide, Australia, June 15, 2024, for an official visit to Australia. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

Premier Li Qiang's ongoing visit to Australia, which started on Saturday following his successful visit to New Zealand, looks set to further strengthen Beijing and the Anthony Albanese government's consensus that maintaining the healthy development of bilateral ties serves the two countries' common interests.

In 2014, the two countries established a comprehensive strategic partnership, and mutually beneficial and win-win cooperation became the general theme of bilateral relations after that until the previous Scott Morrison government, under the sway of Washington, took a confrontational approach to relations. Australian Prime Minister Albanese's successful visit to China last year helped return bilateral ties to the right track, and practical cooperation is again the focus of China-Australia relations.

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The face-to-face exchanges between Li, who is making the first visit by a Chinese premier to Australia since 2017, and Australian political and business leaders and representatives from different sectors of the Australian society over issues of common concern provide a good opportunity for the two sides to deepen their mutual understanding and explore ways to tap the full potential of their economic and trade cooperation.

The fast recovering curve of Sino-Australian ties over the past two years should prompt both Beijing and Canberra to foster a more mature, stable and fruitful partnership that is resistant to outside interference. Canberra has already demonstrated that it is not willing to unreservedly follow Washington's lead having expressed critical views on the US' tariff attack on Chinese goods and export restrictions targeting Chinese technology development.

If Canberra and Beijing can build greater mutual trust and treat each other's concerns with respect, there is no reason why they can't overcome misconceptions and misperceptions about each other's actions and intentions.

The op-ed by Albanese, "Working productively with China will benefit everyone in the region", published by The Australian three days prior to Li's visit, shows clearly Canberra's willingness to meet Beijing halfway in that direction.

In the article, the Australian leader said Li's visit represents "another step forward in the patient, calibrated and deliberate efforts of our Government to rebuild dialogue with China and stabilise the relationship between our nations".

Although he said that "Australia's approach has been consistent and clear: co-operate with China where we can, disagree where we must and engage in our national interest", which sounds familiar to Beijing as Washington has said a similar thing, it should be noted that the Albanese government has replaced competition and confrontation with disagreement and engagement.

That is similar to China's equally "consistent and clear" principle in handling relations with all countries, including Australia and the US, of seeking common ground while reserving differences.

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The confidence the Australian leader has displayed in the article that Canberra can balance relations with Beijing and Washington, and the progress his government has made in this regard should serve as an example to others that it doesn't have to be an either-or choice as Washington proposes. There is always broad space for countries to develop ties with both China and the US.

Upholding strategic autonomy and focusing on common interests while managing differences, as Australia is doing, is the best way for countries to protect their own interests and get along with others. In the process, it is always better to work on differences by dealing with each other directly through dialogue. As Albanese observed in his article: "In a world of increasing complexity, the true measure of foreign policy strength is the ability to effectively manage differences, not manufacture confrontations. That's why as well as reminding ourselves of the benefits we have been able to secure through dialogue we must always remember the potentially devastating cost of the alternative."

Issuing threats and ultimatums, as the Australian leader indicated, is an easy road to take, but it doesn't go very far. It is better to take the road that goes the farthest, even if that does require more effort.