ANALYSIS - Balancing Ties With China, US Represents Major Foreign Policy Challenge For Australia

ANALYSIS - Balancing Ties With China, US Represents Major Foreign Policy Challenge for Australia

MOSCOW (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 21st May, 2020) As the spat between Australia and China amid the coronavirus disease inquiry deepens, which could potentially lead to further heated rhetoric between the two parties, experts told Sputnik that Canberra's position is difficult because it is locked between its security dependence on Washington and economic dependence on China.

The tensions between the two nations soared on Monday after China imposed duties on barley imports from Australia, China's biggest barley supplier, with 73.6 percent tariffs over dumping allegations and 6.9 percent tariffs over alleged subsidies to farmers by Canberra. In response, Australia said that it reserved its right to lodge a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) about China's decision.

"This is a real blow for our barley farmers and producers. It is a significant market to China. And it isn't just bad news for Australian farmers. It'll be Chinese breweries and Chinese consumers who end up paying more, getting substandard products from other countries in the future as a result of this," Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said late Tuesday.

He, however, stressed that Canberra was not thinking about any countersanctions against Beijing.

"Australia is not interested in a trade war. We don't conduct our trade policy on a tit for tat basis. We operate according to the trade rules that we strongly support as a country, and we'll continue to do that. We acknowledge that China has a right to use anti-dumping laws and rules," he said.

China and Australia have long been at odds over Canberra's advocacy for an independent inquiry into the origins and early handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. China, meanwhile, maintains that it has practiced complete transparency throughout the outbreak, keeping an open line of communication with the World Health Organization from the beginning. Beijing also stresses that it is too early to start a full inquiry into the causes of the pandemic because the priority should be given to cooperation in the fight against the virus.

On Monday, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne announced that the alliance of countries that have responded to Australia's call to launch an independent investigation into what had caused the coronavirus pandemic grew to 116.

Qian Junhui, Professor of Economics at Antai College of Economics and Management of the Shanghai Jiao Tong University told Sputnik that the tariffs unleashed against Canberra by Beijing are a clear signal sent to Australia.

"If Australia continues to behave hostile to China, the retaliation may escalate," the expert said.

Meanwhile, the United States, one of the key Australian allies, heated already rising tensions after US President Donald Trump told his 80 million Twitter followers he is behind the Australian-backed push for an independent COVID-19 inquiry in the wake of the row between Beijing and Canberra.

"We are with them!" the US leader wrote above a link to the story.

"I think the current US administration makes Australian position more difficult. If the US were more accommodative toward China, Australia would not have to choose between the US and China," Quan said, adding that if Washington continues to seek a cold war with Beijing, the US allies "will all be in a difficult position."

Meanwhile, the current issue between China and Australia may be a part of the broader juggle that Australia makes between its economic place in the east and political place in the west.

"This is indeed a reflection of Australia's strategic dilemma, which is caused by its economic dependence on China and security dependence on the US. How to balance its relations with Beijing and Washington represents the biggest foreign policy challenge facing Australia," Baohui Zhang, a professor of political science and director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, told Sputnik.

On Tuesday, Minister of Agriculture David Littleproud said Australia would look for alternative markets for its barley, such as India and Indonesia, to diversify importers.

"[It won't be hard] as Australia will replace other exporters who move to replace Australian barley in the Chinese market]", Kym Anderson, Professor Emeritus of Economics at University of Adelaide told Sputnik.

Meanwhile, Zhang still thinks that finding alternative markets for Australia will not be trouble-free.

"I guess it will not be easy to find true alternatives as nobody else has the sizes of Chinese economy and population, which offer ideal matches for Australia's abundant natural resources and raw materials," he told Sputnik.

Though tensions between the two countries seem to soar, Zhang believes that the Chinese measures against Australia could stop at the current point.

"My own view is that China's measures will stop here and we should not see further Chinese actions. Beijing understands that facing a new cold war with the US it cannot afford to alienate other countries too much," he told Sputnik.

Zhang also assumes that the current problems will not shatter the ties between the two nations.

"They have seen many ups and downs in the past but their relations typically bounce back as both prefer to have a cooperative relationship with each other," he concluded.

From his point of view, Qian also does not think that the relations between China and Australia may collapse forever.

"International relations are never beyond repair. If Australia exercises more strategic thinking and recognizes its national interests in maintaining a healthy relationship with China, China will also be happy to repair the relationship," he concluded.