research / Research reports

Auditing the Australia-China Relationship

October 26 2015

This audit of the Australia-China relationship, commissioned by the Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI) at the University of Technology Sydney, reveals that Australia’s bilateral economic, diplomatic, cultural and defence ties with China are, overall, solid in comparison with those of Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the US. On no criteria included in this paper did Australia score exceptionally badly — as can be seen in Appendix: Companion Table. That said, nor did Australia perform exceptionally well in any particular criteria comparative to these seven countries.[1] This may come as a surprise, considering the sensationalist headlines that regularly appear in commentary in the Australian media. Beyond the headlines, Australia is effectively managing its relationship with China. 

The report shows that Australian exports to China, Chinese investment in Australia, the number of Chinese students enrolled in Australian universities, the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) and Australia-China defence cooperation are areas of comparative strength. 

Australia’s relationship with China is weakest in its diplomatic representation in China. Australian foreign direct investment in China presents a mixed picture and Australian exports to China are concentrated on a small range of goods. Further, were Australia under a Turnbull Government — or indeed under any government — to return to the hard line, ‘Cold War’ position taken by the Abbott Government in its first three months before it remodulated its position, there would be a deterioration of the Australia-China bilateral relationship. 

It would appear from Prime Minister Turnbull’s past comments on Australia-China relations that his government will continue the pragmatic China policy adopted by Mr Abbott from early 2014, resisting any domestic and international pressure to embrace an unnecessarily antagonistic approach towards China.


Further reading

Greg Earl, "Australia's China relationship gets 'solid' ranking in new global comparison"Australian Financial Review, October 25 2015


[1] 1 To make effective comparisons, where possible this has used the same source to measure criterion across the nations studied. As a result, although sources such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) may have more current country-specific data they have often not been included.