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Australia’s approach to Chinese power and managing relations with Beijing: The enduring paradigm of liberalism

June 12 2024

As China’s economy has grown, its military capabilities have expanded commensurately, and Beijing has adopted a more assertive foreign policy stance. Perceiving its primacy to be under threat, the response in Washington has been a hard turn towards a Realist paradigm evident across both the military and economic domains. The first contribution of this article is to document that, despite Australia being a staunch US security ally and having its own anxieties about Chinese power, Canberra has undertaken a more modest Realist tilt. This tilt has focused heavily on the military domain, whereas more broadly, an approach informed by the paradigm of Liberalism endures. The second contribution is to theorise this attachment to Liberalism by drawing on Australia’s recent experience of being targeted by Chinese power in the form of geoeconomic coercion. Australia’s interests were not protected by the power of Canberra’s geopolitical friends. Instead, economic interdependencies constrained Beijing’s options, and risks were mitigated by Australian exporters having access to a global trading system underpinned by rules and institutions. Rather than being rooted in ideological and normative appeal, Canberra’s ongoing attachment to Liberalism mostly reflects utilitarian considerations. Australia’s experience likely offers lessons for other lesser powers.

Read the article online here.

Note: This article was published in the Journal of Contemporary China, pp. 1–14, DOI: 10.1080/10670564.2024.2365240.

Author: James Laurenceson, Director, Australia-China Relations Institute, University of Technology Sydney