Observers across the world have been keeping a close eye on the Australian election results, particularly given Canberra’s strained ties with Beijing, otherwise its largest trade partner, under the outgoing Liberal-National Party coalition government led by Scott Morrison.
- Australia’s new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Monday reckoned that bilateral relations with China will “remain difficult”, shortly after he was sworn in as the country’s new leader.
- “It is China that has changed, not Australia, and Australia should always stand up for our values and we will (stand up for those values) in a government that I lead,” Albanese said at a press conference after his swearing-in and ahead of his departure for the Quad Summit in Tokyo.
US President Joe Biden has “appreciated” Albanese’s “early commitment” to the Quad alliance (comprising Australia, Japan, India and the US), as the two delegates spoke during a call on Sunday evening.
Four of Albanese’s cabinet colleagues were also sworn-in as ministers on Monday — Penny Wong as the Foreign Minister, Richard Marles as the new deputy Prime Minister, Jim Chalmers as the Treasurer and Katy Gallagher as the new Attorney General as well as Minister of Finance and Women.
Wong is accompanying Albanese on his trip to Tokyo to attend the Quad Summit.
The Malaysian-born foreign minister remarked that travelling to the Quad meeting right in the first week of the new government “signifies how important we believe this partnership is for our security”.
Wong said that acting on “climate change” in coordination with other Quad countries would be one of the priorities of the new government.
Ties between Beijing and Canberra have been tense over the last several years.
A call by outgoing Prime Minister Scott Morrison in 2020 to investigate the origins of COVID-19 was followed by a trade war between Canberra and Beijing, with both governments imposing sanctions and counter-sanctions on each others’ imports.
Canberra’s membership of US-led Quad grouping has also raised hackles in Beijing, which has accused Washington of creating a NATO-like alliance for the Asia-Pacific region. Last September, Canberra announced that it would be part of the new AUKUS arrangement alongside the US and the United Kingdom.
Under AUKUS, Canberra would be provided with technology to develop advanced nuclear attack submarines (SSNs).
Beijing has slammed the AUKUS pact for “inciting” a nuclear “arms race” in the region. Then, this year, the unveiling of the security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands has stoked security fears in Canberra.
The Sino-Solomon pact figured prominently in the recently concluded Australian election campaign, with the now-in-power Labor Party describing it as an “absolute failure” on the part of Morrison.
Having a ‘Good Relationship’ with China Important, Says Labor State Premier
Meanwhile, a prominent Labor Party state premier on Monday suggested that Albanese’s election victory was a chance for Canberra to “reset” its ties with Beijing.
“We as a state export half of the nation’s exports and the vast majority of that goes to China. So having a good relationship with your biggest partner is kind of important,” Western Australia’s Premier Mark McGowan said.
McGowan also slammed the outgoing Defence Minister Peter Dutton for his rhetoric about China in the election campaign, arguing that the Liberal Party was trying to “weaponise” the strained ties with Beijing for electoral purposes.
“Peter Dutton was the principal one out there talking about war and war footing and conflict and so forth,” he said.
“That’s absolutely crazy,” added McGowan.