Australia and a Natural Balancing Act between China and Japan

Australia and a Natural Balancing Act between China and Japan

Pierre Leblanc and Michiyo Tanabe

Modern Tokyo Times

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan certainly engaged Australia powerfully in order to increase relations between both nations. The two main areas of success notably apply to security deals and deals involving free trade. However, with the powerful economy of China being a reality for Australia, and with China and Japan relations being extremely delicate, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia needed to play a careful hand.

It is not in the interest of Australia to become “piggy in the middle” between China and Japan because other more important geopolitical issues rule the day in Australia. For example, the issue of Indonesia is of major concern in Australia based on several important factors. This isn’t to downplay the importance of Northeast Asia for Australia but clearly national security issues don’t involve the whims of either China or Japan. Therefore, Abbott needs to make it clear to both China and Japan that Australia seeks reconciliation and understanding between both these major players.

Abbott therefore made it clear that Australia seeks to reach out to both China and Japan. Abbott stated: “The point I make is that when it comes to international friendships, it is not a zero sum game. It is possible to strengthen a range of friendships simultaneously.”

Abbott also commented that: “We want a better friendship with Japan, and I think pretty obviously we are getting that. But we also want a better friendship with China.”

Indeed, it could well be that Australia is being canny because this nation is also hoping to sign an important free trade deal with political elites in China. In other words, recent agreements between Australia and Japan may trigger a positive response from China.

Abe stated in response to strengthening ties with Australia that: “We will further develop our bilateral strategic partnership so our countries will be able to more deeply, more accessibly cooperate towards the goal of building peace and prosperity in the region and in the world.”

Lee Jay Walker at Modern Tokyo Times states: “It is often forgotten – or underreported – that Australia punches well above its weight and this notably applies to supporting roles in nations like Iraq when the time was needed. Similarly, Australia stepped in when the “East Timor question” raised its head to the maximum. Therefore, despite the possible threat of tensions erupting between Australia and Indonesia the political elites were not afraid to meet the challenge head on. Obviously, political elites in Japan fully understand that Australia is a powerful regional democratic state that can influence events regionally. At the same time, the democratic angle in drawing in Australia and India into “a shared world view” is also enticing for the Abe government.”

Of course, Abbott knows full well that China is a growing economic and military power. Despite this, Australia will not be constrained by outside forces that seek to influence and pre-judge polices based on manipulating economic issues. In saying this, Abbott also doesn’t seek to create tensions with China. Therefore, the recent economic and security deals between Australia and Japan shouldn’t be overplayed.

Lee Jay Walker gave guidance to both main writers

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