Australia must be strong on China: expert

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Australia should be strong on China to meet the international challenges that lie ahead, a leading foreign policy expert says.

In an address to the National Press Club on Wednesday, Lowy Institute executive director Michael Fullilove laid out the need for a balanced approach to Australia’s international policies.

But he emphasised Australia needed to be “strong on China”.

“The Australian government should be firm, circumspect and disciplined,” he said.

“We should cooperate with China when we can, disagree when we must, and always stand our ground.”

It comes amid increasing tensions in the Pacific region, with a Chinese fighter jet flying dangerously close to a RAAF P-8A Poseidon conducting routine surveillance in international airspace on May 26.

China also sought a wide-ranging security pact with 10 Pacific island nations last month.

Dr Fullilove said southeast Asia remained “profoundly important” to the nation because of its economic weight and geography.

“We will need to work much harder to maintain our influence there,” he said.

“Allowing decades to elapse between bilateral prime ministerial visits to capitals, such as Bangkok, Manila, Hanoi, and Phnom Penh is not good enough.”

Criticising the former Morrison government’s policies as “one dimensional” and “unbalanced,” Dr Fullilove said Australia was under-weighted on diplomacy and development.

Despite the Morrison government strengthening ties with Japan and India, this came at a cost for the southeast Asia region and the aid budget, he said.

The latest Lowy Institute poll showed one in 10 Australians trusted China.

This has fallen further from last year, where the figure was 16 per cent and plummeted from four years ago when more than half of Australians said they trusted Beijing.

Dr Fullilove said the language used by some politicians to comment on national security was done for political gain.

Australia should use global institutions to solve international problems and work with its long-time ally the United States.

“We also need to restore a sense of balance to our international policies – balance between diplomacy and defence, between what we say and what we do, and between old alliances and new,” Dr Fullilove said.

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