Maintain regional stability by adhering to firm policy toward China

Australia plays an important role in maintaining stability and order in the Indo-Pacific region. The new administration is urged to strengthen cooperation with Japan and the United States and adhere to a firm policy toward China.

In Australia’s general election, the largest opposition party, the Labor Party, won against the conservative ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese would become the new prime minister and the first change of government in nine years was expected to take place.

There were no major differences in the foreign and security policies of the ruling and opposition parties. Economic issues, such as measures against high prices, and climate change were the main issues in the election campaign. Apparently, many voters hoped for change through a change of government.

The Labor Party has called for the continuation of the current administration’s strict policy toward China even after a change of government.

Behind this is a strong sense of alarm among the Australian public about China’s rapidly expanding influence in the South Pacific region centered on Australia. In public opinion polls, a majority of people view China as a “security threat” rather than an “economic partner.”

The Morrison administration had taken the position that China’s growing presence in Australia through investment and economic cooperation would raise security concerns. It regulated investment from China and, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, called for Beijing to investigate the source of the outbreak.

It also developed multilateral cooperation, including a strategic meeting with Japan, the United States and India to seek a free and open Indo-Pacific region, known as the Quad, and a security framework with the United Kingdom and the United States, known as AUKUS.

Even when China reacted with retaliatory measures to restrict imports of wine, coal and other Australian products, the administration remained firm. The new administration is urged to maintain these principles.

It is believed that Albanese will attend the Quad summit in Tokyo on Tuesday. This should be an opportunity for him to present the direction of foreign and security policy in as concrete a manner as possible, and to make arrangements with Japan, the United States and India.

There is no doubt that Beijing will try to use the change of government in Canberra to expand its influence again. This is because the South Pacific is an important region for China, which is vying for hegemony with the United States.

China signed a security agreement with the Solomon Islands in April that would serve as a stepping-stone for military expansion. China is also increasing its voice in other South Pacific island nations through support for infrastructure development, such as ports and airports.

Australia is acting as a bulwark against these movements, but it has its weaknesses, such as its reliance on the Chinese market for many of its exports. The new administration will need to redouble its efforts to reduce the economy’s dependence on China.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 23, 2022)