Australians are wrong to fear Chinese investment, but right to stand by their strong military alliance with the US, Australian foreign minister Bob Carr said in Hong Kong yesterday.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Carr said that Canberra’s historically important relationship with Washington does not have to come at the expense of its growing economic ties with Beijing.
Australian people have always thought in terms of a treaty relationship with a strong maritime power. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a very fine relationship with China.
“Australian people have always thought in terms of a treaty relationship with a strong maritime power,” Carr said.
“But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a very fine relationship with China.”
Carr did not believe Sino-Australian relations would be damaged by China’s economic slowdown, even though new Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recently warned that “the China resources boom is over”.
He said: “Australia is there as the most reliable supplier of China’s food security, energy security and resource security.” Carr was in Hong Kong as part of a 10-day trip that will include stops in Fujian province and Chengdu , Sichuan province, where he will officially open a new Australian consulate. He also spoke at an Australian Chamber of Commerce lunch yesterday.
Australia sought and welcomed Chinese investment, said Carr, arguing that Australia has accepted all manner of Chinese investments, including those from state-owned enterprises and sovereign wealth funds.
He did not mention the decision last year to bar the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei from bidding on the US$38 billion Australian National Broadband Network because of security concerns. A recent opinion poll by the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank, revealed that more than half of Australians think the government is allowing too much Chinese investment.
But Carr said such investment improved the living standards of Australians.
And he said he was critical of people who are “nervous about foreign ownership of their resources, but at the same time they enjoy the benefit of that capital flow”.
Meanwhile, the Lowy poll also found Australians place more importance on their country’s relationship with the US than with China and are increasingly wary of China’s military intentions.
In 2011, Barack Obama announced an increased deployment of 2,500 US marines in Darwin, in Australia’s far north, as part of a broader US “pivot” towards East Asia.
Beijing has responded negatively to the increased US military presence in the region, accusing co-operating countries of buying into a “China threat” theory.
But Carr said: “We think that’s just a natural evolution in our security relationship with the United States.”
Hong Kong is home to some 80,000 Australians, many of whom are involved in business. Carr praised Hong Kong’s open economy, which he said made it very comfortable for Australians.
“Doing business here is like working in an extension of Australia,” he said.
Carr outlined three major threats to future economic and social progress in the Asia-Pacific region: ethnic and religious tensions, especially in Myanmar; a “middle-income trap” as growth slows in developing countries; and sovereignty issues and maritime disputes.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Australians ‘should not fear China’