Does Trump's Presidency Mean Australia Needs a 'Plan B' — Toward China?
In recent decades, Australia has occupied a peculiar perch in global affairs. A liberal, Western democracy with strong cultural and security ties to Europe and the United States, it has developed close, interdependent economic links with the rising economies in Asia. This position has enabled the country to maintain its status as one of the world's most prosperous and stable.
But the inevitable slowdown of China's economy — one whose sensational growth has depended in part on imports of Australian iron ore — presents new economic challenges. Meanwhile, the election of Donald Trump, an unabashed nationalist, as U.S. president may prove problematic on the diplomatic front. Given these issues, does Australia need to rethink its strategy?
In celebration of its 20th anniversary, Asia Society Australia has published Disruptive Asia, a collection of 20 essays that explore this very question.
In one essay, Linda Jakobson, the founder, CEO, and board director of China Matters, an Australian public policy initiative, argues that President Trump's election requires Australia to come up with a "Plan B":
Above all, Australia needs to find ways to tighten and build on its strategic comprehensive partnership with China. Understanding the aims and also the policies of China is paramount. Knowing the anxiety about Trump in Western capitals, one can only imagine the deep anxiety Trump evokes in Zhongnanhai. China needs friendly partners now more than ever and Australia should seize this opportunity. Despite the historically close ties between Australia and the U.S., Australia could — admittedly with much effort — move itself into a position with more clout in Beijing than in Washington.
There are many Australians who feel strongly that Australia has influenced U.S. policy in the region and can continue to do so. Kim Beazley, former Labor MP and Australia’s previous ambassador in Washington, is of that view. In his opinion, Canberra must now do all it can to use its historically good relationship with Washington and seek to influence the direction of the Trump administration’s foreign and security policy. Former chief of the Australian Defence Force Angus Houston has argued: “We should endeavor to quietly influence the incoming administration as to the importance and success of the current U.S. strategy in this region, including the Australia-U.S. alliance.” These observers cling to the hope that yesterday’s region will still broadly speaking be tomorrow’s region. It could prove unrealistic to think that Australian ministers and officials would be able to deter the impulses of hard-line conservatives in the Trump administration. Having said that of course it is still important to ensure that counterparts in Washington realize that a rift between the U.S. and China is not in Australia’s interests.