Australia established formal diplomatic relationship with the People's Republic of China in 1972. For the past 40 years, the development of this bilateral relationship has been much more complicated than many initially perceived, evolving into a relationship reaching far beyond economic cooperation. We should analyze Australian-Chinese relationship by means of 'dual identity approach'.
After 40 years of evolution, current Australian-Chinese relations have become one of the most important bilateral relationship for both nations. Its gradual development has become an essential force toward the stability of the Asia-Pacific region and thus to global security.
However, due to the differences in political systems and fundamental values between the two nations, the bilateral relationship has not been plain sailing nor free of disputes.
China has always been concerned about the development of the US-Australia alliance. It publicly paid attention to Australia's support to America's missile defense program, as well as the recent US-Australian agreement on the establishment of a US military base in Darwin. In a word, the development of Australian-Chinese relations has been largely influenced by Chinese-American relations.
Australia will rely on America for security, and rely on China to keep its prosperity. Australians are familiar with their most important partners in the past, namely Britain and the US, with whom they share the same fundamental values, cultural background, language and historical experience. China's presence makes a totally different scenario.
How to face this challenge will be a test of people's wisdom. The key to this issue is how to understand the 'Chinese challenge', what will be China's future effects on Australia, what possible stances Australia will take when facing a rising China, and how to project into the future.
Because there are so many common interests and only few common values shared between Australia and China, Australia is ambivalent when it comes to its own policy towards China. On the one hand, China's rise is seen as an opportunity. Australia supports such a rise and hopes to establish a constructive relationship with China. On the other hand, Australia is concerned about the possibility that China will become a regional hegemonic power which disregards the "norms" expected by Western nations.
A rising China is being more and more strongly felt by Australians. The newspapers in Australia have China-related coverage almost every day. The urban centres of Sydney and Melbourne are more and more' Asianised'. We often meet Chinese on the streets, either Chinese Australians or tourists and international students from China. China has become the largest trading partner of Australia as well as the largest source of international students, making the continuous growth of Chinese economy a prime mover of the Australian mining boom.
Now we are witnessing a historic change, albeit it still at its embryonic stage (and we cannot accurately predict its influences). According to a prediction of Goldman Sachs, the three largest economies in the world by 2050 will be China, the US, and India, followed by Brazil, Mexico, Russia and Indonesia. Only two European nations, namely Britain and Germany, will linger on as the ninth and the tenth largest economies. If these kinds of predictions come true, then over the next forty years, the world will become fundamentally different from what we know today.
Just take 'globalisation' as an example. It is the perception of most of the Western nations that the process of globalisation is a process of ' Westernisation' for the entire world, which includes market liberalisation, acceptance of Western capitals, privatisation, legal jurisprudence, human rights systems and democratic regulations. To achieve this long term goal, Western nations have already exerted a great deal of political effort. At the same time, the combined effects of competition, market dynamics, technology and other contributing factors have spewed a mushrooming of monotone characteristics across the metropolitan centres of developing nations. These characteristics include skyscrapers, motorways, computers, mobile phones, etc.
Globalisation is far more than a one-way process to Western ideals. It is very complicated. The US may be the most influential player on the field at the moment, exerting powerful pressure over several rounds of global trade negotiations.
According to the mainstream views in the West, the rise of China will not create any fundamental change to the world. The rise of China will inevitably trigger changes to its relationships with its neighbors as well as the global situation. The rise of China will construct new regional orders, which are more multi-polar, more fluid and challenging. This kind of regional order will be less affected by the values and methodologies of the West.