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No matter who wins the next election, managing the China relationship will be tricky – and vital

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07.03.2019

This is part of a major series called Advancing Australia, in which leading academics examine the key issues facing Australia in the lead-up to the 2019 federal election and beyond. Read the other pieces in the series here.

China policy will not be a vote-shifting issue in the 2019 federal election. As usual, the economy and tax in particular will dominate this election.

But from a foreign policy standpoint there is no more important issue than achieving a reasonable balance between the United States, Australia’s security guardian, and China, its linchpin economic partner.

Getting the balance right and thus avoid being wedged between its security and economic interests represents what is arguably the most significant foreign policy challenge in Australian diplomatic history since Federation in 1901.

In 1972, the Whitlam Labor government ditched an anomalous attachment to Taiwan as China’s legitimate representative. Since then, China policy has, for the most part, been bipartisan.

Read more: Australia and China push the 'reset' button on an important relationship

Little separates Labor and the Coalition in a relationship that increasingly has been driven by economic ties. But there are nuanced differences.

Senior Coalition and Labor spokespeople have recently delivered addresses in Singapore that provide a useful insight into their thinking.

In January this year, Defence Minister Christopher Pyne spoke at the Fullerton Forum convened by the International Institute of Strategic Studies. A year ago, Labor’s foreign policy spokesperson, Penny Wong, addressed the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Both Pyne and Wong cautioned against allowing tensions between the US and China to divert Australia from pursuing its own interests, even if those interests do not accord with those of its security guarantor. Pyne said:

Unquestionably, rivalry between the US and China will be a feature of our international........

© The Conversation