Over the past forty-six years of diplomatic relations, Australia and China have been through a number of difficult times, but none so emphatic as we are experiencing today. “The China Threat is much exaggerated, both as a military adversary and as a challenge to Australia’s domestic institutions. Australia is struggling to find its feet in the new order and it is unprepared for a world in which it cannot lazily rely on the dominant power to share our values and institutions,” Dr Geoff Raby AO, former Australian Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, told a large audience of students, academics and the general public at the La Trobe University 2019 China Studies Oration on 29 October 2019.
Titled “The Lowest Ebb: the Fall and Fall of the Australia-China Relationship” Dr Raby’s speech explored the topics of “China Threat”, “the New Order” and “Four Prepositions: the Australia’s China policy is a mess; Australia is all at sea in the new global order; Australia’s foreign policy has been weaponised; and the China Threat narrative in Australia lacks context and proportionality”.
“Recognising all the challenges, in the scheme of things, and in view of the media and commentariat’s obsession with the China Threat, the incidents of actual Chinese state-sponsored activity that have been discovered, and credibly documented, would seem to be relatively minor” Dr Raby said.
Dr Raby also made some policy suggestions:
- Context and proportionality are important in getting the policy responses right
- Australia needs to move away from weaponizing its China foreign policy
- Australian foreign policy needs to return to diplomacy and actively building coalitions with the neighbours.
“To the extent China presents risks that we would wish to balance, Australia should return to active regional diplomacy of coalition building, which would include engaging China across a range of issues of common interest.” concluded Dr Raby, “The great noble enterprise of diplomacy is the avoidance of war. When statesmen forget that, we do indeed live in dangerous times.”
The Vice-Chancellor of La Trobe University Professor John Dewar attended the Oration and gave a welcome speech. The Oration was opened by Professor John Makeham, Director of the China Studies Research Centre of La Trobe University.
This was the second China Studies Oration hosted by the China Studies Research Centre of La Trobe University. The first one was given by the Hon Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia, in 2018.
For the full video of the Oration, please visit https://youtu.be/W_OhTuh0BLU