Summary

To check the pulse of China-Australia relations, one needs look no further than a recent tweet from an official PRC government Twitter account depicting an Australian soldier cutting the throat of an Afghan child.

It would appear as though the bilateral relationship – by far Australia’s most important in economic terms – is on life support.

Yet the fate of China-Australia relations informs on much more than just short-term economic forecasting in Canberra. The bilateral relationship is a template in-the-making of how democratic countries navigate engagement with an increasingly authoritarian and assertive partner in Beijing. Australia is an extreme example due to its economic overreliance on China; but its’ example is no exception.

Here’s a timeline of key events:

 

Background

December, 2015 – The China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) comes into effect, removing trade barriers for goods and services and liberalizing bilateral foreign investment. In 2015, China absorbed about a quarter of all Australian exports.

December, 2015 – Australia becomes a founding member of the China-spearheaded Asia Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB).