China seeking support through diplomacy as Donald Trump puts pressure on Beijing

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China is seeking to repair its troubled relationship with Australia and other countries in the region as it seeks support against US President Donald Trump’s trade and diplomatic pressure.

Key points:

  • There was an upbeat assessment from China on foreign ministers’ meeting at the UN
  • China President strengthens ties with Russia, Japan and India
  • Still thorny issues to face, including South China Sea disputes and China’s influence on South Pacific nations

Chinese media has backed up Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s upbeat assessment of his first meeting with new Australian counterpart Marise Payne at the UN on Tuesday, with an article in the nationalistic Global Times anticipating a reset in ties between Beijing and Canberra.

It comes as China seeks to improve its historically troubled relationship with Japan through a rare prime ministerial visit by Shinzo Abe to Beijing next month.

China’s President Xi Jinping has also strengthened ties with Russia and put aside differences with neighbour India.

This week the Trump administration implemented a second round of tariffs on Chinese goods, bringing the total amount targeted to $US250 billion.

China has retaliated with equivalent tariffs on a smaller amount of US goods, reflecting Beijing’s overwhelming trade surplus.

But away from trade, the US President has openly accused China of trying to meddle in the upcoming mid-term elections, and a US official has accused China of using political, economic, commercial, military and information tools to influence American public opinion to promote China’s interests.

China’s Government has rejected the claims, and now appears intent on trying to foster ties elsewhere.

“I think China is willing to take steps to improve the bilateral relations with Australia,” Professor Chen Hong of East China Normal University said.

Increased tension means there’s work to do, commentators say

For the past two years, relations have deteriorated due to several factors — Australia’s support for an international court ruling that China defied in the South China Sea, as well as allegations of Chinese Communist Party interference in Australia’s democracy.

Further issues such as Australia’s hardened stance to Chinese investment, China’s blocking of the ABC website and a growing regional rivalry in the South Pacific have increased tension.

Experts in China say despite signs of a more positive turn in relations, the thorny issues are not completely being cast aside.

“I think there is a kind of scare and smear campaign in Australia and I think China is very displeased,” Professor Chen said, referring to Australia’s recent blocking of tech company Huawei from the 5G network.

China earlier this year withheld invitations for then Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop to visit despite requests from Canberra, and many Australian business figures in Beijing believe a trip by new Senator Payne or Prime Minister Scott Morrison to China will be needed this year to solidify a diplomatic reset.

Some experts say the trade friction with Washington makes that prospect more likely, as China seeks support from around the region.

“Trump is successfully driving China-India together, China-Russia together and China and Japan together,” Shen Dingli, a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, said.

“I don’t think that’s smart for America,” he said.

By Bill Birtles
ABC

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