China-Australia ties won’t be getting back on track anytime soon — after Beijing’s decision to to indefinitely suspend high-level economic talks with Canberra, according to one political expert.
James Laurenceson, director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney, described the strained relations between Canberra and Beijing as “complicated.”
“I see no prospects on the horizon for this relationship to get back on track,” he told CNBC on Friday, adding both sides are blaming each other for the breakdown in dialogue.
The National Development and Reform Commission, China’s economic planning agency, announced Thursday that it will “indefinitely suspend all activities under the framework of the China-Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue.”
The move comes after some officials in Australia launched unspecified measures “out of a Cold War mindset” to disrupt cooperation with China, the NDRC statement said.
The national flags of Australia and China are displayed before a portrait of Mao Zedong facing Tiananmen Square.
Frederic J. Brown | AFP via Getty Images
China’s decision to halt all activities under the framework is more than just a symbolic move, said Laurenceson.
“I think saying it’s just symbolism and it doesn’t amount to anything meaningful is wrong. Symbolism matters in international relations — particularly when it’s on the negative side,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Friday.
He called Beijing’s latest move a “tit-for-tat” retaliation to show its displeasure after Australia scrapped two Belt and Road deals last month.
“We know tit-for-tat is baked in China’s foreign policy moves, so after Canberra tore up that agreement a couple of weeks ago, there was always the prospect,” he said.
In Australia, at the moment, there is no domestic political pressure for the Morrison government to change tack. In fact, public support in Australia has rallied around him.
University of Technology Sydney
Australian Minister for Trade Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan on Thursday expressed his disappointment at the suspension of talks.
“The Strategic Economic Dialogue, which was last held in 2017, is an important forum for Australia and China to work through issues relevant to our economic partnership,” he said in a statement. “We remain open to holding the dialogue and engaging at the ministerial level.”
Relations between the two countries have been strained since Australia blocked Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei from its 5G network in 2018.
It worsened last year when Canberra called for an independent inquiry into the origins of the Covid-19 outbreak, triggering trade sanctions from Beijing on Australian wine, coal and barley in retaliation.
“At the moment, what we’re seeing is a doubling down on hardening stances in Beijing (and) in Canberra,” Laurenceson told CNBC.
“In Australia, at the moment, there is no domestic political pressure for the Morrison government to change tack. In fact, public support in Australia has rallied around him.”