Australia's Close Ties To China Weaken In Trump Era

China is Australia's main trading partner, but concerns about Chinese influence have strained ties between the two nations.
Posted at 12:50 PM, Feb 22, 2018

Australia and China are going through a rough patch in their relationship right now — and the U.S. seems like it wants to make things worse.

Australia is one of four nations, including the U.S., currently considering a joint initiative to compete with China's massive Belt and Road infrastructure spending. The still-tentative project could help counter what the U.S. views as an attempt to project China's influence across the globe.

This sort of project fits well with Australia's close security and ideological alliance with the U.S. But Australia also has over 100 billion reasons to steer clear of a trade fight with China.

China is Australia's No. 1 trading partner — the two countries exchanged over $123 billion worth of goods and services from 2016-2017. 

And China's financial ties to Australia are only growing: Chinese investment in Australian agriculture jumped from $300 million to $1 billion last year.

Trade with China has helped Australia avoid a recession for almost 27 years in a row, but Australian lawmakers are growing cautious of the country's influence. An Australian politician was forced to resign late last year due to his links to Chinese donors and after he was recorded seeming to support China's controversial presence in the South China Sea.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has proposed a ban on foreign political donations in response to China's influence. And Australian lawmakers received a report in January about the Chinese government's alleged attempts to infiltrate Australia's business and higher education sectors.

And the U.S. isn't likely to make things any less tense between Australia and China — President Trump's choice for U.S. ambassador to Australia, Adm. Harry Harris, has repeatedly criticized Chinese influence in the region.