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Australia and China need to find common ground, says the former Australian prime minister

SINGAPORE – Australia and China need to find common ground despite their differences, as the economic relationship between the two is important, said John Howard, former Australian prime minister.

“The economic relationship between Australia and China is very important, and there are tensions in that relationship and they need to be addressed,” Howard said Wednesday on the sidelines of the Singapore summit.

The relationship between the two countries has been fraught with tensions, with Beijing starting an investigation into some wine imports from Australia last month, following action on other imports of raw materials.

“I certainly do not think that in any way Australia should be in a situation of giving up its relationship with China; it is very important to us. Our exports of raw materials (such as) iron ore, coal and the like are very important. for the Australian economy, ”said Howard, who was in office from 1

996 to 2007.

China is one of Australia’s main trading partners, with the Asian economic powerhouse buying much of the commodities produced in the Down Under.

The recent downward spiral in China-Australia relations was triggered by Canberra’s request for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, which was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Howard did not mention the probe, but emphasized the need for Australia to take a balanced approach to its relations with China, even as tensions between the US – Canberra’s closest ally – and China simmer.

“I don’t think we should allow ourselves to be defined by who to support between China and the US. We can have good relations with both countries, even if they are of different types, because we are different companies,” he said. .

“I see the bilateral relationship between Australia and China as something we need to pay attention to and nurture based on our particular interests, always remembering, of course, that we are part of a group of Western countries that believe in some core values,” Howard added. .

Instead, Australia and China must find a consensus despite their different histories and political systems, he said.

“It is extremely important in these difficult times, particularly against the backdrop of the pandemic, to take a balanced approach, to try to find areas of mutual agreement,” Howard said.

Regarding issues related to commodities such as wine, Howard said to “let the process work, let’s not over-dramatize some of the differences that are emerging.”

China’s authoritarian regime ‘a fact’

Howard said that while China has taken a more assertive stance internationally since President Xi Jinping took office, its domestic political system hasn’t changed much – it’s just been enforced more rigorously now than in the past.

“China has been, since 1949, an authoritarian country run by the Chinese Communist Party, and that’s a fact, we have to work within it,” he added.

“You can’t expect a country that has a fundamentally different political system to agree to change that system, you have to live with it – without admitting, of course, any grounding in things that are important to our values,” he said. .

So instead of frustrating the economic ties between the two countries, Australia needs to work to uphold its core values ​​while preserving the mutual benefits of economic relations with China.

“It’s not just common sense, it’s a matter of long-term reasonable policy,” he said.

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