Hu Jintao

China's rise just needs some understanding

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 September, 2007, 12:00am


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Beijing frequently argues that its growing might should not be feared by other nations. Its peaceful intent has been revealed through participation in UN peacekeeping forces, being a key mediator in the nuclear disputes involving North Korea and Iran, and in showing a concerted desire to end its rift with Japan.

Such moves are not sufficient for doubters like the US, those who have been, or continue to be, involved in territorial disputes or those who mistrust communism. For the US, China's rise is a matter of rivalry to its superpower status; the wounds of war and heated rhetoric are not easily healed; and the mainland's mix of capitalism with communism remains confusing to some.

If proof is needed of Beijing's benign intent, though, it will be plainly on show this week during President Hu Jintao's visit to Australia. In meetings with Australian leaders, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit and in talks with counterparts, China's cards will be on the table for the world to see.

Last week, it became Australia's biggest trading partner. Increasing numbers of Chinese students, government officials among them, are earning degrees from Australian universities.

For the mainland, the attraction is mostly Australia's vast natural resources and, to a lesser degree, diplomatic ties with a nation that strategically straddles the Pacific and Indian oceans.

Australia's surging economic growth of the past decade owes much to the trading ties. But like the rest of the world, the nation has also benefited from the inexpensive products mainland factories turn its raw materials into. Australian companies have found new business on the mainland, just as the reverse is true. A free-trade agreement is nearing conclusion.

The relations are growing ever warmer. Chinese and Australian leaders meet at least once a year, sometimes more.

This is despite contentious issues - Australia's security agreement with the US and Japan, and concern about human rights. After the killings at Tiananmen Square in 1989, Australia gave residency to 40,000 Chinese it considered were being persecuted. Australian Prime Minister John Howard met the Dalai Lama in Sydney in June despite objections from Beijing.

Such issues do not get in the way of the relationship. It is not purely because of greed for wealth or convenience; rather, it is because the nations understand and accept one another's positions. Doing so is mutually beneficial and the consequent respect gives leverage to candidly discuss all matters.

At Apec, Beijing's concern for the environment will be on display. A carbon-trading scheme being floated has in principle won its backing; its signing up would enhance efforts already being made under the Kyoto pact on climate change, which Beijing has agreed to despite not being required to do so as a developing nation.

Mr Hu's meetings on the sidelines of the summit with US President George W. Bush and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will attempt to iron out differences over tainted food and toys and firming diplomatic ties.

The mainland's economic rise is beneficial to Australia, but also good for the world. There is nothing sinister in Beijing's intent; it is showing, and will continue to prove, it is working for international peace, stability and development.

As the ever-improving relationship with Australia shows, all that is needed is understanding.