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Australia’s former prime minister, Tony Abbott, is seen here in Canberra with President Xi Jinping in November 2014. Photo: AP

China-Australia relations: ‘answer to almost every question about China is India’, former PM Tony Abbott says

  • Australia’s former prime minister lashes out at Beijing days after visiting New Delhi and stressing importance of trade deal with India
  • Abbott was prime minister when China and Australia finalised a free-trade deal that took effect in 2015, after hosting a state visit by President Xi Jinping

Australian special envoy and former prime minister Tony Abbott said a free-trade agreement between his nation and India would signal the “democratic world’s tilt away from China”.

Abbott visited New Delhi last week as Australia’s special trade envoy for India as the Australian government has prioritised the sealing of a bilateral trade deal.

On Monday, in an opinion piece likely to anger Beijing, Abbott said the “answer to almost every question about China is India”.

“With the world’s other emerging superpower becoming more belligerent almost by the day, it’s in everyone’s interests that India take its rightful place among the nations as quickly as possible,” Abbott wrote in his column run by The Australian newspaper.

“Because trade deals are about politics as much as economics, a swift deal between India and Australia would be an important sign of the democratic world’s tilt away from China, as well as boosting the long-term prosperity of both our countries,” he added.

Abbott was prime minister when China and Australia finalised a bilateral free-trade deal that took effect in 2015. He also hosted a state visit by President Xi Jinping a year earlier.
Relations have since soured over various issues, including Australia banning Chinese telecoms giant Huawei from major communications infrastructure projects, outlawing covert foreign interference in Australian politics, and calling for an independent investigation into the origin of the coronavirus.

Abbott also accused Beijing of “capricious boycotts” of Australian exports – including coal, barley, wine and seafood – that had demonstrated China’s use of trade as a “strategic weapon”.

“The basic problem is that China’s daunting power is a consequence of the free world’s decision to invite a communist dictatorship into global trading networks,” Abbott said.

“China has exploited the West’s goodwill and wishful thinking to steal our technology and undercut our industries; and, in the process, become a much more powerful competitor than the old Soviet Union ever was, because it’s now a first-rate economy that’s rapidly developing a military to match; and spoiling for a fight over Taiwan, a pluralist democracy of 25 million that’s living proof there’s no totalitarian gene in the Chinese DNA,” Abbott added.

The Chinese embassy in Australia did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Negotiations between India and Australia on a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement began in 2011 but were suspended in 2015.

India is particularly concerned about freer trade in Australian farm exports. New Delhi’s demands for less-restrictive visas for Indian workers is a major sticking point for Australia.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi last year upgraded the bilateral relationship with a raft of agreements that strengthened defence ties and committed both nations to expanding trade.

Abbott visited India last week to “propel our economic relationship to its full potential, to the mutual benefit of the Indian and Australian people”, Australia’s high commissioner to India, Barry O’Farrell, said in a statement.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Australia-India deal will flag democracies’ swing from China, envoy says