The West-China Conflict in Australia’s Multilateral Foreign Policy

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Despite being located in the Asia-Pacific region, Australia is a state that has internalized Western values. Therefore, the country has strong ties with Western actors, particularly the United States of America (USA). This can be seen in the Western-based alliances that Australia is involved in. At the same time, however, especially with the election of Anthony Albanese as Prime Minister of Australia in May 2022, relations between Canberra and Beijing have strengthened and Australia has adopted an approach that emphasizes diplomacy in its relations with China.

Australia is an important pillar of the UK-USSR Pact formed by the United Kingdom and the United States.  This pact is critical for strengthening the influence of two important Western states in the region. However, this alliance was established to contain China. This increases tensions and trust issues between Beijing and Canberra.

In addition to the ICUS, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), to which Australia belongs, is also an important Western alliance for the Asia-Pacific region. QUAD was basically established with the aim of bringing together states that embrace democratic principles.  However, it can be argued that the main purpose of this alliance is to limit China’s activities in the South China Sea and to create resistance against Beijing’s increasing pressure in the region. Therefore, within the framework of the West’s geopolitical competition with China, this alliance creates an important battleground for the US against Beijing.

Due to all these collaborations and the fact that Australia is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and is under the rule of the British Royal Family, even if it is representative, it can be said that Canberra is an actor where Western influence and influence is strongly manifested. In this context, it can be argued that Australia-China relations are tense due to Canberra’s political perspective.

On the other hand, as mentioned above, the dialog and relations between Australia and China have strengthened following Albanese’s election as Prime Minister of Australia. As a matter of fact, Albanese, on the one hand, aims to improve relations with Beijing; on the other hand, he maintains his relations with the West and establishes various collaborations by signing security and defense-based agreements with Western actors.  For instance, Australia has decided to accelerate and increase its purchase of naval mines in order to take measures against China’s activities in the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. In fact, Australia has stated that this decision was taken to protect its sea lanes and ports from “potential aggressors”.

First of all, it should be noted that this decision comes in the wake of China’s escalation of its maritime activities. In addition, the definition of “potential aggressors” in this statement is also critical. When both discourses are evaluated, it is understood that the definition of “potential aggressors” refers to Beijing. Therefore, it can be inferred that even though China and Australia are calling for a detente in their relations and trying to develop dialogues, this is not enough to solve the problems.

Moreover, there have been claims that British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Albanese will announce a new nuclear submarine design at a meeting to be hosted by US President Joe Biden in Washington in March 2023.[1]

Considering the unity of the parties within the ILCUS, it can be said that this is a normal meeting. However, the Asia-Pacific region has a major nuclear power in North Korea. At the same time, states such as Japan and South Korea are the actors that feel this danger most closely.

Given this regional conjuncture, the announcement of a new nuclear submarine design, which has the capacity to closely affect the security equations of the region, may create an uncomfortable situation for these states. Therefore, various conflicts within the Western alliance are likely to arise in the coming period. At the same time, it could also provoke a reaction from Beijing. This could create irreparable cracks in China-Australia relations.

To summarize shortly, in the current conditions where the competition between the West and China has reached its highest level, it is not easy for Australia to establish good relations with China and at the same time cooperate with Western states in defense and security-based collaborations in terms of sustainability. Therefore, Australia faces serious challenges if it wants to pursue a multilateral foreign policy.

[1] “UK, Australia to Unveil Nuclear Submarine Design During Biden Meeting in US”, South China Morning Post,, (Erişim Tarihi: 17.03.2023).

Zeki Talustan GÜLTEN
Zeki Talustan Gülten, 2021 yılında Yalova Üniversitesi İktisadi ve İdari Bilimler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden “Amerikan Dış Politikası” başlıklı bitirme teziyle ve 2023 yılında da Anadolu Üniversitesi Açık Öğretim Fakültesi Dış Ticaret bölümünden mezun olmuştur. Halihazırda Marmara Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda Tezli Yüksek Lisans öğrenimine devam eden Gülten, lisans eğitimi esnasında Erasmus+ programı çerçevesinde Lodz Üniversitesi Uluslararası ve Politik Çalışmalar Fakültesi’nde bir dönem boyunca öğrenci olarak bulunmuştur. ANKASAM’da Asya-Pasifik Araştırma Asistanı olarak çalışan Gülten’in başlıca ilgi alanları; Amerikan Dış Politikası, Asya-Pasifik ve Uluslararası Hukuk’tur. Gülten, iyi derecede İngilizce bilmektedir.