“There is every reason to believe the Australia-China relationship will become more, not less important to both countries as the Chinese economy continues to change and upgrade,” the report says.
“For Australia, this means enhanced long-term economic capacity through opportunities for new trade and productivity-boosting innovation as well as through improving national infrastructure and the development of regional Australia.
“For China, this means a sustainable path through middle-income status on its way to becoming a high-income economy through economic upgrading and diversification.”
The study treads delicately around the emerging security tensions with China over issues such as maritime boundaries and cyber security.
But its call for much closer cooperation with China over maritime security would put Australia at the heart of new Chinese thinking over how to protect its access to resources and global trade supply lines.
In an oblique comment suggesting the need for more understanding of Chinese maritime assertiveness, the report notes a need for more debate about the implications of China becoming maritime economy.
Australia should be helping redress this deficiency by working with China over the implications of growing resource dependency for resource security; maritime resource development and protection; maritime scientific and weather research; and Australian participation in the Maritime Silk Road infrastructure building plan.
The proposal for a cooperation treaty modelled on the 1976 Treaty of Nara with Japan would step up the recent pace of diplomatic relations under both Labor and Coalition governments and aim to elevate Australia above China’s other diplomatic partners.
It would lock the two countries into more regular meetings between top politicians, involve regular cooperation amongst lower level officials on many areas of government policy and extend into many non-government areas to deepen professional and community cooperation.
“While fully respectful of each other’s existing relationships (such as Australia’s ANZUS relationship with the United States), the new partnership will be a powerful force for the stability and prosperity of the region, and indeed for the global system,” the report says underlining is ambition for the Australia-China connection to have a global significance.
“Nurtured carefully and imaginatively by governments, businesses, research institutions and other stakeholders on both sides, this deeper partnership could become one of the most strategically vital and productive bilateral relationships that either country has in the world.”
Greg Earl is a former foreign correspondent and Asia editor.
The Australia-China Joint Economic Report (ACJER) is the first major independent study of the Australia-China relationship and was commissioned by former Treasurer Joe Hockey from a group of experts in each country led by the Australian National University and the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges.
The Australian Group of Experts included: Ian Watt, former secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet; Professor Gary Banks, chief executive of the Australia and New Zealand School of Government and former chair of the Productivity Commission; Professor Allan Gyngell, director of the Crawford Australian Leadership Forum at ANU and former director-general of the Office of National Assessments; Heather Smith, Secretary of the Department of Communications and the Arts; Phil Lowe, the next Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia; and Emeritus ANU professor Peter Drysdale; along with advice from Ross Garnaut and Geoff Raby, both former ambassadors to China.