President Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States on Saturday, raising questions about what impact his presidency will have around the globe.
The bilateral relationship between Australia and China has provided a boon to both nations over the last 25 years, with Australia seeing unimpeded economic growth throughout that time.
But the rise of Trump has led to uncertainty, with his own rhetoric suggesting the possibility of a trade war, exacerbated by his incoming Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and his stance on the South China Sea.
Australia has a long history of following the United States on policy, from the 1950’s onwards, and Tom Switzer, senior fellow of the United States Study Center in Sydney, said that “Australia should, and will stay on the American bandwagon so to speak,” but to ensure the relationship doesn’t affect Australian interests.
“But at this stage we should cut the new President some slack and support the American alliance.” Switzer said.
Not all view the Australian and United States relationship in the same way, however, with Dr James Laurenceson, deputy director of the Australia-China Relations Institute, said he does not follow the view that Australia always follows the United States.
“Look at the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, we were under pressure from the United States not to join that, we joined it. When it comes to trade deals, we are heavily in favor of RCEP and and a free trade area championed by China, we want that too.” Laurencenson said.
“The truth is that we follow our own national interests. So in each case we are going to weigh up those interests.”
The potential damage to bilateral relations between Australia and China in light of a Trump presidency, was further highlighted by Australian Senator Nick Xenophon, who said although he feels hesitant on Trump and said he’d “get my mate Bruno the Bobcat operator to dig a big hole in my backyard to use as a bunker during his president”, the rise of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, which likens itself to Trump and the Brexit movement, is worrisome.
“Unlike One Nation, I believe immigration has been a tremendous net benefit to this country. I think her remarks twenty years ago about Australia being swamped by Asians were wrong on so many levels. Wrong and offensive on so many levels” Xenophon said.
Former Federal Labor Party leader, Mark Latham, is also concerned about the direction that not only One Nation is taking in the Australian electorate, but explains a general trend of “identity politics” is sweeping the nation, saying Australia has “always suffered when we blindly follow United States military adventurism”, and are refusing to see what is before them.
“The leadership here (Australia) is between a shit and a shiver. They don’t know what to do. They know we need to trade with China, but they don’t know how to deal with Trump.
All they can see is identity, and it renders them useless on global policy.” Latham said.
Latham was, however, concerned about what exactly the stance of the incoming Trump administration would be in how it would react to ongoing issues in the Asia-Pacific region, and said China has formed better relationships with Malaysia and the Philippines in recent times, giving him concerns the incoming Trump administration will disrupt the region.
“The stuff that Rex Tillerson said at his confirmation hearing was just dreadful about the South China Sea – I hope the Tillerson statements don’t reflect Trumps policy as president, and Tillerson was just putting a bit of bravado there to get himself through the confirmation process.” Latham said.
The Federal Government is allaying any concern however, with a spokesperson for the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop saying, Australia will work with the incoming Trump administration, whilst still engaging in its trade commitments.
“Australia has an alliance with the United States based on common interests and values and will work closely and constructively with the Donald Trump Administration across all areas. This includes offering our perspectives on strategic and economic opportunities and challenges that affect our interests in the Indo-Pacific,” the spokesperson for the Foreign Minister said.
“We are strongly supportive of an open trading system and remain committed to the TPP. We will continue to champion the benefits of free trade for all economies.”
– Will Koulouris