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Caught in the Crossfire or Frenemies? The Economic and Political Relationship between Australia and China

Wednesday, January 18, 2023 12:15pm to 1:30pm

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On Wednesday, January 18th, the Asia Policy Program and the Clark Center for Australian & New Zealand Studies will cohost "Caught in the Crossfire or Frenemies? The Economic and Political Relationship between China and Australia," with Lisa Toohey, Professor of Law and Visiting Fulbright Scholar at the University of Texas at Austin, at 12:15 PM at RLP 1.302E, Robert L. Patton Hall. This talk will be moderated by Dr. Rhonda Evans, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Edward A. Clark Center for Australia and New Zealand Studies. The Asia Policy Program is a joint effort of the Clements Center for National Security and the Strauss Center for International Security and Law

The relationship between Australia and China has been multidimensional and complex, but in recent decades it has been the economic (trade and investment) relationship that has been the primary focus. China is Australia’s largest trade partner for goods and services, an investment partner of ever-increasing significance, but also a partner with whom political relations have become increasingly challenging. 

The Covid 19 Pandemic has coincided with a dramatic worsening of Australia-China relations, both in popular perception and through strained diplomatic relations.  Between 2018 and 2022, respondents to a key survey (by the Lowy Institute) shifted from a majority view (82%) of China as primarily an economic partner to a dominant view in 2022 (63%) of China as a security threat. Notwithstanding the change of sentiment, China has remained Australia’s most significant trading partner.

Can Australia successfully balance its economic interests with political and security concern? This presentation examines the events that have led to the decline of China being perceived as a trusted economic partner for Australia, and the rise of it being perceived as a security threat. Particular focus will be given to allegations that China has weaponised trade with Australia – a product of import restrictions placed on particular Australian commodities such as coal and barley. It will also examine the Australia-China relationship through recent institutional dynamics, focusing on the World Trade Organisation, the former TransPacific Partnership  (now CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). 



Dr. Lisa Toohey is a Professor of Law and Assistant Dean (Equity Diversity & Inclusion) with research and teaching expertise in international trade law, and dispute resolution. Lisa holds dual qualifications in Law and International Relations. Her research project focuses on the changing political dynamics in the Asia-Pacific Region and their impact on the Australia-U.S. relationship. It includes the examination of trade and non-trade concerns at both a global and regional level and changing attitudes towards the use of multilateral mechanisms for the resolution of disputes. The objective of the project is to enhance U.S.-Australian relations by strengthening the mutual understanding of the political context in which trade currently operates for each country.

Professor Toohey was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to pursue her research at the University of Texas at Austin, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. During her time at UT Austin, she will also meet with undergraduate students to discuss career paths in trade law-related fields. Stay tuned for future events featuring Dr. Toohey and discussions about her work!

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