Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott said that a free-trade agreement (FTA) between Canberra and New Delhi 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 Canberra government gives priority to sealing a bilateral trade deal.
In an opinion piece likely to anger Beijing that was published yesterday in the Australian newspaper, 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,” he wrote.
“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 Australia and China finalized a free-trade deal that took effect in 2015. He also hosted a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) a year earlier.
Relations have since soured over issues including Australia banning Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co (華為) from major communications infrastructure projects, outlawing covert foreign interference in Australian politics and calling for an independent investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Abbott accused Beijing of “capricious boycotts” of Australian exports, including coal, barley, wine and seafood that demonstrated Chinese 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,” he 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 respond to a request for comment.
Negotiations between India and Australia on a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement began in 2011, but were suspended in 2015.
India is particularly concerned by 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 defense ties and committed both nations to expanding trade.
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