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Australia in the World: Episode 53

06 Aug 2020
By Allan Gyngell AO FAIIA and Dr Darren Lim
Boxing gloves depicting a clash between the US and China. Source: Lightspring

Consulate closures & deteriorating US-China relations; AUSMIN; and the Defence Strategic Update.

On this week’s episode, the deteriorating relationship between Washington and Beijing takes centre stage, including the consulate closures in Houston and Chengdu. What’s going on, and why now? How much is this all about American electoral politics, and does that even matter? Perhaps most important, how much of the trajectory of the relationship is the result of the Trump administration specifically—and could be changed if Joe Biden wins in November—and how much is structural and will persist no matter who prevails in the presidential election?

Australia’s Foreign and Defence Ministers made the big decision to travel in person to Washington DC for the annual AUSMIN consultations. But before they arrived, Australia publicly clarified its position on the South China Sea, broadly rejecting the sweeping nature of China’s maritime claims. Was the timing significant, and should we see this action more through the lens of US-China rivalry, or the positions of the other claimant states? Turning to AUSMIN, how consequential was the decision of the ministers to travel, and what messages did it send? Notwithstanding the symbolism of being there in person, the Australian side sought to establish its independence, and Allan and Darren offer their overall assessments of the meeting.

Finally, the two discuss the Defence Strategic Update, juxtaposing it with a recently announced staffing reduction at DFAT.

We thank AIIA intern Mitchell McIntosh for his help with research and audio editing and XC Chong for research support. Thanks as always to Rory Stenning for composing our theme music.

Relevant Links

Edward Wong and Steven Lee Myers, “Officials push US-China Relations toward point of no return” New York times, 25 July 2020:

Sui-Lee Wee and Paul Mozur, “China Uses DNA to Map Faces, With Help From the West”, New York Times, 3 December 2019:

The Ezra Klein Show, “Your questions, answered”, June 2020:

Rebecca Strating, “Australia lays down the law in the South China Sea dispute”, Lowy Interpreter, 25 July 2020:

Joint Statement Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) 2020:

Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN), Transcript, 29 July 2020:

Stephen Dziedzic, “Foreign Minister makes clear Australia will not be boxed in when it comes to China or the US”, ABC News, 29 July 2020:

Japan-Australia Leaders VTC Meeting, Media Release, 9 July 2020:

Rory Medcalf, “Shinzo Abe has made Japan a leader again”, Australian Financial Review, 10 July 2020:

2020 Defence Strategic Update and Force Structure Plan:

Scott Morrison, “Address: Launch of the 2020 Defence Strategic Update”, 1 July 2020:

Sam Roggeveen, “Regional security depends on making order from chaos” Lowy Interpreter, 18 July 2020:

Dave Sharma, “A diplomatic step-up to match our military step-up”, Lowy Interpreter, 13 July 2020:

Jonathan Pryke, “DFAT cuts show our foreign policy’s khaki tinge”, Lowy Interpreter, 20 July 2020:

Zack Cooper and Charles Edel, “Australia is having a strategic revolution, and it’s all about China”, Foreign Policy, 22 July 2020:

Allan Gyngell and Isabella Keith, “New feature: The week in Australian foreign policy”, Australian Outlook, 3 July 2020:

Sam Sodomsky, “The National’s Aaron Dessner Talks Taylor Swift’s New Album folklore”, Pitchfork, 24 July 2020: