Sydney, Australia, May 18 (EFE).- Australians head to the polls on Saturday with tensions with China, the country’s main trading partner, looming over the country’s first election since 2019.
With just three days until election day, prime minister Scott Morrison’s center-right Liberal-National coalition is two points behind Labor, the opposition party led by Anthony Albanese, according to surveys.
The Pacific region has historically been dominated by Canberra, but China’s rapidly growing sphere of influence is seen as a threat by both the government and the opposition in Australia.
The two countries have had several trade disputes since 2018, with tensions spiking recently after China imposed tariffs on some Australian products including bottled wine imports.
But while Beijing is the common enemy between Morrison’s ruling party and Labor, their approach to the issue differs.
The incumbent Morrison has adopted a tough stance, refusing to de-escalate tensions after accusing China of economic coercion.
His main challenger Albanese has taken a softer approach, saying his party would seek to strengthen ties with China.
“China has changed its position under Xi,” he said on Wednesday.
“Australia has had to adjust to that and the relationship with China will remain a challenging one regardless of who wins the election.”
The perception of China as a threat has been on the rise in Australia, with 63% of its population of 25 million believing the Asian giant was a threat to national security in 2021 compared to 41% the previous year, according to a Lowy Institute survey.
China has recently extended its influence in several Pacific countries such as Kiribati and the Solomon Islands, who have shifted their foreign policy toward Beijing rather than their historical ally Taiwan.
China’s influence in the region, which is key in the global maritime trade route, was further boosted in April with a new security agreement with the Solomon Islands which allows it to request the deployment of Chinese troops to the Pacific nation to enforce security.
Canberra and other countries such as New Zealand and the United States are wary of this agreement and fear the possibility of the Asian giant using the pact to establish military bases in the Pacific.
“China’s growing power and influence are a geostrategic fact,” Morrison said in March.
“What we care about is how Beijing uses its strength. There’s no doubt that China has become more assertive, and is using its power in ways that are causing concern to nations across the region and beyond.” EFE