unfurling the red carpet of "friendship" in a china shop, not to buy nor sell anything...
The prime minister, Tony Abbott, says he wants to accelerate free trade talks with China, but he is in the country to “be a friend”, not to do a deal.
In remarks that are a clear attempt to move past recent frictions in the relationship, and to segue from his warm reception in Japan and South Korea to a round of intense diplomacy in the People’s Republic, he told a major business forum in Boao: “Australia is not in China to do a deal, but to be a friend.
“We don’t just visit because we need to, but because we want to.”
Abbott again emphasised the regional effort to find the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 as an example of practical co-operation overcoming the reflexive “strategic pessimism that sometimes clouds discussions of our region’s future”.
He emphasised Australia’s co-operative disposition. “Australia’s preference is always to look forwards rather than backwards; to win friends rather than to find fault; to be helpful, not difficult.”
With defence collaboration with Japan a point of sensitivity in Beijing, Abbott noted: “We have first-class military forces that regularly operate with the world’s best. Australia is strong enough to be a valuable partner, but not a dominant one.”
Foreign investment is a key point of sensitivity in negotiations about a free trade deal with China. Both sides have signalled they want the trade pact concluded by year’s end.
China is conscious Australia has offered preferential foreign investment regimes to the US, Japan and South Korea through bilateral trade pacts.
It seems logical that Australian negotiators will offer the Chinese a similar screening threshold for foreign direct investment, an increase from $248m to $1.08bn for a private entity.
China wants more scope to invest in Australia, but the situation is complicated politically for Abbott because much of the investment will come through state-owned enterprises, not from the private sector. Because of National party sensitivities, Abbott will also want to preserve curbs on investments in farmland and agribusinesses.
As some astute philosopher once said: "a friendly snake in the grass is not as trustworthy as a bird minding its own business in the sky"...