Working together to solve the global health and economic challenges caused by COVID-19 could act as a “circuit breaker” for the failing Australia-China political relationship, a new report argues.

The joint report by The Australian National University’s East Asian Bureau of Economic Research (EABER) and China’s Center for International Economic Exchange (CCIEE) makes the case for Australia and China to coordinate Asia’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

“A key feature of the Australia-China bilateral economic relationship during the global pandemic has been the growth in importance of trade between the two countries,” the paper notes.

“China has recently accounted for as much as 46 per cent of all Australia’s merchandise exports.

“The deepening economic interdependence is enormously beneficial to both countries but stands in marked contrast to the deterioration of the bilateral political relationship that has coincided with increased uncertainty in the international political environment.”

The report charts a course for cooperation between Australia and China on reconstruction and recovery from the COVID health and economic crisis across more than 10 major areas.

These include “doubling down” on support for the World Health Organization’s work, and access to and production of vaccines and treatments; developing a system of health certification for travel; a commitment to food security through open trade; and concluding the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

The paper also says expanding ASEAN+3’s commitment to a COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund to include Australia, New Zealand and India, and elevating medical and research exchanges are important areas of health cooperation.

The authors also suggest reform and upgrading of WTO rules, which have been a source of global trade friction.

Paper co-author, Professor Peter Drysdale from ANU, said the breakdown in bilateral political relations between China and Australia can be reversed through a commitment to peace, prosperity and a rules-based order.

“‘In the aftermath of COVID-19, Australia and China share strong interests in ensuring public health and safety, financial stability and open, rules-based trade in the region,” Professor Drysdale said.

“Both governments can contribute towards these goals most effectively by working actively together in multilateral settings such as the ASEAN+6 group, the East Asia Summit, APEC and the G20.

“Australia and China could find it helpful to look to joint commitment to cooperation with partners in Asia for the circuit breaker needed to begin repair in their bilateral relationship.”

The paper is by more than 12 researchers from Australia and China led by Professor Peter Drysdale, Head of EABER and Zhang Xiaoqing, Executive Director of CCIEE, and formerly Vice Minister of China’s National Development Reform Commission.

Download the full report here.

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