By William Yang

TAIPEI, TAIWAN — Several Western democracies, including the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia, have tried to restart diplomatic engagement with China in recent months, sending cabinet members to Beijing for talks with Chinese counterparts while upholding tough stances on areas where disagreements with China remain strong.

Analysts say these attempts are necessary to stop the downward spiral in these countries’ bilateral relations with China. However, they think it’s difficult to achieve any diplomatic breakthrough through these efforts.

“In principle, the efforts to [restart engagement with China] is sensible because some level of communication can avoid unintended misunderstanding and miscalculation,” Ian Chong, a political scientist at the National University of Singapore (NUS), told VOA in a phone interview.

In his view, the larger question for Western democracies is how to balance the efforts to restart engagement with China against the defense of their own interests. “These countries won’t return to the engagement phase that they had decades before. There is communication and contact because it’s necessary, but there is also a lot more wariness now,” Chong said.

Australia’s recalibration with China

Australia is one of the countries that has resumed bilateral engagement with China. In July, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong met with the top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi and the two countries held their first high-level dialogue September 7 in Beijing, addressing topics such as trade, people-to-people links, and security.

These efforts have resulted in the lifting of Chinese tariffs on some Australian commodities including coal and barley, and the Australian government expressed optimism about the two sides making more progress in improving the overall trade ties.

“The progress we have made in resuming unimpeded trade is good for both countries and we want to see that progress continue,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said after he met with Chinese Premier Li Qiangin Indonesia on September 7.

Bilateral diplomatic ties deteriorated after Beijing imposed tariffs on a dozen Australian products as a response to Canberra’s call for an investigation into the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic.

To further stabilize bilateral ties, Albanese confirmed that he would be visiting China later this year. He emphasized that while views between the two countries won't always be aligned, Canberra and Beijing recognize that “dialogue is absolutely critical.”

While some praised Albanese’s decision to visit Beijing, former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison cautioned against a “concessional approach” toward restoring ties with China, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

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TNL Editor: Kim Chan (@thenewslensintl)

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