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Recalibrating China Policy: Australia and New Zealand in Comparative Perspective

Australia and New Zealand have in recent years been at the forefront of the growing confrontation between the ‘West’ and China. Despite very close economic ties with China, both countries have substantially changed their approaches to dealing with the People’s Republic. This research project will contribute to and help to advance relevant academic as well as policy-oriented debates on the topic.
GIGA, 2018-2021

Research Questions

Two research questions are at the core of this project:
- Why and how have the two Australasian allies adjusted their China policies?
- Do these policies differ across the two country contexts and over time?

Contribution to International Research

Research on the recent resets of China policy in a number of ‘Western’ democracies has only just begun. This research project will contribute to and help to advance relevant academic as well as policy-oriented debates.

Research Design and Methods

The project will work with intra-regional comparison, outcome-explaining process tracing in two cases, and semi-structured elite and expert interviews in New Zealand (NZ).

Preliminary Findings

In a number of publications I have taken stock of and compared the Australian and NZ recalibrations of China-related policy. Australian federal state actors first embarked on a major ‘reset’ of China policy, culminating in legislation on espionage and foreign interference in 2018. After a change in government, state authorities in NZ appeared to follow Australia’s lead. However, NZ’s adjustment of China policy has been less straight-forward, more contested and overall more ambiguous. Small-state theories partly explain NZ’s more ambivalent approach. A more comprehensive understanding can be gained by reference to how NZ differs from its Tasman neighbour in terms of strategic outlook, including the paramount importance accorded to trade in its foreign affairs.

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