Australian debate of the China question: the COVID-19 case

Darren Lim, Nathan Attrill

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Debate within Australia regarding the bilateral relationship with China is complex, contentious and often lacks clarity. Informed by basic international relations theory, we identify two dividing lines within this debate. First, whether understanding China’s behaviour is most effectively done through a unitary actor framework, or whether it is essential to look inside the ‘black box’ of the Chinese party-state. Second, whether one is more concerned about the ‘Thucydides trap’ or ‘Munich’—that is, are the consequences of an overreaction or an underreaction more concerning when interpreting China’s intentions and responding to perceived threats. These dividing lines generate four ideal-type policy viewpoints that we label Balancers, Hedgers, Engagers and Reformers, and apply in the Australian context. We then overlay our framework onto the public debate in Australia, selecting a specific bounded case study: commentary and analysis concerning China’s behaviour throughout the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, in particular responding to Australia’s call for an international inquiry. Our objective is to progress an often circular debate by offering an accessible frame that clarifies and synthesises fundamental disagreements.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)410-431
    JournalAustralian Journal of International Affairs
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


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