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 Chinaâ€™s behaviour is most effectively done through a unitary actor framework, or whether it is essential to look inside the â€˜black boxâ€™ of the Chinese party-state. Second, whether one is more concerned about the â€˜Thucydides trapâ€™ or â€˜Munichâ€™â€”that is, are the consequences of an overreaction or an underreaction more concerning when interpreting Chinaâ€™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 Chinaâ€™s behaviour throughout the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, in particular responding to Australiaâ€™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.