The thing is, a trip from the president of the United States makes us feel really, really important. As does being slammed by the Chinese state publication The People’s Daily.

But maybe the truth is in the age-old slip halfway down the Daily editorial that warns that “Australia surely cannot play China for a fool”. We’ve helpfully bolded it for you …

Apparently, Australia aspires to a situation where it maximizes political and security benefits from its alliance with the US while gaining the greatest economic interests from China. However, Gillard may be ignoring something – their economic cooperation with China does not pose any threat to the US, whereas the Australia-US military alliance serves to counter China.

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Australia surely cannot play China for a fool. It is impossible for China to remain detached no matter what Australia does to undermine its security. There is real worry in the Chinese society concerning Australia’s acceptance of an increased US military presence. Such psychology will influence the long-term development of the Australia-China relationship.

Some Australians have been arguing that China does need Australian resources to fuel its own economy, and thus the two countries rely on each other. It is true that China does not have many cards to play to respond to Australia. The US military presence in Australia will not change matters in the short-term. It remains to be seen how Australia will behave in the future and how China is going to respond.

But one thing is certain — if Australia uses its military bases to help the US harm Chinese interests, then Australia itself will be caught in the crossfire. Australia should at least prevent things from growing out of control.

China values its friendship with Austria, and people here understand Australia’s difficulty in seeking the balance between two powers. However, there is a certain line that neither side should cross. Australia should cherish its friendship with China and show this, not merely spout soothing words.

Australia is nimble at navigating between great powers. We believe Australia has the wisdom of dealing with the US-China game and guarantee its own prosperity and security.

Australia should make endeavors to defuse, rather than increase, misgivings between the US and China. This will bring greater interests to both Australia’s interests and to regional peace. In this regard, Australia can be a huge force for good.

We are, after all, only a few dropped letters away from irrelevance. As China and the US engage in an arm wrestle over the Asia Pacific region (ratcheted up a notch by the president’s speech to our parliament this morning), the old adage still applies when it comes to both the world’s superpowers: it’s clear we need them much more than they need us.

Every Thursday, Crikey editor Sophie Black and Crikey‘s Canberra correspondent Bernard Keane will talk the week’s events in the national capital. Visit the podcast page on our website (or via iTunes) at 4pm AEST to download or stream.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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