Australia flags democracies’ trade swing from China to India

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian special envoy and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott said a free trade agreement between his nation and India would signal the “democratic world’s tilt away from China.”

Abbott visited New Delhi last week as Australia’s special trade envoy for India as the Australian government gives priority to sealing a bilateral trade deal.

In an opinion piece likely to anger Beijing that that was published in The Australian newspaper on Monday, Abbott said the “answer to almost every question about China is India.”

“With the world’s other emerging superpower becoming more belligerent almost by the day, it’s in everyone’s interests that India take its rightful place among the nations as quickly as possible,” Abbott wrote.

“Because trade deals are about politics as much as economics, a swift deal between India and Australia would be an important sign of the democratic world’s tilt away from China, as well as boosting the long-term prosperity of both our countries,” Abbott added.

Abbott was prime minister when China and Australia finalized a bilateral free trade deal which took effect in 2015. He also hosted a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping a year earlier.

Relations have since soured over issues including Australia banning Chinese telecom giant Huawei from major communications infrastructure projects, outlawing covert foreign interference in Australian politics and calling for an independent investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Abbott accused Beijing of “capricious boycotts” of Australian exports including coal, barley, wine and seafood that demonstrated Chinese use of trade as a “strategic weapon.”

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