The Man of Steel and The Dragon: Australia’s relationship with China during the Howard Era

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Bosnjak, Stjepan (2017) The Man of Steel and The Dragon: Australia’s relationship with China during the Howard Era. Research Master thesis, Victoria University.


1996 was the worst year in the Australian-Chinese bilateral relationship since the Whitlam recognition. Yet in October 2003, Chinese President Hu Jintao became the first non-American head of state to address a joint sitting of Parliament, a deeply symbolic honour. This thesis examines how the Howard Government managed to go from the lows on 1996 to the highs of 2003, using it as a case study for Neoclassical Realism (NCR). NCR shares the same characteristics with other theories of Realism, however it argues that those theories on their own cannot fully explain events. NCR combines the statesman centric role of Classical Realism with the systemic pressures of Neorealism, and contends that both internal domestic and external international factors contribute to a state’s pursuit of its interpretation of its national interests. There are many internal variables that Neoclassical Realists argue impact on a state’s decision making, including resource extraction and domestic interests groups. This thesis focuses on political leadership and contends that John Howard played a central role in improving the relationship. To analyse Howard’s decisions we must examine the political context within which he operated in. Australia’s domestic institutions (including Parliament, political parties, bureaucracies, business and societal elites, the electorate) and its political culture (including Australia’s historical fear of ‘being swamped by Asians’, of bandwagoning with greater powers, and Howard’s own rise to power) shaped and restrained Howard’s responses to changes to the international structure. Knowing how the Howard Government managed to repair relations after such a disastrous start will help provide a useful blueprint for future governments with regards to how to manage similar situations. By analysing Australia’s relationship with China during the Howard era, we can learn from the mistakes and replicate the successes. This thesis concludes with an assessment of Australia’s relationship with China at the end of the Howard Era, noting that it became Australia’s biggest trading partner.

Additional Information

Master of Arts (Research)

Item type Thesis (Research Master thesis)
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 1606 Political Science
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > College of Arts
Keywords Howard government, neoclassical realism, political leadership, John Howard, Sino-Australian relationship, foreign policy
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