Australia: so far and yet so near

While geographically far apart, Spain and Australia have a steadily growing relationship. The core of their expanding bilateral engagement is defence cooperation, as explained at a recent working breakfast at the Elcano Royal Institute by Jane Marie Hardy, Australian Ambassador to Spain. Furthermore, both countries are like-minded on most political, security, economic and strategic issues and share a deeply-held commonality of values.

As Hardy underlined, the ‘great example’ of Navantia and the Spanish Navy’s cooperation with the Australian government has led Spanish companies to show a significant degree of interest in the Australian market. Experience in banking, construction and renewable energies are all welcome in a country where more than 100 Spanish firms are currently operating.

These companies increasingly recognise what the Australian economy has to offer in terms of connections to Asian markets, because Australia is adapting to Asia’s ‘unstoppable rise’ and knows how to do business with the region, especially China. The best example of this process has been the release in October 2012 of the white paper titled Australia in the Asian Century. Whatever else this century brings, it will certainly the rise of Asia, and the ‘Asian century is an Australian opportunity’. These are the main ideas underlying the paper, with the nation’s strategy essentially hinging on becoming a competitive force within the region.

It can be confidently be asserted that the Asia-Pacific region is becoming an economic centre of gravity. But it also poses political, security and strategic challenges, which lead to the question of whether Australia will one day have to choose between its great strategic ally, the US, and its leading economic partner, China. How can it manage the Australia-US-China strategic triangle? Ambassador Hardy was very clear: ‘there is no contradiction in having these two allies’. At the same time she expressed her desire to see a greater European presence and involvement in the region. One of the best ways to do so is through Australia, and Spain appears to be on the right path.