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Australia’s China Odyssey

From euphoria to fear

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** Shortlisted, The 2023 Australian Political Book of the Year Award **

Australia’s relationship with China is one of the dominant geopolitical stories of our times. The need to understand the tectonic forces of history moving beneath the surface of these critical events has never been more pressing.

In Australia’s China Odyssey, acclaimed historian James Curran explores this crucial and complicated relationship through the prism of the prime ministers who have handled relations with Beijing since Whitlam in 1972.

Much recent analysis assumes that managing China has been difficult only since 2017. Yet this relationship has always been difficult. And while there have been moments of euphoria and uplift – moments, even, when some believed Australia could have a ‘special relationship’ with China – high anxiety and fear have often trailed closely in that slipstream. This book provides historical ballast to a debate so often mired in the parochialism of the present.

The task of adjusting to China’s rise is the greatest challenge Australian diplomacy has faced since Japan’s revisionist attempts to remake East Asia in the 1930s. Ultimately, while China under Xi Jinping has indeed changed, and while there is justifiable alarm concerning the course of Beijing’s aggressive and authoritarian nationalism, Australia’s China Odyssey asks whether we have the courage to look in the mirror and see what this debate also reveals about Australia. Reflecting on the 2022 change in government in his postscript, Curran tackles an even harder question: the future of Australia’s China policy.

‘A first-class historian who knows a good story, Curran raises the titillating question of today: Where will this lead Australia?’ — Jane Perlez

‘Absorbing and compelling...written with flair and balance.’ — Peter Varghese

‘A sharp analysis of contemporary events interwoven with a deep sense of the historical threads.’ — Dennis Richardson

‘Yes, you must read this.’ — John McCarthy

‘Comprehensive, engaging, and very valuable.’ — Hugh White, Australian Book Review

‘Curran supplies what is usually absent from contemporary Australian discussions of China — a well-grounded sense of historical perspective.’ — Kerry Brown, Inside Story