One of the great difficulties in assessing China’s broader aims and goals is the apparent contradiction between its uncompromising security policy and the accommodating allure of its economic outreach. While aggressively asserting its maritime claims in the Western Pacific, Beijing is simultaneously wooing the world with the seductive vision of a new Silk Road that promises benefits for all who sign up.

In Adelaide this week, one of the world’s leading China analysts, Willy Lam, characterised this as a form of foreign policy “schizophrenia” alternating between aggressive displays of power and appealing multilateral initiatives designed to boost China’s economic and financial credentials. Deciding which is the dominant impulse is a dilemma for all countries frequently leading to political misjudgements and confused policy responses. But China is too important a country to get wrong. So Australia needs to be clear-minded about China’s strategy and desired end game.

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