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Australia’s Inward Turn Earns a Faster Rebound Than Expected

A country that relied on globalization—and China—is discovering a new path.
A guided tour at the Walls of China viewing platform in Mungo National Park in New South Wales, Australia, in July 2020.

A guided tour at the Walls of China viewing platform in Mungo National Park in New South Wales, Australia, in July 2020.

Photographer: James Bugg

A year of border closures is making Australia rethink its embrace of globalization. Before Covid, the country’s economic strategy was predicated on attracting large numbers of immigrants, foreign students, and tourists to supplement earnings from mineral and farm exports. The formula yielded a record-setting 28-year streak of uninterrupted growth and a society where more than half the population was either born abroad or has at least one immigrant parent.

Then the pandemic hit, ushering in strict controls on international travel, followed by a diplomatic brawl with China, the destination for about one-third of Australia’s exports. The country suffered its first recession in decades last year, yet the central bank is now forecasting that gross domestic product will return to its level at the end of 2019 by the middle of this year, which is 6 to 12 months sooner than it had previously anticipated.