As Beijing looked to expand its global position, particularly with an increased presence in the Pacific, Australia sat up and took notice.
Here we take a look back at 10 key policy moves, diplomatic clashes and deals that have shaped an interesting year in the complex Australia-China relationship.
1. Canberra passes the anti-foreign intervention laws
Amid growing concerns about Beijing’s influence in Australian politics, the Government passed controversial legislation in June to limit and control the influence of overseas players in Australian affairs.
The new laws strengthened foreign espionage offences, and forced people working for foreign companies and governments to declare their activities.
All foreign donations were also banned, including from Chinese businesses that are by far the largest foreign donors in Australian politics.
Julie Bishop and Wang Yi shake hands while standing in front of Australian and Chinese flags.
PHOTO: Foreign Ministers Julie Bishop and Wang Yi are rumoured to have had a heated discussion about the laws. (AAP: Mick Tsikas)
Beijing was furious, with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang calling on Australia and other countries to “abandon the Cold War mentality and better promote mutual exchanges and cooperation on the basis of mutual respect and equal treatment.”
Reports also suggested that then-foreign minister Julie Bishop had a heated conversation around the laws and China’s influence in Australia with her Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, on the sidelines of a G20 conference in Argentina.
Ms Bishop denied the reports about the meeting, which she had earlier said was “very warm”. But Mr Wang was quoted as telling Ms Bishop and Australia to “take off the tinted glasses [and] see China’s development from a positive perspective” if it really wanted to get relations back on track.
“Tinted glasses” is Chinese diplomatic shorthand for what it sees as Western bias.