As Scott Morrison walked a tightrope between the United States and China, Beijing academics casually suggested Australia would be the first sacrificed in a war between the super powers.
The prime minister has long maintained Australia doesn't have to pick sides, that it can manage to stand by both friend and customer, even as they whack each other with harsher tariffs.
On six different occasions during his recent week in the US, Morrison explained China was a "comprehensive strategic partner" of Australia.
That included while sitting alongside Donald Trump in the Oval Office, after the president told the world: "Scott has very strong opinions on China."
Of course, while the different types of relationship mean something important in diplomatic terms, it can send a confusing message to the public.
One sounds like the mate you'd have over for a barbecue.
The other sounds like that person at work with the fancy job title, but you're not exactly sure what it is they actually do.
Morrison might be sticking to his line that Australia doesn't have to choose, but the contrast of the casual and the formal diplomatic language can give the impression we actually have picked a side.
This was reflected in the Newspoll finding this week that more than twice as many Australians think the government should prioritise its relationship with the US over that with China.
This has given rise to a polarised public debate.
"You've got a group of panda huggers and you've got a group of dragon slayers and I think neither of them are particularly right," ANU Professor Brendan Taylor told AAP.
For decades, the one consistent theme in Australia's foreign policy has been pragmatism.
But this can leave the overall picture a bit muddled as decisions are made which don't necessarily please one great and powerful friend or the other.
"It seems a bit erratic but I think there is an underlying logic to it," Taylor said.
"Short of a situation of an actual conflict breaking out, I think we'll continue to take that approach and kind of avoid having to choose between one or the other."
However, the undeniable reality at the moment is the relationship with China is, to put it mildly, not in great shape.
That's even starker if you contrast it with the US alliance.
Australia's diplomats have put in a big effort since Trump took office to nurture that relationship and ensure it outlasts the mercurial presidency.
But it appears there's some paralysis over how to similarly reach out to China.
Who knows what Beijing made of the sight of Trump quoting poetry to Morrison in the moonlight?
Certainly, there's been no invitation for Morrison to visit, although ministers have headed to China in recent months.
China's ambassador said this week that both sides had to "increase mutual respect and to handle their differences in the proper way".
Cheng Jingye also pointed out Australia had been dependent on China for its decades of economic good times.
And he joined the strong push-back on Morrison's message that China should act and be treated as a developed economy.
Morrison says of his bid: "That's not a criticism of China. That's actually an acknowledgement of China's success."
Cheng insisted his country would take another 30 years - making it to a century after the founding of modern China that was ostentatiously celebrated this week - to become a fully developed nation.
And Labor has also said it's nonsense to suggest China is well-developed, with its mixture of extreme wealth and tremendous poverty.
That criticism prompted Morrison to urge Labor "to be less confused, less naive and show a bit more maturity on this question".
Taylor understands Morrison's frustration at China's economic status, but says Australians need to lift their game and engage more to understand the complexity of the Asian giant.
Australian Associated Press
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