Australia has been "caught in the crossfire" of hostilities between the United States and China, University of Newcastle Professor Lisa Toohey says.
"Once one major power decides to disregard the established rules of the game, others follow suit," said Professor Toohey, an international trade law researcher.
She said the Trump administration had undermined the rules of world trade.
"It's important to note that Trump has been a cause and a symptom of US disenchantment with the global system," she said.
"But there is no doubt that trade wars have intensified under the Trump administration."
Australian interests were "best served when the trade rules are respected".
"Wine is an illustration of the problem. The Hunter Region is one of those that's been impacted by a hostile global trade environment.
"As part of the Phase One deal negotiated between the US and China, China has committed to purchasing increased quantities of US wine."
She said it was difficult to evaluate whether this had "directly or indirectly impacted Australian wine markets in China".
"However, wine industry representatives are reporting an unofficial import ban in China of Australian wines. At the same time, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce has levied two types of punitive tariffs on Australian wines - effectively imposing an import tax of 206 per cent."
Professor Toohey said Australia's relationship with the United States and China had "varied greatly over the past few years".
"It's natural to expect that diplomatic relationships will experience rough patches from time to time," she said.
"As a nation we need to have a clear sense of identity and know where we stand, but being belligerent doesn't particularly help any cause."
This quote from the memoirs of former Australian prime minister Robert Menzies, she said, was good advice: "A little man waving a big stick is not only faintly absurd, but liable to lose his balance".
She said Australia had grappled with dependence and interdependence for many decades.
"This is just another chapter in that saga," she said.
She said there was a perception that the China-Australia relationship was economic, while the US-Australia relationship was cultural and historic.
"Actually that's not true at all - Chinese people have had a very important role in Australia's history and culture," she said.
"And the US-Australia relationship goes beyond history and a sense of shared culture to the economic realm as well."
China is Australia's largest trading partner and the United States is our third largest.
"Despite public perception, the United States is actually the largest foreign investor in Australia."
She said Australia's relationship with the US and China was "enduring and multi-faceted", adding "it's not an either/or choice".
Free trade, though, is complicated.
"The aim is not really 'free trade', more 'transparently regulated trade'. Trade of any kind is difficult because there are winners and losers. But as a general statement, Australia's relative wealth is built on the back of trade.
"Like any phenomenon, free trade has both positive and negative aspects for people."
Some people benefit more and some less.
"One very tangible benefit of trade is that consumers have more choice and prices are more competitive.
"Should we follow that to its extreme case of huge choice of super cheap disposable products? No, because there are other costs to the environment of doing so.
"However that's not the fault of free trade itself - it's about consumer behaviour."
Multilateral agreements, she said, "try to make sure that restrictions on trade are predictable and transparent". "They matter for a country like Australia, which doesn't have the power to stand up to larger countries on its own."
History has shown the "folly of escalating trade wars", along with the value of an international system to make clear the rights and obligations of nation states and ways to resolve disputes.
"The system is not perfect - no system is - but imperfect rules are better than the law of the jungle," she said.
She added that a United States disengaged from international trade rules was "bad news for everyone, especially Australia".
"The international system as a whole is at a dangerous turning point, and all countries need to re-engage through diplomatic channels," she said.
"A Biden presidency should be welcome news for Australians."
While the incoming president could not be expected to be "a panacea for all the woes of the international system", he had long been committed to international rules and diplomacy.
"This is good news for a relatively small power like Australia," she said.
Professor Toohey is the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship in Australian-American alliance studies. Her research will examine the "changing political dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region" and their impact on relations between Australia and the United States.
"My fellowship is on hold until the Covid situation stabilises," she said.
"My family and I were supposed to be in the US right now. I'm hopeful that I can take up the fellowship sometime during 2021."