China turns screws on Australia as relations sink to new low


China is Australia’s main trading partner and Xi has clearly identified the mutual benefit for the two countries. But in recent years, China has increasingly been viewed by Canberra as a security threat. The Australian Security Intelligence Organization first warned in 2017 of an increase in attempts by China to interfere in internal affairs.

“China should develop a plan to impose retaliatory sanctions against Australia, a plan that should include long-range strikes on military installations and relevant key installations on Australian soil,” said Hu Xijin, editor. leader of China, resolutely pro-communist. Global Times newspaper, last week. While these words are not necessarily echoed by Beijing, the Global Times is widely regarded as the mouthpiece for the Communist dictatorship and they would not have been published without President Xi Jinping’s blessing. So, presumably, he agrees.
The alarming comments were made to warn Australia as tensions escalated over Taiwan as the Chinese Air Force made repeated incursions into Taiwan’s air defense zone. Beijing is clearly concerned that the Resurrected Quad will become a defensive organization, with Australia joining forces with the United States to defend the island, which China claims as its own. The Global Times editorial also reflects the worrying spike in relations between China and Australia. “The drums of war are getting louder and louder,” said Mike Pezzullo, Australia’s chief national security adviser.
Last week, the relationship slumped to new lows, making the “deep freeze” of recent times almost mild. An angry Beijing has announced that it is “indefinitely suspending” all activities of the China-Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) because of Australia’s latest move that has infuriated Beijing. The SED was formed in the most heady days of 2014 and is the main bilateral economic forum, used to encourage investment between the two countries and smooth trade and financial negotiations. Beijing’s move was seen as a “tit-for-tat” response to Canberra’s cancellation of two Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) agreements last month, saying the cancellation was due to “a state spirit of the Cold War and ideological discrimination ”.
The agreements, which were made bilaterally with China by Australian state governments in 2018 and 2019, were vetoed last month under new laws that give the federal government the power to cancel international agreements of lower level administrations that violate national interests. “I consider these arrangements to be incompatible with Australia’s foreign policy or unfavorable to our external relations,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne said. Beijing saw it differently: “Australia faces grave consequences for unreasonable provocations against China,” was the response. Chinese government ministers now refuse to take phone calls from their Australian counterparts. Trade between the two countries has become even more disrupted, with all seen as China imposing economic punishment.
Everything was so different in November 2014, when Xi Jinping addressed a special joint session of the Australian Federal Parliament on the day a free trade agreement between the two countries was announced. The agreement removed tariffs on dairy beef, wine, minerals and horticultural products, as well as education, health and financial services. In his speech, Xi hailed the agreement as stimulating relations between the two countries, mutually beneficial and win-win for both sides.
China is Australia’s main trading partner and Xi has clearly identified the mutual benefit for the two countries. But in recent years, China has increasingly been viewed by Canberra as a security threat. The Australian Security Intelligence Organization first warned in 2017 of an increase in attempts by China to interfere in internal affairs. In the same year, a senator resigned because of his connections with a Chinese political donor. In 2018, Australia passed laws to curb foreign interference and, citing security risks, went on to become one of the first nations to ban Chinese company Huawei from building its 5G network in the country. . It is no coincidence, therefore, that Australia was quickly hit by a series of cyberattacks against its federal parliament, political parties, universities and scientific agencies. China was the prime suspect.
Negative sentiment towards China has also grown recently with Beijing’s arrest of Australian citizens, one of whom is high profile news anchor Cheng Lai, 49, detained on charges of “illegal supply. state secrets abroad ”. The journalist was born in China but moved to Australia with her parents when she was a child. Chinese Australians make up almost 6% of Australia’s population of 25 million, some with deep roots dating back to the mid-19th century gold rush. They are starting to feel the effect of the animosity between Beijing and Canberra, demonstrated by a recent survey which found that nearly one in five had been physically threatened or assaulted in the past year because of their Chinese heritage. . Most of those polled used the Chinese social media platform WeChat to read news in Chinese and saw China more as an economic partner of Australia than as a security threat. But at the same time, two in three of the sample said they would support the imposition of financial and travel sanctions on Chinese officials related to human rights issues. They clearly had in mind the genocide of Muslim Uyghurs by Beijing.
It was Canberra’s criticism of China’s “repressive measures” against the Uyghurs and its attack on human rights in Hong Kong that really struck a chord in Beijing last September. This, combined with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s call for an international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus that caused Covid-19, resulted in an explosion of anti-Australian sentiment in Beijing and an avalanche of trade measures against Canberra. Then, in November, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry tweeted a “fake” edited image of an Australian soldier holding a knife to the throat of an Afghan child, a barbed reference to an investigation into the crimes of ongoing war. Relations have reached a low point.
China quickly imposed crippling tariffs on a range of Australian products: barley, beef, wine, cotton and lobsters. Timber exports were banned and at least $ 500 million worth of charcoal delayed for months at Chinese ports, an act that ironically led to local blackouts. Sales of iron ore, Australia’s largest cash cow, are still booming, however. In recent years, the mining boom has significantly boosted Australia’s export capacity and there are now fears that if China’s BRI infrastructure investments will accelerate the supply of resources to countries other than the ‘Australia, like Guinea or Brazil, this could be a big blow. to the Australian economy. There are few other customers for iron ore at current volume.
To give an idea of ​​the damage caused by Australia’s liquidation of trade with China, a recent simulation of the 95% trade halt found that there would be a 6% reduction in the country’s GDP and a 14% drop in real disposable income per capita of its population. The shock in Australia would be significant, while the damage to China’s large economy would be insignificant. As one Australian commentator put it: “Too bad for us, a bite of mozzie for China”!
Can Australia turn away from China and take advantage of emerging markets? Perhaps, because Australia is much less dependent on exports, which represent 20% of GDP, than many countries. But those revenues go directly to jobs and well-being, making China a major driver of Australian well-being. India is often cited in Canberra for its potential. Australia has set a target of sending $ 31 billion in annual exports to India, but last year it sold more than $ 120 billion to China alone. Experts believe that no other option comes close to making up China’s numbers.
So, is a form of reconciliation between the two countries possible? In the short term, probably not. “I see no prospect on the horizon for this relationship to be back on track,” Australian China expert James Laurenceson told CNBC last week, adding “while Australia and China blame each other for the breakdown in dialogue ”. Currently, the two parties seem to redouble their efforts and harden their position, which makes it particularly difficult to identify a way out of the crisis. Mutual understanding is almost non-existent. Australia was content with the rise of China, as the rise of China gave Australia economic growth. But now China has economic power, and with power comes influence, which makes the Chinese hawks in Canberra extremely uncomfortable. These hawks should be brought under control by Prime Minister Morrison, argue the pro-China camp in Canberra, suggesting Australia needs to be more strategic in its diplomacy. Australia could criticize China as part of a group of like-minded countries rather than pulling out on its own. Others argue that Australia has not changed but that China has fundamentally changed, becoming more assertive and authoritarian. Ultimately, however, Canberra, like other democracies, can no longer ignore political reality for economic gains, as the risk of economic retaliation becomes the new normal in the relationship.
A respected Sidney-based polling organization, the Lowy Institute, posed the question to Australians last year; “Would you be for or against the government seeking to find other markets for Australia in order to reduce our economic dependence on China?” A whopping 94% of the sample said “support”. So Canberra is yours. But be careful not to support the United States on Taiwan, otherwise…!

John Dobson is a former British diplomat, who also worked in the office of British Prime Minister John Major between 1995 and 1998.


About Thomas Brown

Check Also

Trade, security on agenda of Xi’s visit to Saudi Arabia – Saudi minister

Strengthening trade ties and regional security will be priorities during an upcoming visit by Chinese …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.