Why is it so difficult to patch up the Australia-China relations?

Australia is joined at the hip to the US policy of China containment

2 September 2021 | CCCA

In terms of megaphone diplomacy and trade rhetoric, we are consistent and resonate in tune with US policies; and despite this show of loyalty and solidarity, it would appear that whatever we had lost in the export market to China, is a gain for the US exports to China. 

As reported in the South China Morning Post “US frozen beef exports to China surged at Australia’ Hardly protecting Australia’s back!” 

The SCMP article further reports that informally banned series of goods and commodities from Australia ie. coal, log timber and wine last year, have been replaced by US exports to China which led China-Australia observers to suggest that the US has been prioritising her own economic interests over her ally, despite the rhetorical support given by US politicians including Anthony Blinken (US Secretary of State), offering to stand with Australia against economic coercion from Beijing.  Their words including those of US President Biden do not worth much to Australia. In short, we have been gazumped and blinded to buy billions and billions of useless military machines from USA with Australian hard earned taxpayer money.

Many prominent Australians have called for an improvement of the Australia-China relations to counteract the loss of export revenue to China internationally and the rise of xenophobia in Australia, damaging the harmonious fabric of our multicultural society which include 1.4 million Chinese Australians. 

If you google “calls for improvement of Australia China relations”, the majority of the articles appeared to forecast on the “gloom and doom” picture.  Those writers who wish to see a good Australia China relations belong to class of intellectuals and former high ranking public officials and politicians, but their articles usually appear in the intellectual public policy journals such as JM Pearls & Irritations, the Conversation, APAC News, ACRI (UTS Sydney) and other “think tanks”. 

For this commentary, we alert you to a pessimistic view because it is important to learn reasons for the pessimism and take a “not giving up” approach and try to circumnavigate it for an optimistic solution. 

In particular, Brian Toohey’s article “Australia’s deteriorating role in global peace” sends a pessimistic message to those of us who want to see a normalised Australia-China relations and the retention of China as our No. 1 trading partner when he wrote: “Faced with pandemics, global warming, species extinction and a possible war with China, there is understandable anxiety about the future. Perhaps the hardest question is whether it’s futile to push for new peace initiatives”. 

Some highlights of the article are summarized below: 

(i) Sue Wareham, President, Medical Association for Prevention of Wars said that Australia spends vastly more on preparing for war then working for peace.  Going to war with China following Vietnam, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan would be catastrophic.  Avoiding a war with China would, we would need to expose and rein in vested interests which leads to war. 

(ii) Margaret Beavis of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN Australia) says that she sees reasons for optimism in the face of much cynicism and undue influence.  She quoted Ipsos 2018, a market research company which found 72-79 % of Australians supporting the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Less than 10 per cent disagree. She quoted a finding that the instantaneous climate change resulting from a nuclear war using less than 1 per cent of global stockpiles would create a decade-long nuclear winter and famine, putting two billion lives at risk. 

(iii) Australia is willing to sell uranium to nuclear-armed India, which doesn’t accept the treaty (ban on atmospheric nuclear testing) 

(iv) Australia’s government is committed to becoming one of the top 10 arms exporters in the world. 

(v)  G20 member states had an average of 196 diplomatic posts in 2019, whereas Australia had the second lowest, with 118 

The above showed a chilling trend, ie. we are very much sucked in by the military industrial complex interest in Australia which the average citizen would not be aware of.  Our diplomatic efforts are at an all-time low. 

Although John Toohey article did not directly support a good Australia China relation, it gave important insight information of how difficult the road to normalization would be as the conflict of interests within Australia is played out by the military hawks and the peaceniks in years to come. 

The Australian predicament is more adverse than the US as it cannot recover from the loss of (a) export trade and other revenues, (b) a loss of esteem among SE Asia countries who perceived that we cannot run an independent foreign policy without Uncle Sam, (c)  loss of confidence among SE Asian leaders that Australia can contribute to peace & prosperity in the Asia Pacific, (d) Uncertainty in what Australia can contribute to RCEP or AIIDB or any trade pack with ASEAN countries. 

A common self-reassurance about export trade is that we should be able to find alternative markets. Where would we find a customer who buys so big like China? Can we rely on US ? or being exploited by US? 

The US on the other hand, has more bargaining chips with China, and the SCMP article suggested, the losses sustained by Australia would be US’s gains.  What are friends for? 

Hence, it is imperative that Australia should endeavour to repair the relations before it is beyond repair.  A change of policy with our national economic interests as a priority without discarding US as an ally, would be useful.  The Asians are playing a two-side game and as we are in the Asia Pacific, we should play the same game without loss of our “security blanket” with the US. Take a leaf out of the wisdom of Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawkes, Paul Keating and a bit from John Howard, Kevin Rudd and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Principal authors, Tony Pun and Dr Ka Sing Chua. This commentary is supplied by the Chinese Community Council of Australia Incorporated: Founding President, Dr Anthony Pun OAM, President, Mr Kingsley Liu. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors.

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