I’ve had a draft post on our China relationship in the works since 17 December 2020, with over 800 words and lots of links. I decided I had started in the wrong place.
Here I’ll highlight two links. First, Tom Switzer on his ABC RN show Between the Lines interviewed Peter Hartcher, political editor of the Sydney Morning Herald and Kishore Mahbubani, distinguished fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Asia Research Institute in Can Australia and China learn to get along?
Hartcher says what you’d expect Hartcher to say, and to some degree he has a point.
Mahbubani says that we need to recognise that China is culturally different, but it’s a matter of shades of grey rather than black and white. In trade matters, smaller powers will have to adapt more, and we are small. However, the prime characteristic for leaders in the region is that they must stand up to China, and at the same time they must get along with China. All countries in the region have this problem. They use diplomacy, and they do it quietly. Asia is full of countries that stand up to China but deal with them at the same time.
Unfortunately Australia is now very useful to China as an example of what happens if you take them on. There is no reason at all to think that this will change any time soon.
As Kevin Rudd said, “kill one in order to warn a hundred”. That is, there is a clear warning to other countries, especially the 3.5 billion other Asians, what might happen to them if they annoy China so much.
Second, Percy Allan is a public policy economist and a visiting professor at the Institute of Public Policy and Governance, University of Technology, Sydney. In the early 2000s he consulted with the Chinese ministries of finance and personnel as part of AusAID’s capacity building program. It’s ironic that in the early days of China establishing itself as a modern trading nation, Australia was its main tutor.
In an opinion piece in the AFR We targeted China before they targeted us Percy says that after signing the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, which also covered investment, we:
1. Blocked more than 100 Chinese imports using a dumping duty approach inconsistent with World Trade Organisation rules;
2. Led the charge globally to ban Huawei from the 5G network;
3. Officially condemned human rights violations in China without shaming neighbouring countries (e.g. India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, etc) for their transgressions or taking moral responsibility for our own Pacific Solution for refugees;
4. Condemned China for breaching international law by seizing a disputed coral atoll in the South China Sea while ignoring Donald Trump tearing up international agreements such as the Paris Climate Change Accord, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, the Iran Nuclear Treaty, and the Medium Range Missile Treaty;
5. Banned China from promoting its interests and influence in Australia while not blocking other nations from doing so;
6. Publicly requested the World Health Organisation to investigate the origins of COVID-19 after talking to the Trump administration, but not giving prior notice or let alone having any dialogue with China; and,
7. Now banned virtually any investment from China or any bilateral co-operation between state governments and universities and their counterparts in China.
Percy says it will be hard for Australia to grow quickly after COVID-19 without China’s market, capital, people exchange and knowhow, and finding other markets and relationships will not do the trick. He says:
- Finding a détente is essential. China insists Australia take “concrete steps” to fix the relationship to allow high-level dialogue to resume.
A first step would be to recognise that we share responsibility for the breakdown in relations and apologise to China for not consulting it before we requested WHO to investigate the origins and handling of COVID-19.
That action, more than any other, turned China against us. Also admit we should have been more sensitive to China’s complaints about our dumping duties on its exports. Such a mea culpa would greatly help.
Second, welcome Chinese investment in all non-strategic industries, infrastructure projects and joint research activities and specify what they are. I would have thought Lion’s juice and dairy drinks, Probuild’s residential and commercial building, and Victoria’s highway construction were in that category.
Third, undertake in future to fully engage with China on any concerns we have with it or it has with us before going public. That does not mean compromising our sovereignty or leaving ANZUS, but it does mean mutually respecting each other as friends, not foes, just as we did before the spat.
Typically in trade spats countries choose measures that hurt the other country most politically. Hence the targeting of mining and rural industries.
However, tourism, education and university research will be hit also. In terms of the impact on universities, the government has made it clear that it doesn’t care. Morrison said simply that they are large corporations and would have to change their business model.
The G8 had built up a virtuous cycle. Most research was funded by earnings made on charging foreign students. This lifted our main players in the world rankings, which in turn made the universities attractive to students.
We had reached the stage where more co-operative research was being done with Chinese institutions than with American.
It looks as though our elected political will show as much subtlety as they did when we hounded the car industry out of town.
Poor fellow my country!
We should also remember that the board game Go was invented in China over 2500 years ago. We should expect China to be playing a long game.
Here are some more links from my earlier effort:
Hugh White thinks Morrison has misread China and Why China has beaten up Australia harder than anyone else
Kishor Napier-Raman in Crikey Beijing scores a direct hit. Australia loses out to China’s ‘shitpost diplomacy’
Craig Emerson’s advice is to think Chinese and act Australian.
In all that I’d highlight Laura Tingle’s piece (probably pay-walled) which shows New Zealand to be better placed. They established their independence of great Western powers by refusing American nuclear submarines port entry, and through the French sinking the Rainbow Warrior, killing one of their citizens.
Finally, Geoff Raby relates that Xi Jinping has visited every Australian state and territory before he became Premier, and in particular, visited Aboriginal rock paintings sites in the Northern Territory. Just so that you know it’s not personal.