Australia - China fouling relations did not go bad in a day (Hsu Chien-jung)

Published (HKT): 2020.06.20 12:22

"Peaceful rise" is what China’s propaganda has been telling the world since 2004. The Western world, especially the academia, believes that China joining global economic system can help China move towards democracy and a market economy.

Faced with the rise of China, Australian National University(ANU) scholar Hugh White even advocated that the United States must share power with China. His reason was that as the world was entering the Asian century, Australia should not side with the United States when given a choice between the United States and China.

In early March 2018, The Economist, with its cover title "How the West got China wrong", commented that the West was doomed to failure because China had become increasingly authoritarian and a market economy had not developed. Instead, China used business as a weapon against other countries: for example, China forced German auto manufacturer Benz to apologize for quoting the Dalai Lama; when the Philippines had disputes with China on the South China Sea, China retaliated by not buying bananas and other produce from the Philippines. Accordingly, The Economist recommended that the West should expose China-supported foundations, review Chinese-funded businesses and scrutinize China. But the Western world seemed not yet awakened. It was not until the outbreak of Wuhan pneumonia and the launch of China's massive propaganda and “wolf warrior diplomacy” that the West suddenly realized the severity of the problem.

When Australia proposed an independent investigation of the Wuhan pneumonia at the World Health Assembly (WHA), China immediately imposed an 80.5% anti-dumping and countervailing tax on Australian barley, banned four Australian companies from exporting beef to China, and has recently declared the banning of Chinese tourists from visiting Australia and Chinese students from studying in Australia. In his book Silent Invasion: Chinese Factors in Australia, Clive Hamilton (an Australian who is a China expert) clearly described how China used various means to influence Australia.

Hamilton’s recent book, The Hidden Hand: Exposing How the Chinese Communist Party is Reshaping the World, analysed how China is using the Belt and Road Initiative as a tool to control other countries and let them know who is the boss, and how China influences politics, commerce, universities, think tanks, international organizations and so forth through various means. For example, since the highly-criticized Australian state Victoria signed a Belt and Road cooperation memorandum, Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews and state officials have been replicating China’s propaganda language.

Over the past 20 years, China’s influence on Australia’s economy has covered energy, minerals, industrial investment, real estate, tourism and even international students. Australia-China relations reached its peak between 2007 and 2008. The infrastructure before the Beijing Olympics allowed Australia to earn huge amounts of foreign exchange in energy and minerals, and China also assisted opposition Labor Party Kevin Rudd to be prime minister in the 2007 federal elections. During the APEC meetings held in Australia in 2007, the banquet that Kevin Rudd and Hu Jin-tao attended was no difference from an oath of office of the Labor Party in the federal elections; in addition, the Chinese Consulate not only demanded that Chinese expatriates vote for the Labor Party, but also sent staff on the day of voting to distribute pamphlets on “How to Vote for the Labor Party” printed in both simplified and traditional Chinese characters at polling stations frequented by Chinese voters.

However, although Rudd is considered to be pro-Chinese, he did not fully comply with China's demands. For example, in 2009, Chinalco’s attempt to buy a stake at Rio Tinto was rejected by the Rudd government; one month later, four staff members of Rio Tinto Shanghai, including Rio Tinto Shanghai's head Stern Hu, were arrested in China for espionage. It can be seen that under the seemingly close relationship between Australia and China lies China’s tough stance and threat to Australia.

Take the school campus as an example. On the eve of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when the Olympic torch was passed to Australia, China mobilized Chinese students in Australia to welcome the torch and counter activities that support Tibet. In March the same year, riots broke out in Tibet. The Queensland Branch of the Australian Association of International Affairs invited a professor from the School of Political Science and International Studies of the University of Queensland to give a speech. The professor’s view of the incident was similar to that of the Chinese government. At that time, the author of this article, who was a doctoral student of the same department in the University of Queensland, specifically asked the professor some questions. The professor replied that China would rise peacefully and abide by the rules of the international community.

In 2019, many college students in Australia supported Hong Kong's anti-extradition bill campaign during which Chinese students attacked Hong Kong students or supporters on many occasions. The University of Queensland sided with China and planned to expel Drew Pavlou, a student who led rallies that supported Hong Kong. The University of Queensland has a China-backed Confucius Institute. The University’s Vice Chancellor Peter Hoj invited Xu Jie, the Chinese Consul General in Brisbane, to serve as visiting professor at the University of Queensland, while Peter Hoj himself became a visiting professor at Tianjin University, China. From 2016 to 2019, the Taiwanese community in Australia held four Taiwan Film Festivals in Brisbane, three of which took place in the University of Queensland. However, in 2017, the University of Queensland, which was a sponsor of the Taiwan Film Festival, stopped the sponsorship under China’s interference.

The incident at the University of Queensland is just a tip of the iceberg when it comes to China penetrating and influencing every aspect of Australia. Then came the shocking case of Chinese businessman Huang Xiang-mo, which led Australia to pass the espionage and foreign interference bill and the foreign influence transparency scheme bill in 2018. These two bills put Australia-China relations at its low.

In 2018, Australia, a member of the Five Eyes Alliance, became the first Western country to reject China’s Huawei’s participation in 5G construction. In 2019, Australian intelligence agencies discovered during the federal elections that Chinese cyber hackers invaded the ruling coalition and the opposition Labor Party. Today, China's retaliation against Australia's proposal to investigate in the Wuhan pneumonia outbreak is a sign of the worsening bilateral relations.

The current situation of Australia-China relations is that China retaliates against Australia, while the Australian society is hostile towards China's infiltration. As the saying goes: “Three feet of ice is not frozen in one day”, Australia and China's economic and trade ties are closest when China infiltrates Australian society most seriously.

(Hsu Chien-jung, Adjunct Research Associate, Monash University, Australia)

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