Grattan on Friday: China plays reverse ‘poke the bear’


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

In the moment, Scott Morrison’s angry denunciation of the offensive Chinese tweet about alleged Australian war crimes seemed a reasonable response.

In retrospect, it was probably ill-judged. This is so even though the response had bipartisan support.

The Chinese immediately knew they’d touched a raw nerve, and kept pressing it, through their hyperbolic mouthpiece The Global Times, and their embassy in Canberra.

They grabbed an opportunity to get their own back at a country inclined to focus on their bad human rights record.

In trying to show strength, the Australian government had exposed its sensitivity.

Morrison probably realised this. Twenty-four hours after calling his “virtual” news conference (he was still in quarantine at The Lodge following his Japanese trip) he told the coalition party room (remotely) that the government’s response to the tweet did not need amplification.




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Politics with Michelle Grattan: Asia-Pacific expert Bates Gill on China’s endgame


On Thursday he wouldn’t even be drawn about the Chinese social media platform WeChat taking down a message of reassurance to the Australian Chinese community he had posted.

The digitally-contrived image of a soldier with a knife to a child’s throat tweeted by China’s foreign affairs spokesman was the equivalent of a highly objectionable cartoon. With hindsight, Morrison might have been better to send out a minister to respond to the tweet, or simply to dismiss it with a brief condemnatory line and minimum elaboration.

The tweet was part of the cat-and-mouse game the Chinese are playing with Australia. This might hurt their international image – it certainly should. But the price for Australia is much higher. Strikes at Australian exports are costly and disruptive for businesses and industries at the worst possible time, in the year of COVID.

More generally, it is hard to avoid the conclusion China is treating the Australian government with contempt. How else can we read it when Australian ministers haven’t been able to get their phone calls returned?

Within Australia there is a range of views on how to cope with this situation.

Some in business have urged the government to tone everything down, to be much more accommodating to China. On the other hand, some on the Coalition backbench and among the commentariat believe China should be given no quarter.

In response to what has become a more assertive and interfering Chinese regime, the government’s stance can be characterised as hawkish in action while reaching out rhetorically.

Even as he raged about the tweet on Monday, Morrison said he hoped “this rather awful event” might lead to a “reset” where dialogue could be restarted. At his Thursday news conference his message was the government’s desire for “constructive and open and regular dialogue at leader and ministerial level to address the tensions that are clearly there in the relationship”.

But also on Thursday parliament was considering legislation for a new national security test for foreign investment in a “sensitive national security business”.

It’s not admitted directly but this is aimed squarely at Chinese investment. It’s justified – but the Chinese judge the Australian government by its actions, not its words.

Legislation is also before parliament to allow the federal government to quash agreements state or local governments or universities have or propose with foreign governments. This has Victoria’s belt and road deal with China in its sights.

Critics see the government’s early call for an inquiry into the origins and handling of COVID-19 as an ill-judged provocation of China, and even date the deterioration in the relationship from then.

Undoubtedly China was angered. But its discontent goes much further back and is much broader, as its recently-circulated list of 14 grievances makes clear.

And the COVID call was reasonable enough, even if it invited angst. The pandemic has been a stop-the-world sort of event and how it all happened is significant for the future.




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What’s behind China’s bullying of Australia? It sees a soft target — and an essential one


The unpalatable truth is that Australia has limited agency in how relations with China go from here.

The government won’t (and shouldn’t) make U-turns on key policies, such as Malcolm Turnbull’s law against foreign interference.

China is not likely to be swayed by rhetoric. And if one point of its concern is that Australia’s voice on certain issues (such as its warnings on Huawei) influences other countries, China will have even less reason to reduce its pressure.

For however long it wants to get in Australia’s face, China will play havoc with some of our exports. Australia takes comfort from the fact that its biggest export there – iron ore – is protected by China’s dependence on this supply and the difficulties of finding alternative sources. But that situation can’t be taken for granted indefinitely.

How the relationship evolves from here will be affected by the China-United States dynamic, as the Biden administration reshapes America’s policies. But it’s expected the Biden reset will be a matter of degree.

Whatever faults there have been on the Australian side, the rough-edged nature of the bilateral relationship is just one manifestation of China’s muscling up in the world, and particularly the region.

In 2014 Chinese President Xi Jinping addressed the federal parliament.

This was Xi’s fifth visit to Australia and included a trip to Tasmania which, he noted, meant he would have been to all states and territories. He was lyrical about the country’s “strange-looking kangaroos”, “cute koala bear”, “flocks of white sheep” and “ingenious Sydney Opera House”.

He was also very positive about the bilateral relationship (although China watchers might have read cautionary signs in his wider comments).




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China hits out again – then tells Australia to fix the relationship


“China has always viewed Australia as an important partner,” he said.

“During my visit, the two sides have decided to elevate our bilateral relations into a comprehensive strategic partnership and announced the substantial completion of Free Trade Agreement negotiations. These two important outcomes will further boost China-Australia relations.

“Our relationship has reached a new and higher starting point, and we should be more visionary, broad minded and set more ambitious goals. Our two countries should increase dialogue and exchanges and deepen political trust, expand result-oriented cooperation, and work together to sustain peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific.”

For Australia, this key relationship hasn’t become any less important in the relatively few years since Xi’s fifth and presumably last visit – indeed it’s more important. But managing it has become something of a political nightmare.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What’s behind China’s bullying of Australia? It sees a soft target — and an essential one



Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Chongyi Feng, University of Technology Sydney

As the diplomatic fallout continues over the digitally altered war crimes tweet sent by China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, earlier this week, it’s important to note this inflammatory and offensive post is not an isolated case.

Zhao and other Chinese officials and diplomats have made many outrageous attacks on Australia and the US in recent years. Zhao himself was probably best known before this week’s tweet for his official promotion of a conspiracy theory that the US military was responsible for bringing the coronavirus to China.

Hu Xijin, the editor in chief of the Global Times, an official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, is another vocal critic of Australia.

Four years ago, the newspaper published a scathing editorial directed at Australia after Canberra said China must abide by an international tribunal ruling on the South China Sea. It called Australia a “paper cat” with an “inglorious” history, and said, “If Australia steps into the South China Sea waters, it will be an ideal target for China to warn and strike.”

Why nationalism is such a powerful force in China

These unrestrained attacks and repeated humiliations of Australia look bizarre, but they are engineered to suit a couple of specific purposes for the totalitarian regime in China: one domestic, the other global.

Domestically, this more aggressive posturing toward the world, known as “wolf warrior diplomacy”, is a key function of President Xi Jinping’s dictatorship, which is based almost exclusively on Chinese nationalism cultivated by the Communist Party.

Just like former leader Mao Zedong, Xi has consolidated his power, in part, due to the cult of personality that has developed around his rule. Xi’s image is everywhere in China and he’s even promoted his own ideology called “Xi Jinping Thought” in a similar vein to “Mao Zedong Thought” (and his famous Little Red Book).

Mao’s power was built on the twin ideologies of communism and Chinese nationalism. Today, however, communism is a waning force in China.

And though Xi and his followers still use the ideals of Marxism and “Xi Jinping Thought” for political purposes — such as purging rivals and dissidents — they rely heavily on Chinese nationalism to maintain the legitimacy of their rule in the eyes of the public.

Nationalism is a powerful force in today’s China. It’s seen in everything from Xi’s persistent calls for the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” to Beijing’s increasingly strident anti-American and anti-foreign sentiments.

Xi Jinping's image is ever-present in today's China.
Xi Jinping’s image is ever-present in today’s China.
ALEX PLAVEVSKI/EPA

Xi rose to the top with a mediocre career, but has been dressed up magically as a strongman with great talent and unyielding will — an image that has become indispensable for the stability and cohesion of the regime.

In order to develop Xi’s strongman image and impose submission on the entire nation, the Communist Party propaganda machine has even resumed the titles used by Mao and other great dictators, such as “helmsman” and “people’s leader”. Loyalty to the country, the party and the leader has been made identical once again.

Still, there is rising resentment among some Chinese to Xi’s rule and the country faces enormous political, economic and social challenges. As such, Xi lives with a profound sense of insecurity. And his arbitrary rule and desire for absolute control make everyone else feel insecure.




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It’s against this backdrop that “wolf warrior diplomacy” has taken rise. Those who are seen as being tough against any real or potential enemies designated by the great leader are rewarded for their loyalty.

This is why Zhao Lijian isn’t punished for his inflammatory rhetoric against Australia, the US and other adversaries; rather, he’s become a star because of it.

Zhao Lijian at a daily press briefing
Zhao Lijian has built his career on ‘wolf warrior’-style diplomacy.
Andy Wong/AP

Beijing sees an essential and soft target

And on the global stage, China has long promoted its economic and political system as a legitimate alternative to the US-led, rules-based international order.

As such, it has increasingly expanded its influence diplomatically and militarily in recent years and set up the Belt and Road Initiative to create a new global economic and infrastructure network with China at the centre.

As part of this grand strategy, China has taken aim at countries like Australia that dare to challenge it to force their submission.

Australia is perceived by the Communist Party as both an essential target for its close alliance with the US and a soft target for its economic dependence on China. In short, Beijing can attack Canberra without facing many repercussions — and set an example for the rest of the world.




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Australia can repair its relationship with China, here are 3 ways to start


The “wolf warriors” in the party have made frequent references to Australia being nothing but a pawn or lapdog of the US — an obvious attempt to drive a wedge between the two countries.

With nearly half of all Australian goods exports now going to China, Beijing has also tried to use this economic reliance to its advantage to force Canberra to modify its tone and behaviour.

China has recently targeted Australian wine
China slapped a huge tariff on Australian wine in recent weeks.
ALEX PLAVEVSKI/EPA

Showing the determination of the Communist Party regime to rein Australia in, the Chinese embassy in Canberra last month handed over a dossier of “14 grievances” to several Australian news outlets and demanded the Morrison government reverse Australia’s position on key policies.

These included criticising human rights abuses in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, calling for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19 and banning Huawei from the country’s 5G network.




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The Communist Party state will not recognise how its quest for regional domination and expansionist policies threaten its neighbours, nor will it understand how its oppressive policies against its own citizens are a cause of legitimate concern for the world.

It will also not accept the reality of a strong Australia fighting back against Chinese bullying and interference to safeguard its sovereignty, core values and institutional integrity.

Beijing is flexing its muscles to ensure the submission of Australia and break up an Australia-US alliance based on national interests and shared values. But this is a gross miscalculation that will likely bring about the opposite result.The Conversation

Chongyi Feng, Associate Professor in China Studies, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

China hits out again – then tells Australia to fix the relationship



Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Chinese embassy has suggested the Morrison government is trying to “stoke domestic nationalism” in its denunciation of an offensive Chinese tweet depicting an Australian soldier holding a knife to a child’s throat.

In a Tuesday statement the embassy also said the government should “face up to the crux of the current setback of bilateral relationship and take constructive practical steps to help bring it back to the right track”.

It did not say how this should be done.

The statement was the latest salvo in the angry exchanges between the two countries over the tweet posted by Lijian Zhao, director general of the information department in the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

The tweet followed the Brereton report on atrocities allegedly committed by some members of Australian special forces in Afghanistan.

Morrison on Monday attacked the tweet, with its falsified image, as offensive and outrageous. The Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Frances Adamson, complained to the Chinese ambassador.

The embassy said “the rage and roar of some Australian politicians and media is nothing but misreading of and overreaction to Mr. Zhao’s tweet.

“The accusations made are simply to serve two purposes. One is to deflect public attention from the horrible atrocities by certain Australian soldiers.

“The other is to blame China for the worsening of bilateral ties. There may be another attempt to stoke domestic nationalism.”

“All of this is obviously not helpful to the resetting of bilateral relationship, ” said the statement, attributed to an embassy spokesperson. “It’s our advice that the Australian side face up to the crimes committed by the Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, hold those perpetrators accountable and bring justice to the victims.”

Having made his point about the tweet very strongly on Monday, Morrison on Tuesday did not want to escalate the row further. He told the Coalition parties meeting the Australian response did not need further amplification.

Earlier an aggressive article from the editor-in-chief of China’s Global Times, an official mouthpiece, said: “Australian troops and fleets should leave Asia and coastal waters of the Asian continent,

“More precisely, they should run as far as they can. The Morrison administration is making Australia provocative and wanting a spanking.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said NZ had raised the tweet with China.

“New Zealand has registered directly with Chinese authorities our concern over the use of that image,” she said.

She said the post was not factual “and, of course, that would concern us”.

Afghanstan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement it was “aware of a photo showing an Australian soldier’s misconduct with an Afghan and has started investigating the case”.

It said the ministry and the Australian government were “jointly working to investigate the misconduct of the Australian soldiers in Afghanistan. The aim of the investigation is to ensure that the perpetrators are identified and brought to justice.”

It added that Afghanistan believed “both Australia and China are key players in building and maintaining international and regional consensus on peace and development in Afghanistan. Afghanistan hopes to maintain and strengthen cooperation with the two countries.”

As the fallout from the Brereton report continues on multiple fronts, including with pressure from the government and others for those up the chain of military command to be accorded more responsibility for what had happened in Afghanistan, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said: “the report does demonstrate very serious failures of leadership over many years in the Australian Defence Force and across the defence organisation more widely.

“The reasons for those leadership failures and command failures need serious analysis and considerations. …

“Any of the allegations of criminality in that report are going through the Office of Special Investigator and they will be carefully considered through the Australian criminal justice process with the presumption of innocence, of course. But there are serious issues that now need to be addressed in how this happened and how it was able to happen for so long.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia can repair its relationship with China, here are 3 ways to start



Lukas Coch/AAP

Melissa Conley Tyler, University of Melbourne

China has certainly got Australia’s attention with a highly inflammatory tweet from a government spokesperson. It has provoked the desired reaction — a storm of outrage.




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This is the latest in an ever-growing list of problems between Australia and China. In recent days, China imposed new tariffs on wine, while Australia threatened legal action on barley.

None of this is inevitable. Australia and China may not be best friends anytime soon, but they can reset the relationship.

Australia could make one big gesture and two small to improve its relationship with China. As federal parliament meets in Canberra, there is even an opportunity to start this week.

What’s wrong?

It’s the multi-billion dollar question: what could the Australian government do if it wanted to reset the relationship with China?

Sometimes when China has dealt out economic punishment, the desired result has been clear — such as pressuring South Korea to cancel a missile defence system. But in Australia’s case, China’s displeasure is not directed towards one policy. It’s more a sense Australia has been acting in an unfriendly, hostile manner and this has consequences.

We know this because China recently leaked a 14-point list of grievances via the Australian media. It contained no surprises, but is useful to show where there may be room to manoeuvre.

Beijing’s 14 points

Out of the 14, there were only a few relating to what I see as non-negotiable interests. These relate to Australia’s criticism of human rights abuses in China, cyber-attacks and the South China Sea dispute.

Quite a few should also be interpreted as venting — such as China’s criticism of Australia’s foreign interference powers and Australia’s decision to exclude Huawei and ZTE from the 5G network over national security concerns. Realistically, Australia is not going to reverse these decisions.




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Similarly, Australia’s call for an inquiry into COVID-19, questions over the origins of the virus, alleged raids on Chinese journalists and revoking visas for Chinese scholars are now in the past.

Others on the list are gripes China knows the Australian government can’t do much about, such as “antagonistic” media reports or members of parliament making “outrageous” comments.

But the language used in the 14-points suggests many of the problems are less about the policy and more about how it’s been communicated, such as former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announcing foreign interference legislation as “standing up to China”.




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An all-out trade war with China would cost Australia 6% of GDP


Australia may come to regret being stridently tough on China without thinking through the real-world consequences. It costs China very little to punish Australia economically in sectors where it has other suppliers or wants to encourage domestic production.

If the core problem is a perception that Australia is unfriendly, this suggests the best way to show a desire for better relations is through a big gesture — ideally one that is showy but low cost. China has said it wants actions, not words, so a speech alone won’t cut it.

The grand gesture

If Australia did want to signal a desire to be more friendly without changing any of its policies, what might it do?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a virtual press conference, responding to China's tweet.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has demanded China apologise for an offensive tweet about Australian soldiers.
Lukas Coch/ AAP

The best candidate would be to sign up for the Belt and Road Initiative. There is zero chance this will happen — despite earlier neutral comments, the federal government has made this clear. But it meets all the criteria for a gesture to reset the relationship.

First, it’s entirely symbolic and doesn’t bind Australia to do anything. Australia can participate in individual projects or not as it chooses. Second, there’s no material cost to Australia, or any need to alter substantive policies. Yet it would be read as a significant gesture by China.




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The fact that it’s not on the table shows how the range of options to pursue the national interest has been narrowed by priming the public to see China as an enemy, rather than as a challenge to be managed.

Two other options

There are two smaller options that are achievable and in Australia’s interests. And they are both before parliament.

First, the Senate is currently debating a bill to give the Foreign Affairs Minister the power to cancel international agreements entered into by state governments, local councils and universities. China has specifically named this in its grievances as “targeting” China.




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I’ve argued in detail why it’s a terrible piece of legislation that would impose a large compliance burden and negatively affect Australia’s international engagement. It would be in Australia’s own interests to drop it and come up with a better, more targeted response.

Second, parliament is also looking at amendments to foreign investment rules, which China singled out at the top of its list as “opaque”. Foreign investment puts money into the Australian economy so this is an area of potential mutual interest.

China’s complaint is the lack of transparency about which investments get approved — it sees the process as ideological. The Australian government could, for example, postpone proposed amendments and consult with investor countries about how the process could be improved in Australia’s self-interest.

A diplomatic mindset

Some will say Australia shouldn’t do any of these things precisely because China might want them. And China is hardly helping its case by exercising subtle or effective diplomacy.

But deciding to always oppose lets China control your behaviour. We need a negotiation mentality. We need to find things we don’t mind giving that China values in order to get what we want. That’s not “capitulation” or “obeisance” — it’s acting in our own self-interest.

Scott Morrison walks past Xi Jinping at the G20 in June 2019.
Australia cannot change China, but it can change how it responds.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Australia has no ability to remake China into a completely different country. We need to live with it. This means both standing up to China and getting along — hardening our defences, while ensuring our economic prosperity. Without an economy, a country can’t pay to keep itself safe.

Australia is not under military attack, offensive as China’s “wolf warrior diplomats” can be.

Australia and China have disputes that can and should be managed diplomatically. It is not inevitable we must have a bad relationship – and it’s certainly not a sign of success if we do.The Conversation

Melissa Conley Tyler, Research Fellow, Asia Institute, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

An all-out trade war with China would cost Australia 6% of GDP



Iron ore mining, Pilbara Western Australia.
STRINGER Image/Shutterstock

Rod Tyers, University of Western Australia and Yixiao Zhou, Australian National University

China accounts for more than a third of export dollars earned by Australia.

The figures, for the 12 months to October, cover the period of coronavirus disruptions and disputes over trade.

They apply to physical exports rather than harder to measure services, and are dominated by record high Chinese takings of Australian iron ore.

But they mightn’t last.

China is changing, transitioning from growth driven by the iron-ore hungry expansion of cities and manufacturing to growth driven more by the supply of services.

Externally, its “belt and road” infrastructure investments facilitate the supply of resources from locations other than Australia, among them the Simandou iron ore and bauxite deposits in Guinea, West Africa that will eventually offer higher quality ore than Australia from a region China may regard as more friendly.




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Even if this source is slow to emerge, China will seek to diversify its supplies of iron ore by other means, as suggested by Australia’s former ambassador Geoff Raby in his recent book China’s Grand Strategy and Australia’s Future in the New Global Order.

One will be to ensure a steady supply from Brazil which, with China, is a member of the BRICS group of major emerging national economies.

Australia produces few manufactured goods and pays for the considerable quantity it imports by exporting commodities, mostly to China.

The loss of this export channel would be serious, but how serious?

Iron ore matters more than we think

Conversation authors John Quiggin and James Laurenceson argue the effects would be small. They point out that mineral exports account for only 1% of Australia’s national income and that China would hurt itself if it cut off the flow.

But China’s size means the damage to China would be proportionately smaller than the damage to Australia.

And while the mining sector is not the largest in Australia’s economy, its growth since 2002 has brought with it a secondary boom in Australian service industries. Australia’s East Coast cities have prospered even while most of the mining has been occurring in the Pilbara.




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The mining boom brought a substantial boost to our terms of trade (the earning power of our exports relative to the cost of our imports), pushing up the Australian dollar and making imported goods much cheaper.

A reversal would see our terms of trade fall and our cost of living rise.

Some commentators place store in our ability to redirect exports of wine and barley, and whatever else is affected by trade disputes, to other customers.

At least for iron ore, however, there are few other customers at current volumes. This suggests a decline in export prices and in Australia’s terms of trade.

Damage to us, a mozzie bite for China

So its worthwhile attempting to quantify the damage from a winding back by China of its imports from Australia.

We have conducted simulations of the effect of shutting down Australia-China trade by 95% in which we allow time for capital flows and production and employment to readjust and assume that monetary policy and fiscal balances remain unaltered throughout the world.

We find the shock to the demand for Australian products is large and it is only partially offset by the redirection of our exports, even with a large depreciation of the Australian dollar.




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The reason for this is that the loss of Chinese exports reduces the rate of return on investment in Australia, forcing financial markets to reallocate finance to other parts of the world.

The effects on Australian gross domestic product and real disposable income per capita are big (6% and 14 %), while those on China are mosquito bites by comparison (0.5% and 2.4%).

It’s wise to be prepared

SunCable is planning the world’s biggest solar array in the Northern Territory.
Apiromsene/Shutterstock

Important things we can do to hedge against such an occurrence include maintaining strong relations with current and potential export destinations and fostering innovations that will allow our export product mix to adjust so as to better service the markets that remain open.

Examples include the proposal by Ross Garnaut to turn Australia into an exporter of green energy and associated plans by Fortescue and others to raise exports of energy by more than the east coast of Australia currently consumes.

Without such innovations a substantial decline in trade with China would cut investment in Australia and cut living standards.

It is, of course, entirely possible that the worst won’t happen, but we don’t think that’s something Australians can bank on.

If our ship does begin to sink, capital and skills will jump off and what we are left with won’t be enough to support us in the manner we have come to expect.The Conversation

Rod Tyers, Winthrop Professor of Economics, University of Western Australia and Yixiao Zhou, Senior Lecturer in Economics, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia demands apology from China over ‘repugnant’ slur on Twitter


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has demanded China apologise for – and Twitter remove – a highly offensive tweet depicting an Australian soldier with a knife to the throat of a child.

Morrison described the tweet as disgusting and utterly outrageous. Australia has protested to the Chinese embassy in Canberra, and a protest is also being made by Australia’s embassy in Beijing.

“The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes,” Morrison told a virtual news conference from The Lodge, where he is still in isolation after his trip to Japan.

“Australia is seeking an apology from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from the Chinese Government, for this outrageous post. We are also seeking its removal immediately and have also contacted Twitter to take it down immediately.”

Following the recent release of the Brereton inquiry into alleged atrocities by some members of Australian special forces in Afghanistan, the tweet was posted by Lijian Zhao, spokesman and deputy director general of the information department in the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

It said: “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, &call for holding them accountable”.

A line in the illustration said: “Don’t be afraid, we are coming to bring you peace!”

Morrison said the repugnant post of a falsified image of an Australian soldier threatening a young child had come from an official Chinese government Twitter account.

It was “truly repugnant” and “deeply offensive” to every Australian.

“[To] every Australian who has served in that uniform. Every Australian who serves in that uniform today. Everyone who has pulled on that uniform and served with Australians overseas from whatever nation,” he said.

“It is a false image and a terrible slur on our great defence forces and the men and women who’ve served in that uniform for over 100 years.”




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Morrison said while there were undoubtedly tensions between China and Australia, “this is not how you deal with them”.

Rather, the way was to engage directly in dialogue between ministers and leaders.

“And despite this terribly offensive post today, I would ask again and call on China to re-engage in that dialogue.

“This is how countries must deal with each other to ensure that we can deal with any issues in our relationship, consistent with our national interests and respect for each other’s sovereignty. Not engaging in this sort of deplorable behaviour.”

Morrison said he hoped “this rather awful event” might lead to a “reset” in the relationship, allowing a dialogue to be restarted where there could be sensible talk about issues — “because this type of behaviour is not on”.

Morrison sought to put the situation in a wider international context.

“It’s not just about Australia. Countries around the world are watching this. They see how Australia is seeking to resolve these issues and they’re seeing these responses.

“This impacts not just on the relationship here, but with so many other sovereign nations, not only in our own region, but like-minded countries around the world who have expressed similar sentiments to Australia about many issues. And so it is important that these things end and the dialogue starts.”




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When he was asked why he didn’t write to Chinese President Xi Jinping directly, Morrison said, “You assume that there hasn’t been such interactions. We’ve constantly sought that engagement. This is not new.”

Asked about the controversial issue of revoking the Meritorious Unit Citation for Special Operations Task Groups who served in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2013, which was recommended by the Brereton report, Morrison said no decision had been made.

This is despite the chief of the Defence Force, Angus Campbell, saying when releasing the Brereton report that he would write to the governor-general asking for the revocation.

“No decisions have been made on that and were decisions to be made on that, that would only be following a further process. And that is where that matter rests right now,” Morrison told his news conference.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said he stood with Morrison in his condemnation of the China tweet. He said the opposition would not be asking about it in question time — the matter was above politics.

There was an immediate pushback from China – via Twitter – to Morrison’s attack.

Hú Xījìn, editor of the state-owned Global Times, tweeted:

“It is a popular cartoon that condemns the Australian Special Forces’s brutal murder of 39 Afghan civilians. On what ground does Morrison feel angry over the use of this cartoon by the spokesperson of Chinese FM? It’s ridiculous and shameless that he demanded China to apologize.”

The latest deepening of tensions in the bilateral relationship comes days after the Chinese imposed punitive tariffs on Australian wine.




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It’s hard to tell why China is targeting Australian wine. There are two possibilities


The Conversation


Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Officials’ engagement with China especially important in tense times: Morrison


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has encouraged federal public servants to engage with their Chinese counterparts, saying these are important connections particularly given the tensions in the bilateral relationship.

Answering a question during a virtual forum on Wednesday with federal bureaucrats, Morrison said officials were not burdened like ministers or prime ministers with “the overlays of the international relations”.

“One of the advantages that you would have is to be able to engage on the technical, on the direct, leverage on the relationships that you already have.

“I would see that as an important connection, particularly at a time when there are tensions – and of course there are tensions,” Morrison said. “In those circumstances, we rely more on these official engagements.”

Australia’s trading relationship with China is presently bedevilled by the imposition of impediments on a range of Australian exports; Trade Minister Simon Birmingham and other ministers have not been able to get their phone calls returned by their Chinese counterparts.

Speaking earlier this week, Morrison emphasised that Australia “desires an open, transparent and mutually beneficial relationship with China as our largest trading partner”.

The Secretary of the Foreign Affairs Department, Frances Adamson, said in a Wednesday speech that China may now wrongly believe it can largely set its terms of future engagement with the world.

Adamson said with its rising economic weight “unsurprisingly … China wants to set, rather than merely adopt, international standards. China wants to lead, rather than simply join, international institutions.”

China’s economic recovery from the COVID crisis would be important in how the region and the world came out “from what threatens to be a long and uneven recovery from the COVID-recession,” she said.

“But the questions around China are much more wide-ranging than simply its economic approach. No power this large and globally integrated can escape scrutiny or debate,” she said.

“The rest of the world has done a lot of thinking about China’s power and what it means.

“But it is less apparent that China has carefully considered other countries’ reactions to its conduct internationally. China may have reached a point where it believes that it can largely set the terms of its future engagement with the world.

“If it has, it is mistaken – and that is because there is far more to be gained for China, and for everyone else, through working constructively and collaboratively within the international system, without resort to pressure or coercion.”

At the public service forum, the CEO of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Wez Norris, said for those in the “weeds” of Australia’s administrative dealings with China “there doesn’t appear to be a lot of consistency in … how we go about trading off things like domestic commercial interests against our wider trade and relationship interests”.

Morrison said in his reply that the Chinese government had said publicly that “they are not engaging in any sort of political activity in relation to these quite specific issues that are arising in trade.

“Well, we take that at face value, but that is a line and a position that I would have thought that officials can actually repeat in being able to engage on the technicalities.

“Whether it’s dealing with issues on barley or fisheries or any of these sorts of things where there are technical matters being raised … we’ve just got to work the problem.

“That’s what I’m relying on officials to do. I’m not asking officials to solve the international relations issue, that falls to me and ministers and others.”

Morrison said it was “a complex and … difficult environment”. His message to the officials was “keep up the connections and do all you can to improve them and keep the dialogue going at that level, because business and industry are relying on that to enable us to try and mitigate the impact of some of these measures that are being introduced” by the Chinese.

The “stuff” that went on between politicians and leaders was “not something that should have to trouble the working relationship that you’re engaged in”.

Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said Morrison should do more to seek to resolve the problems in the trading relationship with China “at leadership level”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Scott Morrison’s message to China: Don’t pigeonhole us




Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Australia’s actions should not be seen just through the lens of the strategic competition between China and the United States, Scott Morrison has said in a speech rejecting “binary choices”.

With China casting Australia as an extension of America, disrupting trade, and citing multiple grievances, Morrison reaffirmed the importance Australia put on wanting a positive bilateral relationship.

“Australia desires an open, transparent and mutually beneficial relationship with China as our largest trading partner, where there are strong people-to-people ties, complementary economies and a shared interest in regional development and wellbeing, especially in the emerging economies of Southeast Asia,” he said.

Equally, Australia was “absolutely committed” to its alliance with the United States, based on a shared world view, liberal democratic values and market-based economics.

“And at all times we must be true to our values and the protection of our own sovereignty.”

He acknowledged the global competition between China and the US “presents new challenges, especially for nation states in the Indo-Pacific”. Like other countries in the region “our preference is not to be forced into binary choices”.

Addressing the British Policy Exchange on Monday night, Morrison warned that “our present challenge in the Indo-Pacific is the foretaste for so many others around the world, including the United Kingdom and Europe.”

Australia’s pursuit of its interests in the midst of the China-US strategic competition was made more complex by the assumptions made about its actions, he said.

“Our actions are wrongly seen and interpreted by some only through the lens of the strategic competition between China and the United States.

“It’s as if Australia does not have its own unique interests or views as an independent sovereign state. This is false and needlessly deteriorates relationships.

“If we are to avoid a new era of polarisation, then in the decades ahead, there must be a more nuanced appreciation of individual states’ interests in how they deal with the major powers. Stark choices are in no-one’s interests.

“Greater latitude will be required from the world’s largest powers to accommodate the individual interests of their partners and allies. We all need a bit more room to move,” Morrison said.

He said international institutions also had an important role as circuit breakers. “To provide the space and frameworks for meaningful and positive interaction to be maintained, as a bulwark against any emerging divide.”

Morrison talked up the role the OECD had to play “in support of open trade and market-based principles”. The Australian government is currently running a strong campaign to try to have former finance minister Mathias Cormann elected secretary-general of the OECD.

Morrison also noted the importance of the World Trade Organisation in promoting shared interests, as well as the G7-plus, and the Five-Eyes arrangement, where co-operation had extended beyond traditional security to the economic realm.

He lamented that “two of the most important economies in the region – the United States and India” had decided not to joint the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the recently-concluded Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership respectively.

“Of course, we respect those decisions. But they both remain welcome to join. Our response is straightforward.

“Working with our partners, we plan to make the TPP such a powerful force for open trade and investment that the US and, in the future, India and others will join without reservation. And that includes the UK.

“Interestingly, [China’s] President Xi Jinping has also now expressed interest in possible participation in the TPP,” Morrison said.

“The critical thing about the TPP is that it developed WTO-plus disciplines in key areas of intellectual property, digital commerce and state-owned enterprises.

“These are some of the areas where the WTO has fallen short.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Biden win offers Morrison the chance to reshape Australia’s ailing relationship with China


Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Joe Biden’s election as US president presents Prime Minister Scott Morrison with the opportunity to reset Australia’s ailing relationship with China. Encouragingly, Biden has signalled his commitment to rebuilding global alliances and restoring a degree of certainty in foreign policy.

In his victory speech, President-elect Joe Biden talked about an “inflection” moment in America’s history, the opportunity to take a different course.

Australian policymakers should, likewise, take advantage of the Biden victory to reassess China policy settings that, under present circumstances, are not serving the country’s interests.

Emphatically, this is not an argument for a quiescent China policy that disregards Beijing’s bad behavior. Rather, it is a case for more nimble policy-making in Australia’s own national interests.

China’s further stifling last week of Hong Kong’s democratic freedoms by forcing the resignation of pro-democracy legislators is another sign of its disregard of international obligations under the “one country two systems” agreement that heralded the territory’s handover in 1997.

Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers resigned en masse last week.
Jerome Favre/EPA/AAP

But whether we like it or not, whether it’s fair or not, whether China is a regional bully or not, Canberra needs to find a way to drag its relationship with Beijing out of the mire.

The Biden victory may facilitate this.

Canberra does not need to wait for a new American policy towards China to strive for a better balance between its foreign and trade policy interests and its security policy imperatives. Those efforts should begin now that the foreign policy deadweight of the Trump administration is being lifted.

The government has just signed a 15-nation regional trade deal that includes China, providing a potential avenue for improved relations. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is aimed at further liberalising trade in the Asia-Pacific.

Australia’s economic well-being demands a reset.

In its clumsy fashion, Beijing has sought to ease frictions. In an editorial foreshadowing a Biden victory, the Global Times, China’s nationalist mouthpiece, made an interesting reference to Australia

When the US-China relationship is about to see some changes there may be also a window for adjustment to the bilateral relationship between China and Australia. Australia is likely to be under less political pressure from the USA on key issues with China, and whether the Morrison government will continue to play tough with China will largely steer Australia’s economic prospects.

On the face of it, this represents a possible break in the clouds. It will reflect views at senior Chinese government level.

Former Australian ambassador to Beijing Geoff Raby had a point when he told the National Press Club that the China debate in Australia had been reduced to a binary argument between “sycophancy and hostility”. This stifles reasonable discussion of something in between. Raby said:

The main thing with diplomacy is not how loudly you speak but the outcomes you get.

He also made the sensible point that, for all the talk of alternative markets at a moment when China is restricting Australian exports, China will remain, for the foreseeable future, the world’s fastest-growing economy and dominant destination for Australian products.

Soaring iron ore prices in the first half of this year, as China sought to re-inflate an economy hit hard by the coronavirus, mask a slippage in Australian business with China more generally.

China’s economy is already springing back harder and faster from the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic than its competitors.




Read more:
What would a Biden presidency mean for Australia?


The International Monetary Fund predicts China’s economy will grow by 8.2% in 2021 and account for about a quarter of global growth.

These are the realities that are sometimes pushed aside by threat obsession within the Canberra political establishment.

Morrison could do worse than review an Asialink speech he made soon after he was elected prime minister to remind himself of principles he laid down then for dealing with China, and which appear to have been honoured in the breach since.

Then he decried a “binary prism” through which conflict between the US and China was seen as inevitable. He also rejected what he called the “fatalism of increased polarisation”.

“Australia should not sit back and passively wait our fate in the wake of a major power contest,” he said, while extolling the virtues of “regional agency” in which Canberra sought to work more closely with its like-minded neighbours.

This was all sensible stuff.

However, Australia’s alignment with Trump’s chaotic “America First” foreign policy has overwhelmed talk of a Morrison doctrine that emphasises regional connections. In the process, global alliances have been trashed.

This in turn has tested Canberra’s ability to apply basic principles of statecraft by maximising its strengths and minimising its weaknesses in an era in which power balances are shifting.

In all of this, the national media have played a role in amplifying the views of those who would have you believe the country is under constant existential threat. Voices calling for a more measured approach to dealing with China have been drowned out.

A low point was reached this month when a government senator in a Senate committee demanded Chinese-Australians giving evidence about difficulties in a hostile environment were asked to denounce the Chinese Communist Party. This implied a “loyalty test”.

Clunky Australian interventions on critical issues such as Huawei and investigations into the origins of the novel coronavirus have facilitated China’s strategy of portraying Canberra as Washington’s handmaiden for its own self-serving reasons.

Australia’s conspicuous and injudicious lobbying of its Five Eyes partners to exclude Huawei from a buildout of their 5G networks caused more trouble than it was worth.

Morrison’s heavy-handed intervention – after a phone call with Trump – in presuming to appoint himself co-ordinator of a global investigation into the origins of COVID-19 added further to Chinese disquiet.

An inquiry under World Health Organisation auspices was going to take place anyway. Why Morrison took it upon himself to take the lead in instigating an inquiry at a particularly sensitive moment for China remains a mystery.

Joe Biden’s election offers Australia a chance to reshape its relationship with China.
Carolyn Kaster/AP/AAP

In their efforts to get a handle on the form Biden foreign policy might take, Morrison and his advisers could do worse than review the president-elect’s contribution to the journal Foreign Affairs in which he laid out his blueprint for American global leadership.

This is a comprehensive description of how Biden’s foreign policy might evolve in a world that has changed significantly since he served as vice president in the Obama White House. It also demonstrates that Biden would not be outflanked on China policy by his opponent.

His proposal for a global Summit for Democracy to “renew the spirit and shared purposed of the nations of the free world” would be a welcome initiative.

Biden’s reference to how to meet the China challenge is worth noting.

The most effective way to meet that challenge is to build a united front of US allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviors and human rights violations, even as we seek to co-operate on issues where our interests converge, such as climate change.

This is the Biden carrot-and-stick formula. Too often in the recent past, the Morrison government has found itself aligned, whether it likes it or not, with the wrong end of the American stick.




Read more:
Hopes of an improvement in Australia-China relations dashed as Beijing ups the ante


Note: this article was updated on November 16 to take in the trade deal announcement.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Trump took a sledgehammer to US-China relations. This won’t be an easy fix, even if Biden wins



ROMAN PILIPEY/EPA

Hui Feng, Griffith University

Few would have thought a US-China relationship marked by relative stability for half a century would be upended in just four years.

But US President Donald Trump’s privileged tour of the Forbidden City in November 2017 by Chinese President Xi Jinping now looks like it happened in a bygone era, given the turbulence in the bilateral relationship since then.

The shift in the US’s China policy is no doubt one of the major legacies of the Trump administration’s foreign policy, alongside a renewed peace process in the Middle East.

When Trump’s daughter Ivanka said at the Republican National Convention that “Washington has not changed Donald Trump, Donald Trump has changed Washington”. This would certainly include its handling of China.

Trump was the first US president to be given a state dinner in the Forbidden City.
Andrew Harnik/AP

From strategic partner to competitor

Although China’s rise had been a concern of the previous Bush and Obama administrations, it was the Trump administration that transformed the entire narrative on China from strategic partner to “strategic competitor”, starting with its National Defence Strategy report released just one month after Trump’s 2017 China visit.

This read, in part,

China and Russia want to shape a world antithetical to US values and interests. China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, expand the reaches of its state-driven economic model and reorder the region in its favour.

This new way of thinking deemed the US’s decades-long engagement strategy, deployed since President Richard Nixon in the early 1970s, a failure.

US President Richard Nixon and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai toast in 1972.
Wikimedia Commons

Prior to Trump, the US had sought to encourage China to grow into a responsible stakeholder of a rules-based international order.

But the Trump administration believes such “goodwill” engagement has been exploited by China’s “all-of-nation long-term strategy” of asserting its power in the Indo-Pacific region.

According to the Trump administration, this is centred on “predatory economics” in trade and technology, political coercion of less-powerful democracies and Chinese military advancement in the region.




Read more:
As the US election looms, Trump is running as hard against China as he is against Biden


Trump takes a unilateral, transactional approach

Trump’s sledgehammer approach to the US-China relationship has been problematic at best.

For one, Trump viewed the relationship transactionally, hardly scratching the surface of the deeper structural issues — such as state subsidies and labour standards — that exist between the countries.

He believed he could reduce the massive US trade deficits with China through a “big, beautiful monster” of a trade deal and this would be a silver bullet for both the economy and his re-election prospects.

This explains all the flip-flops during the drawn-out trade negotiations, during which Beijing largely managed to use the deal as bait to keep larger strategic issues off the table.

China and the US signed a trade deal in January, but relations have only soured further since then.
ERIK S. LESSER/EPA

Moreover, Trump’s policies toward China, at least on the trade front, were unilateral. Instead of finding common ground with allies, Washington angered and deserted its allies by invoking punitive tariffs (Canada), renegotiating trade agreements to the US advantage (Japan and South Korea) and reducing its security commitments under NATO.

At the same time, the Trump administration relinquished US leadership in global institutions dealing with trade, climate change and human rights. As a result, the US lost its allies when it needed them most and gave China a new platform on the international stage.




Read more:
The China-US rivalry is not a new Cold War. It is way more complex and could last much longer


China hawks get the upper hand

Trump’s China policy has been further mired by competing interests in his cabinet.

According to former National Security Adviser John Bolton, Trump’s team was “badly fractured” in its handling of the trade war against China and its wider China policy.

The spectrum of voices in the cabinet ranged from China moderates such as Treasurer Steven Mnuchin and senior advisor Jared Kushner to sceptics such as US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to more radical China bashers such as Bolton, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

China hawks like Mike Pompeo have become increasingly vocal in their anti-China rhetoric in the past year.
Andrew Harnik/AP

As Trump became increasingly frustrated with a recalcitrant Xi reneging on “the deal” in mid-2019, followed by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the China hawks in the administration gained the upper hand.

Although this led to a more coherent approach to addressing the strategic challenges posed by China, the result was more direct confrontations with Beijing and heightened tensions.

The past year has marked a low point in relations with tit-for-tat actions on a number of fronts, including

The China hawks in the Trump administration now advocate empowering the Chinese people to change the Communist Party’s behaviour — just shy of calling for a regime change in China.

China becomes more assertive under Xi

Beijing was largely wrong-footed in dealing with a maverick US president so different from previous administrations it had handled with ease.

However, it would be wrong to assign blame for the deteriorating relationship on Washington alone. It takes two to tango.

As Xi has consolidated his power, China has

The list goes on. And these were not provoked by the US.

China has increased its military exercises near Taiwan in recent weeks, including a simulated invasion of the island.
Taiwan Ministry of National Defense/AP

A new president won’t fix the relationship

It is extraordinary that what started as Trump’s petty complaints on trade with China eventually escalated into what many call “a new Cold War”.

Trump may not have succeeded in completely changing Washington, but his administration has at least shifted the public narrative and strategic view of China among the US elites.

Getting tough on China has become a source of rare bipartisan consensus in a polarised political climate. In fact, even if Trump loses the election to Democratic challenger Joe Biden, a fundamental U-turn in US-China relations is still unlikely.

China could face more challenges with a Biden presidency than another four years of Trump.
Carolyn Kaster/AP

The Democratic Party platform contains similarly harsh criticisms of China. Biden has also written:

if China has its way, it will keep robbing the United States and American companies of their technology and intellectual property.

However, Biden does suggest he would ditch tariffs as means in securing a fairer trade deal with China. And he wants to build a

united front of US allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviours and human rights violations.

So, if Beijing was hoping the upcoming election would fix its Trump problem by bringing someone new into the White House, it shouldn’t hold its breath.

The US-China relationship has been drastically changed by Trump — and this won’t be undone easily.




Read more:
October surprise: how foreign policy can shape US presidential elections


The Conversation


Hui Feng, ARC Future Fellow and Senior Research Fellow, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.