Well, well. It seems we Australians have upset the powers that be in China. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has had the temerity to ask for an independent enquiry into the spread of the deadly covid-19 pandemic – a move that has been supported by the US, the UK, and Europe. The Chinese ambassador here has threatened us with preventing their students from coming to our universities and stopping tour groups from coming here. (I assume he means when the borders are reopened.)
Now the bully-boy tactics have gotten real. The Chinese government has been so offended that it has imposed crippling tariffs on barley (80%), wine, and other goods. Coal and iron ore (our largest exports) have also been targeted. But not, I suspect, baby formula.
Since the novel corona virus made its impact felt in Australia, many Australians have started to question our cosy trading relationship with China. We have become too dependent on that country for our consumer goods – especially, as we have found, for essentials like hand sanitiser and surgical masks. It’s interesting that, having the need to make our own, manufacturers around the country stepped up and did so.
Mind you, quite a few of us have experienced a sense of disquiet when Chinese interests were given a lease for the Port of Darwin, or when the huge Cubbie Station (with extensive water rights to grow cotton) was sold to a Chinese company. Or when Chinese bought sugar mills in Queensland and dairy producers in Tasmania.
Once the stories emerged about how long the Chinese Government had covered up this new corona virus in Wuhan and allowed it to spread throughout the world, lots of powerful people began to ask questions.
This isn’t about the Chinese people, by the way. It’s about the authoritarian regime which runs the place. The Communist Party has a finger, if not a controlling interest, in everything. That’s why Huawei won’t be involved in Australia’s roll-out of 5G. And why I’m amazed that the Victorian government is set to take up one of China’s Belt and Road Infrastructure loans. It’s an insidious technique where the Chinese lend money to tin-pot African dictators or cash-strapped Pacific Island states. When they can’t repay the loans, the assets belong to China. And not a shot was fired.
Speaking of shots, I can’t help but feel that China is doing a great job of emulating Nazi foreign policy. Back in the ‘thirties, Hitler laid claim to any bit of land surrounding Germany that had any Germans living there. The Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia was ceded in response to Hitler’s demands. Austria was swallowed up as part of the Reich etc. In the same vein, China has built up its military and is establishing bases on islands in the South China Sea for which it claims ownership, with little basis in fact. The Chinese don’t see Vietnam and the Philippines, which have real ownership credentials, as competition and the rest of the world isn’t doing much in response to this blatant expansion. China’s equivalent to Germany’s Austria, Taiwan is considered by the Chinese to be part of China and now the Chinese navy is playing threatening war games around the island. And tighter restrictions are being forced on Hong Kong.
Maybe the covid-19 pandemic is the wake-up call the world needed.
I hope that Australia sees this as an opportunity to establish self-reliance. We used to have thriving clothing industries in Melbourne and other capital cities. Last century, I bought my business clothes from Australian manufacturers. They weren’t the cheapest but they lasted for years. We have the best iron ore, gas, and coal; lets make our own steel as we used to at Whyalla and Newcastle. Stop importing food. We grow plenty. Etc etc. As we come out of the lock down, people will be looking for jobs. Here’s the chance to start afresh. Let’s all remember that China is not the only market in the world. For what it’s worth, I’d be doing my best to form relationships with India, which is a democracy without overt plans to take over the world. And they play cricket.
We can all do our bit when we do our shopping. Pete and I are label-readers – have been for years. But after the horror-stories about Chinese food factories emerged a decade or so ago, we particularly avoid any food stuffs coming from China. If the frozen fish packet says “wild caught in Australia” we turn the package over and read the fine print. It’s likely to say “processed and packed in China”. Do you really think we’re getting our own fish back? Oh look – a flying pig.
So let’s all support our own manufacturers. Or, for that matter, our local small businesses. Macdonald’s and KFC and the like will survive the lock down. But your local family-run restaurant will be doing it hard. Chinese tourists not coming to a city near you? Let’s encourage Australian tourism in our own country. There’s plenty to see.
I’m not the only one spouting sentiments like this. If Xi Jingping thinks stand-over tactics are going to work here, he doesn’t know us very well. Here’s a few sentiments from my little Facebook feed.
“China bans exported beef from Australia. Let’s ban China from buying Australian farming land. Share if you agree Aust.”
“Two can play that game China. Threaten our economy, all products from China will be left on the shelf! Who’s With Me.”
“Grocery shopping. I tried hard not to get anything Made in China.”
I’d better get off the soapbox now and get back to sharing my country. As it happens, I’ve got a lovely little story about big white bullies and defiant little coloured buggers.
We don’t often get the big parrots in our yard because I no longer offer seed but we get occasional single visitors. On this particular day, an entire flock of sulphur crested cockatoos popped down to see what was happening (a bit of bread for our usual rainbow lorikeets and miner birds).
Keep staying safe, everyone. This, too, shall pass. I know my sentiments about Chinese goods are shared in other countries. We MUST stand up to bullies. Winston Churchill is dead.