Are we on the brink?

posted in: Life and things | 0

I’ll get back to traveller’s tales shortly but events in the last few weeks have shaken me more than much else in my life.

The political situation between Australia and China has been deteriorating for some time, starting with our refusal to consider Huawei for the 5G communications network in Australia and PM Morrison’s push for an enquiry into the covid 19 virus’s origins. Then we had mistrust about the Confucius Institutes in Australia universities. We supported the uprisings in Hong Kong against further erosion of the ‘one country, two systems’ agreement. Chinese diplomats retaliated with denunciations – some of them well-founded. After all, increasingly, we don’t trust China. Then they added threats – no more tourists, no more students.

After that, a list of fourteen ‘grievances’ was strategically leaked

This list of grievances

The grievances were later expanded upon. Commenting on the situation in an article on the SupChina website, the author Lucas Niewenhuis suggested that Australia will not modify its stance and China is not interested in compromise. [source] It would appear that Chinese ministers and officials will not talk to their Australian counterparts despite numerous attempts from Australia.

Now, the Chinese have placed huge tariffs (212% on Australian wine) on Australian goods, accusing us of ‘dumping’ and dreamed up new ‘environmental controls’ as additional hurdles for Aussie produce. This has affected wine, barley, timber, and other crops. Lobsters were held up in customs for so long they spoiled. The Chinese have found apparent fault with our coal exports, too. More than eighty coal ships have been stranded for months in Chinese ports. At least one ship was refused permission to leave when it found a new buyer for its cargo in Japan. [source]

The latest development is straight out of the history books.

This is an example of a propaganda poster in the UK after World War 1. You’ll find more examples and information here. The latest Chinese efforts, posting a made-up photo of an Australian soldier gleefully cutting the throat of an Afghan child holding a lamb during the war in Afghanistan, and another depicting Australians as Nazis, are straight out of that school. We may be offended and splutter about Tienanmen Square and the treatment of Falun Gong and Uighurs in China but those pictures aren’t for us: they’re for the Chinese to raise anti-Australian sentiment in China. It’s nice that people around the world are supporting Australia in response to China’s bullying. But unfortunately, most Chinese in China won’t see those articles and images. Predictably, the PM’s attempt to appeal to the Chinese people on the Chinese social media app, WeChat, was deleted.

Remember that bit in the grievances about blocking Chinese attempts to buy up Australian property? The Chinese have acquired a 99-year lease on the island of Keswick off the Queensland coast and have apparently made it clear that they don’t want Australians on ‘their’ island. [source] I wonder what that means for the 99-year lease the Chinese have on Darwin Harbour?

We’ve been selling too much of our backyard to China. Bellamy’s dairy producers, based in Tasmania and a major maker of baby formula, is now Chinese-owned. So is the Tully sugar mill. And Cubbie Station with its water rights and cotton fields. Chinese interests own more than 3 million hectares of Australian agricultural land. [source] It’s good to see some of the assets being bought back, such as Bega’s purchase of Lion Australia when a Chinese bid was blocked as being against the national interest. [source] And recently the McMillan Pastoral Company bought back two stations on the Qld/NT border from Chinese billionaire Xingfa Ma, who also owns beef and wine properties in WA. [source]

Covid-19 has ravaged our greatest allies, the Western World. Europe and the USA are staggering under the impact of the virus and the resulting economic unrest. American society is bitterly divided and the incumbent president is yet to concede victory to Joe Biden. Could there be a better time for an authoritarian regime to test its mettle? It’s abundantly clear President Xi Xinping is using Australia as an example to the rest of the world of what happens when you cross your Chinese masters. We’d better hope the world is prepared to watch our backs. We’re as close to war as we could be without firing bullets. If that happens, Australia won’t stand a chance.

Hopefully, China’s tactics will backfire. Australian wine is getting huge support from around the Western world. Here’s an example. But Asia (apart from Taiwan and Japan) isn’t saying much. China has been the bully-boy in that region of the world for thousands of years and plenty of African and Oceania countries are in hock to China up to pussy’s bow through the belt and road initiative. From The Australian 3 Dec (pay wall):

“Requests for comment from Indonesian, Malaysian, Singaporean and The Philippines foreign ministers and senior Vietnamese officials have been declined or ignored as some of Canberra’s closest partners and allies seek to stay out of Beijing’s firing line.”

What do we do now? I expect, even if I were religious, praying wouldn’t help much. China doesn’t want to talk to us. It is expecting that we will collapse under the intense economic pressure, which is our own damn fault for putting too many import/export eggs in one large basket with a nation which has core principles diametrically opposed to ours.

  • We need to find other markets. We need to develop other trading partners.
  • The joint defence agreement with Japan, the US, and India is a step in the right direction.
  • Australian consumers are already starting to boycott Chinese products in stores – although that can be difficult. But other Asian countries produce electronics, clothes etc. Get used to reading the labels. That MG Harvey Norman is giving away? China bought a badge. It’s a Chinese car. That’s just one example.
  • This Christmas do the kids really need all those plastic Chinese toys that will end up in landfill next year? Read the labels.
  • Use Australian made and owned when buying dairy products – companies like Bulla, Jalna, and Bega. Coles buys milk direct from farmers for its Coles brand.
  • Take back Australian infrastructure controlled by the Chinese Government (that is, any company based in China) such as the Port of Darwin.
  • Maybe this is a great time, with record low interest rates and high unemployment, to resurrect manufacturing in Australia?
  • Instead of using more wind turbines and solar panels imported from China, let’s build a HELE coal-fired power station or several. After all, that’s what the Chinese are doing with that coal they import from us.
  • What about a nuclear power station? We have plenty of uranium and nuclear is much safer than it was in the past.
  • Scrap that stupid agreement with France to build WW2-era submarines.
  • Strengthen our ties with the UK, Canada, NZ, India, Japan, and the US.

NONE of this means we should boycott our local Chinese restaurant or harass Australians of Chinese descent. Our quarrel is not with them, but with the CCP.

One thing we sure as hell don’t need is division in our own ranks. I could not believe what I was reading, that Opposition leader Anthony Albanese and his Labor colleagues are taking the opportunity to snipe at PM Morrison for his allegedly poor handling of our relationship with China. Surely the Labor apparatchiks have read enough history to realise appeasement never works? The Chinese propaganda machine must be rubbing its hands in glee. I can’t resist a small quote from an article in The Australian.

“We need to work on the relationship,” Mr Albanese told 2SM radio, adding “that doesn’t mean compromising our values or preparedness to speak up for them”. He recalled a speech made by [former] prime minister Kevin Rudd, “in Mandarin, of course”, that was critical of human rights issues, “but was done so in a way that also was designed to make clear our values but not designed to offend for offence’s sake”. (That would be the same Mr Rudd who revealed his uniquely inoffensive diplomatic skills when he was heard at a climate change summit in Copenhagen in 2009 saying “those Chinese ratf..kers are trying to ratf..k us”.) [source] paywall.

If the best Albanese and his chums can bring to the argument is resurrecting a speech from a decade ago it might be time they STFU. They seem to be forgetting that the Morrison Government has repeatedly urged the Chinese to come to the table. It’s hard to negotiate when the other side won’t talk to you.

I admit to feeling on edge. This is a dangerous time for the world and although Australia managed to deflect the covid bullet, this crisis with China will potentially do much more damage. Let’s hope some of our friends will be there to support us when we need it.

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