The continued deterioration in China-Australia relations

The China-Australia relations have significantly deteriorated within the past ten months. This has occurred following Australia’s anti-dumping investigations on Chinese exports and China’s retaliation through trade sanctions on Australian exports, in addition to Australia’s concern over human rights matters in China. The Chinese Embassy in Canberra provided a list of grievances with Australia to Nine News in November. According to The Guardian, these grievances include the Morrison government’s public commentary about human rights or territorial issues in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang and their involvement in blocking several Chinese foreign investment proposals. According to Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham, the Chinese embassy’s actions have not been effective in helping alleviate the tension between both parties. According to a Chinese embassy official, the problems between the two states were all caused by Australia in treating China as a strategic threat. 

The China-Australia bilateral relationship was first established in the early 1970s and was a relationship based on strong economic and trade interests. However, the relationship between both parties has also had its downfalls such as Australia’s involvement in supporting the U.S government’s decision to deploy two aircraft carriers in the 1996 democratic Presidential election in Taiwan. In 2014, the Australian Prime Minister and Chinese President at the time both described the nature of their relationship as a “comprehensive strategic partnership.” Over the years, both parties have shown a high degree of commitment to building their relationship despite their political and historical differences. Australia’s expressed concern for human rights in China, banning Huawei technology, the Morrison government’s suspicions about the origin of the coronavirus pandemic and Australia’s anti-dumping investigation on Chinese exports have all led to a halt in their relationship today. 

This year, the tension between the two parties escalated in February when the Australian Dumping Commission began an anti-dumping investigation against the sale of aluminum micro-extrusion made in China, cheap precision pipe and steel tube from Taiwan, Vietnam, China and A4 copy paper. In May, China responded by banning imports from four key meat processing plants in Australia and imposed an 80.5% tariff on Australian barley exports. In August, China’s Ministry for Commerce confirmed that it began an investigation into Australian wine imports after receiving a complaint from the China Alcoholic Drinks Association and ceased barley imports from Australia’s biggest grain shipping company after discovering harmful weeds in the cargo. In October, China discouraged the use of Australian cotton, banned imports of log timber and delayed the imports of Australian lobster. The economic consequences for Australia will be extremely devastating if it does not work towards salvaging its relationship with China particularly in a time where economic cooperation is vital in recovering from the pandemic. 

According to the South China Morning Post, the spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry Zhao Lijian believes China bears “no responsibility” for the collapse in bilateral ties between the two parties. Australian Trade Minister, Mr.Birmingham responded by saying that Canberra has reached out to Beijing “at every possible level.” In November, a proposition had been made in the Australian Senate by a non-major party to boycott the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022 on grounds relating to human rights concerns. As a result, the motion was not supported on grounds that foreign policy matters should not be dealt with through Senate motions. According to The Diplomat, Australia’s allies particularly the UK and the US have left the door open for a boycott. British MP Sir Ian Duncan Smith told the ABC that the Morrison government has reason to boycott the games following China’s trade sanctions against Australia.  In the US, Senator Marco Rubio has openly criticized Beijing’s economic coercion against Australia while Senator Rick Scott criticized a broadcaster for the purchasing rights to advertise the games, calling it “profit over human rights.” 

China and Australia’s decision to continue retaliating against each other is highly likely to bring more harm than good to both parties. Therefore it is important that they both come together by creating dialogue in helping salvage their relationship at an important time. Although Australia has shown to value its relationship and support for its allies, particularly the U.S and U.K, it is important that it works towards finding a balance between upholding its values and protecting its commercial interests, which are important factors in helping facilitate a good partnership with China.

Pasepa Katia