CHINA – OUR KOWTOWING HAS BEEN THROWN BACK IN OUR FACE
China recently put restrictions on the import of Australian wheat. (1) Admittedly they are not our biggest customer for this product but they had already banned, restricted or put heavy tariffs on many of our other exports including barley, timber, coal, wine, meat and seafood. (2)
Older readers may remember, back in the days when we had open discussions on the wisdom of flooding the country with Asian migrants, it was claimed that if we didn’t let them in the countries of Asia would not buy our exports. The results of the 2016 census showed Chinese made up over 5% of our population. (3) Presumably letting a big influx of Asian immigrants would result in Asian countries buying anything we wanted to sell at any price we asked. This was nonsense of course and China’s recent actions have demonstrated this.
As for the free trade deal with China one wonders why we bothered. It was supposed to open up trade especially for products like wine and meat. That trade deal includes a section on investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) under which Chinese investors can sue our government for decisions that adversely affect a Chinese investor’s profits. It’s little short of an attack on our sovereignty. (4)
It’s been suggested that because some of our leaders wanted to have the origins of the Covid-19 virus investigated they have provoked the response by China. (5) Exactly by what convoluted logic can looking for the origin of an infectious disease be related to trade? Possibly it was a trigger but only part of Beijing’s motivation. And there is some evidence that the virus did originate in a laboratory in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. (6)
As Clive Hamilton wrote in a recent article, Beijing has used an escalating program of punishment, not only economic coercion but a diplomatic freeze, and a barrage of insults and threats. Among 14 demands made by the Chinese embassy in Canberra are that we abolish our foreign interference law, allow Huawei into our 5G network, permit unrestricted Chinese investment and limit media criticism of their regime. Hamilton points out that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is hostile to free speech, free media, religious freedom, independent courts and civil society. He sees the Morrison government as taking a strong stand against CCP influence. Exactly how long they will maintain this stand is a worry. (7)
China’s actions should not be a surprise however. The country has never been a democracy and has a bad record of bullying other peoples. In the 18th century it was one of the more aggressive imperialist powers, becoming involved in ten wars and even carrying out genocide. (8) More recently it has actively suppressed minorities like Uighur, Tibetans and ethnic Mongolians. There appears to have been an active policy of reducing the birth-rate and numbers of the Uighurs. (9) Early in January 2021 there were 53 pro-democracy campaigners arrested in Hong Kong. (10)
China has been aggressively building up its military capabilities and by 2020 it had 1,375 fighter/strike aircraft, 150 submarines, three aircraft carriers, 2,900 short-range ballistic missiles and 220 advanced anti-ship cruise missile. Meanwhile it has occupied the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, bought up the Gold Ridge gold mine in the Solomon Islands and is providing infrastructure in New Guinea’s Bougainville Island. China has ramped up pressure on Taiwan and may even have designs on Mongolia. (11)
The Morrison government is making a stand against Chinese bullying and CCP influence and has charged Liberal MP Gladys Liu under the new foreign interference laws. (12) Exactly how long they will maintain this stand is a troubling question.
In fact the situation shows how we have become too dependent on other countries goodwill rather than standing up for our own sovereignty. We have happily entered into international agreements, and not just free trade agreements, that interfere with the way our country is run and put the government’s obligations to our own people as a lower priority.
And the free trade agreements have not been matched by an improvement in economic performance as expected. Our living standards, as measured by per capita gross domestic product (GDP), have tended to go backwards in relation to other nations. In 1914 only two other countries were doing better than us and at the end of World War II only five countries had higher or equal living standards. By 2019 we were struggling to stay in the top 12 nations. (13)
In fact our “progress” to free trade has not given us much in either jobs or economic growth. Our economic heyday was in the 1950s and 1960s when we had very little unemployment, in fact in our worst year it only rose to 3.2% and in most years was under 2%. Economic growth over these two decades was an average of 4.6%. (14) Our growth rate in 2019 was a pathetic 2.2%. (15)
So rather than doing better than with the less open economy of the fifties and sixties we are doing much worse. We have traded off our autonomy and independence and gained nothing in return. And we are being bullied by the world’s biggest dictatorship despite decades of kowtowing.
(1) Jared Lynch, “Now China Takes Aim at Wheat”, Daily Telegraph, 30 December 2020
(2) Jeff Kennett, “From here to Uncertainty”, Daily Telegraph, 30 December 2020
(5) Finn McHugh, “China Fault Line Widens”, Daily Telegraph, 8 January 2021
(6) James Morrow, “The Left’s ‘Noble’ Lies”, Daily Telegraph, 7 January 2021
(7) Clive Hamilton, “World’s Eyes on Australia to See if we can Resist China”, The Australian, 6 January 2021
(8) Dr Aaron Ralby, “Atlas of Military History”, Parragon, Bath, 2013, p. 142-143; Michael Kerrigan, "China A Dark History”, Amber Books, London, 2019, p. 115
(9) Human Rights Watch, https/www.hrw.org/news/ 22 December 2020; “China’s Boast of Taming Uighurs”, 10 January 2021
(10) “HK Feels China’s Iron Fist”, Daily Telegraph, 8 January 2020
(11) Chris McCormack, “Australia, World: Heed the Warnings”, News Weekly, 28 November 2020
(12) Rachel Baxendale, “Liberal MP Target of Foreign Interference”, The Australian, 6 January 2021
(14) Rodney Maddock & Ian McLean, “The Australian Economy in the Long Run”, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1987