- The Guardian
- Issue #1961
Australia-China relations continue to deteriorate. Last month, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Paine, using the Foreign Arrangements Scheme, which came into force last year, vetoed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) agreement with Victoria. The Foreign Arrangements Scheme allows the government to block arrangements it believes are inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy. However, despite the use of the scheme, Paine insists the move was not targeting China, stating that it was “ensuring that we have a consistent approach to foreign policy across all levels of government.” Translation: Anything that is a threat to Western hegemony needs to be removed.
Furthermore, one has to wonder how Paine reached such a decision. Victoria had only signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with China which lacked detail but spoke to “trade, financial and policy cooperation” (ABC). Much of the discussions centred on infrastructure projects that would create jobs across the state. There were also talks regarding manufacturing, biotechnology, and agriculture and “agreements to develop trade and market access ‘especially for agricultural products, food, nutraceuticals and cosmetics’ ” (ABC). It is also important to note that BRI is not legally binding. Thus, given that virtually the whole agreement concerned economic activity, it is hard to understand how much of it had to do with Australia’s foreign policy? Is this merely a decision made based on the ideological differences between Australia and China? If so, is the Morrison government willing to cut all economic activity between the two nations? Of course, it isn’t. This is just another attack on China, and the fact that it hampered an ALP government in building Victoria was an added bonus.
In response to this senseless assault, China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) suspended “indefinitely all activities under the China-Australia Strategic Economic Dialogue” (Global Times) which it jointly holds with the Australian government. It is the first time a diplomatic mechanism between the two countries has been frozen. NDRC stated that they felt such a measure from the Australian government to “disrupt the normal exchanges and cooperation between China and Australia” was “out of Cold War mindset and ideological discrimination.”
Paine, responding to the decision of NDRC in an absolutely stunning fashion, told reports that “[w]e have been very clear that we were willing and able to participate in an ongoing strategic and economic dialogue – that is ultimately a decision for China.” In what way has Australia been “very clear”? What signs of friendship and cooperation has the Morrison government extended to China? Absolutely none.
As other countries in the region start to cooperate and work with China, the Morrison government is increasingly becoming the little yappy dog, nipping at the heels of others, not causing harm but instead mild annoyance. Australia needs to stop acting as if it is America, pretending to be the police of the Asia Pacific, because it is operating as nothing more than a poor facsimile.
The Morrison government must stop playing this childish game with China and stop pretending that our economy doesn’t rely heavily on China. According to DFAT, “China is Australia’s largest two-way trading partner in goods and services, accounting for twenty-nine per cent of our trade with the world.” Australia is not even one of China’s top trading partners. If we do not call on our government to mend this relationship, we run the risk of being isolated for decades.