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Aussie PM must set priorities

2020-10-22 Author: Azhar Azam


Australia’s international trade relations should not be jeopardised by the US-China conflict. AFP PIC

FOLLOWING the late two-way pervasive punch-ups, Canberra's exports to Beijing that had reached at an all-time high of AU$10.5 billion in June nosedived by almost a quarter in August when Chinese investments in Australia witnessed a sharp decline of more than 47 per cent to AU$2.9 billion last year.

National security is a grave concern for any state, but the Morrison government needs to rebalance the issue with its economic, trade and investment ties with China in such a way that does it could not rage compromise Canberra's interests.

Unfortunately, Australian farmers believe their exports are being targeted by China because of the government. Blaming Morrison for the free-falling relations, they are urging the government to nurture" ties with China "whether it be the export of agricultural commodities, minerals, tourism or education."

China is still the single-largest market for Australian iron ore exports, with 83.4 per cent being shipped there. Australia seems to lose this vital advantage as the former steadily diversifies its purchases away from latter to India, Russia, South Africa and Ukraine.

Beijing, which had suspended imports from New Delhi due to a simmering border conflict, is again buying large-scale iron ore to meet its booming steel demand for building infrastructure.

Labor's Joel Fitzgibbon has sought to accept the "reality" that Canberra is "in an economic war" with Beijing and bilateral relations probably have fallen to worst-ever levels. He lambasted the government for engaging in a brawl with one of its biggest trade partner without diversification.

The abysmal figures and sensitivity of the situation suggest that Morrison shouldn't haphazardly stick to the American strategy, which China thinks is tailored to contain its rise.

Canberra may instead adopt a moderate line like Trump did before the coronavirus broke out in the United States.

Historically, Washington D.C. has maintained a very large trade deficit with Beijing, so it has the leverage to sanction Chinese companies and slap tariffs on goods from China.

The US also perceives China a "strategic competitor" which it thinks could end its global leadership by deploying "predatory" trade, investment and lending practices. But Washington can't do it single-handedly, and as a means to defy its rival, it desperately needs the support of allies.

Why should Australia, running a trade surplus with China, risk its economic interests at the behest of the US? The Morrison government should set its own priorities with Beijing, whether it is protection of national sovereignty or trade bonds. Additionally, as Canberra jeopardises its invaluable economic interests and shows solidarity with Washington, the US is gradually expanding its clout in the country.

Last year, the Australian government announced the establishment of a new and innovative National Foundation for Australia-China Relations, which was due to be operationalised this year to strengthen understanding and engagement between the two countries.

The proposed bridge to tone down differences was recently plagued by a scandal when two of its board members were found to have received financial backing from the US government while another one was linked with Falun Gong, a quasi-religious movement seeking to end the communist rule in China.

Reports that the US is now exporting its bizarre conspiracy theories to Australia and New Zealand are worrisome developments. They should not only cast into doubt Washington's role as a trusted partner, but should also urge Canberra to question the tactics employed by the US to influence the Australian politicians and people.

The Kiwi administration cannot afford a slip up on a security threat from any side, friend or foe, and should preempt and prevent any country's intervention into the Australian institutions, society and political spectrum on equal footing.

In parallel, the Morison government shouldn't shirk its fundamental responsibility to protect the economy and livelihoods of Australian people and businesses by merely erecting the national security barriers. It has to activate all the diplomatic channels to find at least a stopgap for a peaceful coexistence with China.

The writer is an international commentator and opinion contributor to CGTN and The Express Tribune, partner of The International New York Times. He writes on geopolitical issues and regional conflicts