-14389653458597How has Australia’s role in regional politics changed with the emergence of a more assertive China?By Sebastian Braw-Smith (GL)
00How has Australia’s role in regional politics changed with the emergence of a more assertive China?By Sebastian Braw-Smith (GL)
-3351526804612Entry for the Middle and Lower School Parramatta Prize
00Entry for the Middle and Lower School Parramatta Prize
In 1770, Captain James Cook claimed the east coast of Australia in the name of King George the 3rd, followed in 1787 by Captain Arthur Phillips who landed at Port Jackson (now Sydney) with 730 convicts. Along with Britain’s other colonies, Australia was ruled by the Monarch up until the 9th July 1900 when the ‘Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act’ was created, whereby six colonies came together to become the states of Australia. The monarch became the Head of State, and as such has stayed in the background, weighing in infrequently.
Australia has a very large role to play in Asia as China’s largest trade partner, but also as what some have called ‘a part of the West in Asia’. The relationship between ‘the West’, in terms of the Cold War was very close. This put it at odds with Communist China. China has become increasingly aggressive in Asia, putting military bases on disputed islands in the South China Sea or flying its long range bombers over Taiwan, for instance. Australia has responded somewhat indifferently, prioritising its relationship with China over regional diplomacy or allies in the West.
In this essay, my aim is to decipher the relationship between Australia and China, to explain how China’s regional politics have changed over time and how Australia’s regional politics have changed in response to this.
The Relationship between China and Australia and regional disputes
The first Chinese consulate in Australia was established in 1909 and diplomatic relations were secured in 1941. Australia recognised the government of the Republic of China until 21 December 1972, when it recognized the People’s Republic of China. Up until then, relations between the two countries had been strained. Ideologically, Australia was on the side of the West/NATO during the Cold War.
The relationship between China and Australia is quite simple at heart: China wants the trade from Australia to cement its growing ecomony, and Australia needs China’s trade because it is vital to their economy as one of the world’s leading powers. However, Australia needs China much more than China needs it, even as China replaces the US as Australia’s main ally. This is well illustrated in the saying ‘It was once thought that when the United States sneezed, Australia would catch a cold. Now it seems that a sneezing China would have Australia contracting pneumonia’. At this moment in time, China is the largest overseas birthplace for Australians after the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
Australia is also keen to pursue a relationship between the US and itself in addition to its relationship with China. In a sense, it wishes to make itself indispensable to both powers. This means playing a very dangerous game,for example when Australia supported a move by the US to send its navy to the Taiwan Straits in reponse to missile by the Chinese intended to disrupt the elections in Taiwan in 1995, or when the Dalai Lama visited Australia in 2009: the list goes on. The Chinese accuse every Australian move of being influenced by US policy towards China and influence on Australia.
Sino-Australian relations have always been impacted by strategic and political problems across the world, as shown in the previous paragraph.By and large, China has avoided regional disputes excluding its dispute with Vietnam over its decision to invade Cambodia and of course the constant dispute with Taiwan.
Chinese Foreign and Regional Relations
China’s foreign policy since the mid-1970s (when it was recognised at the UN and many countries switched their ‘allegiance’ from the Republic of China (Taiwan) to the People’s Republic of China) has generally focused on the country’s interest with economic and social development at home and its desire to have a peaceful region in which to do this.
In the 1990’s,China adopted a very successful policy of “one country, two systems” in order to advance and facilitate negotiation with Great Britain for the return of Hong Kong and with Portugal for the return of Macau. These negotiantions were successful for both parties; Britain and Portugal were both content at the special administrative status China gave to both Hong Kong and Macau and China was happy about the return of its sovereign land.
The suppression of demonstrations in 1989, most notably at Tiananmen Square sent all of China’s foreign relations efforts back to square one. The United States, the European Union and Japan imposed sanctions. By 1992 China had regained most of its international standing with all but the United States, with whom it had a permanent trade status that was subject to annual review until very recently.
Western countries see the potential in China, as an ecomony that is growing at breakneck speed for investment. China also sees the potential for investment in the West, so much that they are in fact investing in countries’ critical infrastructure, to the extent that is allowed. Many have critised this, citing China’s strict rules on foreign investment. This strategy called ‘Made in China:2025’ was announced in May 2015 and concentrates on making sure that 70% of core components of its critical infrastrure (such as aviation, matierals, manufacturing and IT). According to John Hemmings, Director of Asian Studies at the Henry Jackson Society, the plan has serious flaws: ‘The plan relies on three pillars: first, to create a basic sanctuary for Chinese companies, using non-tariff barriers to bar competition from Western multinational companies; second, to subsidize Chinese companies to better compete in international markets; and third, to enable Chinese companies to dominate certain key sectors related to national security, and smart technologies and manufacturing. Foreign governments should be aware that China’s long-term goal is to replace foreign with domestic technology’. You can see that this creates a cloud of suspicion for people looking to invest in China or have China invest them.
A report from Sydney University and accounting firm KPMG says that 103 deals were signed between Chinese and Australian companies in 2016, up 12% from 2015 and at the highest level since the fincial crisis in 2008 (in which Australia was one of the only countries to not go into recession), however Australia is still second to the US with $90 million in investments since 2007. The trend continues because of high demand from China’s middle class for Australian-produced fruits, meats, wine, dairy and minerals. After a scandal in China involving milk formula for children being tainted in the factory, Austrlain imports have were a lifeline, so much so that regular Australian shoppers were complaining of shortages.
Australian regional politics-How they have changed to combat Chinese influence?
I would argue that for Australia, Chinese aggression is not a major problem, considering that it does not lie near any of China’s adversaries or any of its disputed territory. The major problem facing Australia is of course the extensive and quite dubious investment, but also Chinese meddling in Australian affairs. A good example of this is the extensively reported Chinese meddling in Australian local, state and national politics, to elect candidates that are China-friendly, helped by the fact that in Australia foreigner are allowed to donate to political campaigns, whereas foreigners are banned from doing that in the US. The extent of Chinese influence in Australia is clear. Here are two examples: the puc=blisher Allen and Unwin recently dropped a book by the author Clive Hamilton regarding Chinese influence, with no reason given. Or when a man was walking through the centre of Sydney with a female friend from China who was studying in Australia when they saw a man practicing Falun Gong (a spiritual belief developed in China in the 1990s that saw a heavy crackdown from the Chinese government including torture and forced organ transplantation, please research further) collecting signatures for a petition. They both went over, signed the petition and went on their way. Several weeks later, the friend’s parents had their door knocked down by the Ministry of State Security, who told them to keep an eye on their daughter who was causing trouble in Australia. I would take a moment to pause and think about that. China has agents on the streets of Australia’s cities, watching dissidents and other known opponents of the regime who can identify any Chinese person and intimidate them back home. As the Washington Post says: ‘How does an open society manage its relationship with an authoritarian state of China’s reach that has no compunction about dispatching its police officers on tourist visas to harass, monitor and even arrest Chinese overseas?’
Up until the scandal about Chinese meddling in Australian politics broke in June of 2017, the Australian government did nothing to combatIn one case, Chinese-owned businesses were instructed by the Chinese government to stop advertising in one of the few remaining independent Chinese-language newspapers. Pro-Chinese media outlets in Australia were also involved in organizing pro-Chinese demonstrations.
Think about that. Chinese authorities in Australia are monitoring Falun Gong practitioners on the streets of Sydney and Melbourne, photographing anyone who interacts with them. They can identify any ethnically Chinese person and put them on a watchlist.
Since the death of China’s more moderate leaders, a new crop of nationalists have come to power, intent of restoring China’s sovreignity. As such, important and extremely controversial decisions have been taken regarding the disputed islands in the South China Sea, or the Republic of China (Taiwan).
Recently, Australia has become more insistent and less diplomatic with China. In the run-up to the 2016 US Presidential Election, evidence of foreign influence in Australia’s dometic politics surfaced, causing The recent decision by Allen & Unwin to drop Clive Hamilton’s book on Chinese influence illustrates that China need not exert much effort in influencing us. We’re doing the job ourselves
Hamilton’s book Silent Invasion: How China is Turning Australia into a Puppet State was pulled, according to an email from the publishers, because of ‘potential threats to the book and the company from possible action by Beijing’.