27/11/2022

With Australia’s relationship with China at a very dangerous stage, the timing of what is expected to be a ‘more nuanced’ approach from a Biden administration could not be more welcome.

The hope is that with Joe Biden in the White House, this line of attack by Beijing will diminish and some of the heat will be taken out of the China situation.
Biden and his administration will be as rock-ribbed as its predecessor in its stance towards China, but less confrontational. “More nuanced” is the term commonly used.
Additionally, it is expected Biden will engage better with like-minded countries to build an alliance, which Scott Morrison has advocated over recent months, to pressure China to behave like a good global citizen.
Again, Trump was a problem in this regard. Nations like France and Germany had become so alienated they were instinctively opposed to all he said. They should now work with Biden on China, and that can only help Australia.
The timing is welcome. The relationship is at a very serious and dangerous stage. Beijing has turned up the heat, Premiers such as Western Australia’s Mark McGowan are anxious and angry, and federal Labor is starting to pull away from what has been a traditionally bipartisan approach towards China.
Labor has started criticising the government for not being able to repair the relationship and, hence, imperilling exports and livelihoods.
This week, Australia’s relationship with China could worsen further when the government pushes ahead with its foreign relations bill.
Announced in late August, the bill would give the Commonwealth sweeping powers to veto new and existing agreements between a foreign power and state governments, local councils or universities.
This could range from the 2018 Memorandum of Understanding which Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews signed with China on its Belt and Road Initiative, to a sister city relationship, or a collaborative research project between an Australia and foreign university.
Of course, the bill is aimed principally at curbing infiltration by foreign powers, especially China. Beijing knows it, as does Canberra.
Its very existence is helping turbocharge what is now a nakedly hostile response from Beijing towards Australia. It comes on top of the banning of Huawei from the 5G contract, the Turnbull government’s foreign interference laws, Morrison calling for an inquiry into the coronavirus outbreak and Australia’s recent participation in naval exercises with regional allies as part of Operation Malabar.
The government is holding its nerve, believing any sign of bending to Beijing would be ultimately counterproductive.
It is of the belief that the only way to restore the relationship to a friendship based on mutually beneficial two-way trade is to hold the line.
That is, the only thing that will change China’s view and get the relationship back to where it was is by convincing China that going down a path of coercion will not change Australia’s position.
That will take time and resilience.