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Is There Hope For Reconciliation With China?


Amongst the heat of the Ukraine invasion, Scott Morrison has denounced China’s approval of Russian wheat imports as “unacceptable”. This comes after Russia was heavily sanctioned worldwide, including international trade and commerce, and shows no indication of improvements in Sino-Australian political relations.

Just earlier in February, a Chinese navy ship was accused of shining a laser beam at an Australian Boeing P-8A Poseidon, a marine patrol aircraft with weapons systems and sensors for detecting submarines. The Australian Department of Defence commented that the actions “could have endangered the safety and lives of the Australian Defence Force personnel.” China responded by stating that the Australian warplanes flew too close to their ships instead, thus provoking them to defensive measures. This stages a microcosm of the unravelling of Sino-Australian relations that has occurred for the past few years.

In 2017, Australia banned foreign political donations due to warnings of reports of Chinese attempts to influence Canberra’s political process. This was followed by Australia becoming the first country to ban Chinese tech giant, Huawei, from the 5G network in 2018. In the same year, Australia also blocked ten Chinese investment deals across infrastructure, agriculture, and animal husbandry.

With the onset of COVID-19, 2020 became a huge year in the disintegrating relations, especially with Australia’s calls for an enquiry into the virus’ origins. As if to fan the flames, Beijing also responded negatively to Australian criticism on the escalating political situation in Hong Kong, China’s plans on taking Taiwan, the human rights violations upon the Uyghur people in Xinjiang, and China’s continual aggression over the South China Sea. Consequently, Australia and China held a trade war. The blows on Australia involved curbing Australian beef imports and levied tariffs totalling 80.5% on Australian barley in May, and in November, China imposed tariffs worth 200% on Australian wine. This was significant considering that China accounts for 35% of Australia’s total trade; Australia accounts for less than 4% of China’s commerce.

The trade war reached the World Trade Organisation in 2021, as Australia lodged a complaint over the Chinese tariffs on Australian wine. Yet, only a few days later, China lodged their own complaint. Such tension continued to brew throughout 2021, as Australia joined the boycott of Beijing’s Winter Olympics, viewing it as an opportunity for China to clean up their global image instead. Furthermore, later in the year, as a power move viewed as an attempt to counter Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific, Australia also acquired a nuclear-powered submarine agreement with the UK and US, which was named AUKUS. Appropriately, Australia’s icy defences against such Chinese influences was further manifested through the cancellation of Victoria’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) agreement with Beijing. This was a global project formulated by Beijing to build a large network of trade routes to encourage Chinese infrastructure firms to bid for major projects in the state, viewed as an act of diplomacy.

Along with the laser beam incident and Morrison’s condemnation was also news of Chinese spies bearing on NSW politics so far in 2022. This occurred as an unnamed businessman, with many Chinese connections, was caught to have paid large sums of money to election candidates for electorate influence by the ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation). What comes ahead in the year is unclear, although with China’s employment of a new ambassador, Xiao Qian, to Australia, his softer approach gives hope for reparations: "China is willing to work with Australia to meet each other halfway…"


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