“Between the gunpoint border and the spiritual violence of our identity“, “Beyond the daily war, beyond the days I wonder if the sound of my voice isn’t mine“ – by punk band Strike Anywhere – in their 2021 release Dress the wounds.
Australia’s relationships with the United States and with China have not been well managed by recent Australian governments.
The U.S. has been Australia’s main strategic ally for 80 years. As a result, Australia has been happy to follow U.S. foreign policy positions for much of that time. The election of Donald Trump should have made it clear that the alliance will hold up only if it is in the interests of the U.S. government (including domestic political interests). The U.S. is a strategic competitor of China. Australia’s relationship with China is different. China has become our most important trading relationship. We must have an independent foreign policy stance.
Australia should not have specifically banned Huawei from bidding for the country’s 5G network. It should simply have included in the tender process, a requirement that all tenderers to satisfy stringent security provisions. If Huawei could not, then its bid should have been rejected even if the financial arrangements were better than the competition.
Australia should not have unilaterally demanded that China account for the Covid-19 pandemic. With Trump rhetoric spewing from the Whitehouse, it made Australia look like a puppet of the Trump government and smeared us with his bilious nonsense. I am not the first to say that this call should have been from a group of nations dovetailing into China’s scientific co-operation with international bodies and directed to a broad inquiry into the origins and progress of the pandemic, not to assign blame, but with the intention of preparing the world for the next one.
Foreign interference laws can appear to be directed at China when it appears that only Chinese nationals are targeted. Of course there are Chinese corporations pursuing their own interests in Australia as there are other nations and corporations doing the same. Of course, the Australian government should legislate to prevent improper foreign influence and be conscious of links between corporations and foreign governments. However, that legislation appears to be a little hypocritical when Australia’s lobbying industry appears to have carte blanche to pursue favours from government in the interests of favoured corporations. Tightening lobbying rules and establishing a Federal ICAC to address official corruption would be more effective generally and would permit any misconduct by Chinese interests to be swept up with the rest.
China will pay no attention whatever to Australian government criticism of its human rights record. Any such criticism is mere grandstanding to a domestic audience. The only way to protest effectively against China’s human rights behaviour is to establish concerted diplomatic pressure as part of a broad multi-national group. Australia should not reserve its criticism to strategic competitors of the United States and it should join with others to call out human rights abuses wherever they occur. Australia should also clean up its own act e.g. treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, truth and justice for indigenous people, admitting Australia’s fraudulent behaviour in negotiations over East Timor’s maritime borders and providing proper redress, dealing with those responsible for the toxic culture in the S.A.S., not just junior officers etc. etc.
All of these steps could be taken (or could have been taken) in a way which permits us to maintain a respectful and mutually profitable relationship with China without the current needless rancour and without compromising our principles.
2 December 2020