Why are we so surprised and outraged by the recent behaviour of the Chinese government? A nation which can machine-gun protesting students and then run over their bodies with tanks and then deny that this ever took place is hardly going to lose much sleep over the fake image which has Scomo and his colleagues in a tiz.
There is a valuable lesson to be learnt from the photo. It reveals in unmistakable terms, the sort of people we are dealing with and, as an added bonus, it says more about the Chinese government than it does about the Australian army. When the Chinese government decided to play havoc with various branches of Australian primary industry, it made no effort to present evidence which would support its claims regarding coal, barley, wine, etc. It attacked those industries not because of anything they were or were not doing, but to express its contempt for our political system and our comments on human rights abuses in China. There is nothing new in China’s response to the Australian government’s grandstanding.
When the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 2010 Peace Prize to Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, Norway suddenly found it couldn’t export its salmon to China. When the Canadian authorities arrested the Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in 2018 the Chinese immediately arrested two Canadian citizens who are now approaching their second year in jail and who are universally recognised as hostages or bargaining chips to procure the release of Ms Wanzhou. The lesson which Australia has yet to learn is that any nation incurring the wrath of the Chinese government, any nation which fails to tremble and obey, will eventually suffer the consequences.
When in a recent press conference on the eve of his departure for Japan, Prime Minister Morrison said, ‘Japan is in a very special relationship with Australia. It’s not just an economic one, it’s not just a trade one, it’s not just a cultural and social one. Importantly, it is a strategic one that we form together with the United States and India a very important quad relationship.’ He might as well have said ‘Comrade Xi will you please hit another Australian industry with import restrictions’ because before he had returned to Australia, China had imposed crippling tariffs on Australian wine.
As Hugh White put it in a recent article ‘The problem for Canberra is that China holds most of the cards. Power in international relations lies with the country that can impose high costs on another country at a low cost to itself. This is what China can do to Australia, but Scott Morrison and his colleagues do not seem to understand that’.
But it’s not just Morrison or the Canberra mandarins who have failed to grasp the delicacy of Australia’s position vis à vis China. We all, to a greater or lesser extent, have taken the billions of dollars that have poured in from China for granted. The fact is that, if we want to resume our first class seat on the PRC gravy train, we will have to be nice to the conductor.
The Western world, which ran the planet for the past five centuries, now finds that we are in the middle of the greatest shift in the global balance of power since the fall of the Roman Empire. But while the Roman Empire’s decline and eventual collapse took place over centuries, the rise of China has taken four decades. No one knows where this will end and anyone who tells you there is an acceptable solution to the increasingly belligerent behaviour of China should consider the progress made by the Alliance For Democracies Foundation which was established in 2007 by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former prime minister of Denmark.
According to Rasmussen the United States is retreating from the world stage and this withdrawal has created a vacuum that is being filled by autocrats like Xi Jin Ping, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un and Bashar al-Assad. Democracy is under pressure from authoritarian states which promote protectionism, terrorism and autocracy. The Alliance of Democracies Foundation seeks to unite world democracies and prevent further erosion of democratic governments. Despite having substantial support from a wide range of former leaders of goverments around the globe, the Alliance remains almost unheard of and has failed to capture the imagination of citizens of democracies.
The UN, which in 1945 was founded to promote peace, human dignity and freedom, has become, in the words of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, ‘a haven for dictators’ and is routinely used by non-democratic tyrannies to attack Western democratic states.
In the absence of a universally recognised institution with the power to adjudicate disputes and enforce its decisions, economic strength, for the foreseeable future, will determine who wins and who loses. Next year Britain is sending its flagship, the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth, into the Eastern Pacific and South China Sea to participate in exercises with the navies of the regional democracies. Sabre-rattling might succeed in annoying Beijing but the Chinese economy will continue to thrive and dominate the region regardless of how many aircraft carriers the West can introduce.
Australia’s threat to take China to the World Trade Organisation over the recently imposed barley tariffs is pointless. Even if Australia wins, the finding will simply be ignored by China. In 2016, the UN-established panel set up to arbitrate the dispute between China and the Philippines regarding the Scarborough Shoal unanimously found in favour of the latter’s claims. China ignored the ruling and the West has stood by and watched as China has turned barren reefs into military bases.
The Anglosphere and the European and Asian democracies united are economically stronger than China but they are incapable of acting in unison and can be picked off one by one in any dispute. What we are watching now in China’s treatment of Australia, is a lesson for the whole Western world.
We are lying to ourselves if we believe that China’s lies can be confronted in a court of law.
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