Australia alerts China and then runs to a shelter

SYDNEY, Australia – In recent years, Australia has placed itself at the forefront of global efforts to resist China. It was the first country to ban Huawei 5G technology, pass foreign intervention laws to curb Chinese influence, and call for an international investigation into the source of the coronavirus.

Now Australia is sounding the alarm even louder. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, already embarrassed by the blockade of Australian imports – wine, coal, barley and cotton – on Monday demanded that the Chinese government apologize for a chatty tweet showing an Australian soldier with a knife around the neck of an Afghan child. He warned the world he was watching.

But even as he raised a Twitter post into four alarming diplomatic fires, he also called on Beijing to restart, reiterating that Australia’s endgame remains “a happy coexistence of two partners”. In this loop, Mr. Morrison inadvertently let the world hear Australia’s internal doubts – echoing around the world as China increasingly asserts its power.

The Prime Minister voiced the uncertainties and anxieties that lead to squeezing between two great powers. These harassments are partly about limited opportunities against China’s austerity vise. But they are also about America.

At a time when Australia’s Trump White House beneficiary status is expiring, there is widespread concern that the Biden government is less focused on America’s Pacific partners and more on re-establishing European ties. This has plunged Australia deeper into a position to seek help in ruining China, even as it beats its chest for sovereignty.

“On one level, the prime minister’s reaction was perfectly reasonable. On the other hand, it is on the upper limit of acceptable without the situation getting worse, ”said John Blaxland, a professor of international security at the Australian National University. “You have to tread a very fine line because Australia’s leverage is limited.”

The entire history of the country since its inception has been shaped by an unquestionable dependence on a distant and dominant alliance, first England and then the United States. The prospect of this stability disappearing with American decline or indifference and Chinese dominance fills most Australians with dread.

David Brophy, chief lecturer in modern Chinese history at the University of Sydney, said he had created opposite dynamics. China often condemns Australia for bidding for America, when in fact Australia is desperately trying to engage the United States in a deeper commitment.

“The U.S. presence in Asia is more important to Australia than to America,” Brophy said. “When Australia sees any sign of a retreat, as we saw at the beginning of the Trump administration, it upsets that sense of panic. It is not enough to wait for the United States to return to the game; Australia needs to show that it can do even more. “

This has increasingly meant tolerating economic pain and abandoning the approach Australia has long followed with China – say a little and do what needs to be done. Mr. Morrison’s government and China’s propaganda machine instead traded in microphone blows.

Former Australian Ambassador to Australia Geoff Raby described it as a self-perpetuating cycle of paranoid provocation.

“Each confirms the other’s worst suspicion,” he said.

Whispered complaints appear, replacing competing press conferences and complaint laundry lists. Australia has launched two foreign intervention investigations with high-profile raids. He now plans to sue the World Trade Organization over blocking China’s barley imports – one of many products that China has rejected as tensions continue to rise.

Two weeks ago, however, a Chinese embassy official convened an Australian journalist for a meeting and handed down 14 grievances. These included the abolition of the scientific visa, the “crusade” against Chinese Hong Kong policy, the call for an independent investigation into the origins of Covid-19, the ban on Huawei in 2018 and the blocking of 10 Chinese foreign investment transactions.

“If you make China an enemy, China will be the enemy,” one official said.

Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Office (and the official who posted the doctoral photo) at the time, called on Australia to “rethink this seriously, instead of averting the mistake and shirking responsibility”.

Of course, this is exactly what the Australian government demanded of China with the coronavirus test, which Beijing treated as a dropped grenade.

The charges of explosive exchanges and hypocrisy now seem to come in volleyball.

Zhao, a well-known provocateur, had the obvious aim of tweeting: to dispel criticism of China’s human rights abuses by sensitizing an Australian Army investigation that found its troops had illegally killed 39 Afghan citizens and prisoners in 11 years.

Mr. Morrison could have ignored the provocation. Instead, he threw himself back, and after Mr. Morrison apologized, the Chinese government paid little attention to his request for restitution and dialogue. The official response came a few hours later when government spokesman Hua Chunying suggested Australia seem indifferent to the killings.

“The Australian side is responding so strongly to my colleague’s tweet. Does this mean that they think the cruel murder of Afghan life is justified? Ms. Hua said.

The editorial board of the state-run Global Times added: “The Morrison administration is making Australia provocative and wants to beat it.” And on Tuesday, China accused Australia of deliberately “misreading” the tweet to stave off criticism.

Beyond the threats of youth, there is a more serious and unsolvable relationship.

In the eyes of China’s most nationalist ideologues, Australia is violating the most basic rule of China’s ascension: If you get rich with our help, stay quiet and grateful.

Few countries have gained as much wealth with China’s growth as Australia, and since taking power in 2012, Xi Jinping has made it clear that he expects peace and harmony from all who benefit from the prosperity of the Chinese Communist Party.

“Never let yourself sing to the tune opposite the party headquarters,” he wrote in his comments, which began appearing on the websites of the parties and universities in October. “Never let the Communist Party eat food and then smash the Communist Party’s dishes.”

In the case of the tweet, Mr Xi said nothing – further highlighting the asymmetry in Mr Morrison’s complaint about the spokesman’s post on social media.

For some of Mr. Morrison’s critics, the photograph resembled an Internet troll that he should have ignored or responded to at a lower level.

“They seem to have intended to anger Morrison and force him into an emotional response just like what he just gave them,” said Hugh White, a former intelligence officer who teaches strategic studies at the Australian National University. – And that’s worrying. In any such fight, be very careful not to do what your opponent wants.

Whether Mr. Morrison gets some help from the United States or elsewhere, Mr. White added, the episode already seemed “rattle and weak” to Australia and Mr. Morrison.

This makes China look stronger and scarier.

“The people of Beijing don’t want us to like them,” Mr. White said. “They want us to understand their strength and willingness to use it. Our problem is that we realize quite slowly that their power is real. “

Chris Buckley contributed to the report.