Chinese state media has called Australia “naive” and accused us of “blindly following” the United States in its latest salvo amid escalating trade tensions.
In a pair of articles published today, The Global Times – widely seen as the Chinese government’s media mouthpiece – sought to undermine our relationship with the US, arguing it is not a reliable ally.
These latest articles appear to have been sparked by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s remarks slamming China for its “economic retribution” against Australia over the Morrison government’s push for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.
In the hours after the World Health Assembly voted to establish such an inquiry earlier this week, China imposed punitive tariffs on Australian barley. The timing of the move led to claims it was a form of diplomatic payback.
“The Chinese Communist Party chose to threaten Australia with economic retribution for the simple act of asking for an independent inquiry into the origins of the virus,” Mr Pompeo told reporters in Washington yesterday.
“It’s not right.”
He stressed that the US “stands with Australia”.
In its articles today, The Global Times directly addresses those comments, saying Australia would be “foolish” to believe them.
“If Australians naively believe Pompeo’s remarks suggest the US is a reliable ally who truly cares about Australia’s interests, they will be gravely wrong,” the state-owned newspaper writes.
“Pompeo, in fact, attempted to instigate Australia to rush forward in its row with China and serve as the US’s pawn to create trouble for China by making an issue of the coronavirus’s origin.
“The Trump administration has been hyping China’s so-called responsibilities for the coronavirus outbreak to deflect criticism from its botched response to the public health crisis and to score points in the geopolitical competition with China.
“‘The US stands with Australia’ is verbal support without substance.”
The Times argues America, not China, is the country “threatening” and “coercing” Australia into doing what it wants.
“It is in the political interest of the US that Australia has come to the fore in pushing for a coronavirus inquiry, but the US cares little about the tremendous damage that deteriorating China-Australia relations and an escalating trade spat are bringing to Australia,” it says.
“What the US wants is not equal partners, but loyal followers. Forcing other countries to choose between Washington and Beijing, it is the current US government that is coercing and threatening.
“The Australian government needs to answer these questions: Is Australia an independent sovereign state? What can Australia gain from following the US in a way that harms its own interest?
“China’s importance to Australia is much bigger than that of Australia to China. Australia should stop blindly following the US and make itself caught up in China-US competition.
“Many Australian observers try to convince China that Australia is not a lapdog of the US. But if Australia follows its current path, the conclusion is not convincing.”
The second article reaches the same basic conclusion, but takes a different route to get there. This one focuses on the economic argument that Australia needs a close relationship with China more than it needs one with the US.
“The malicious intent to flare up the standoff between China and Australia is obvious,” it says, referring to Mr Pompeo’s remarks.
“This is not the first time that an American politician has expressed such typical support for Australia in standing up to China. And it would be either naive or foolish of anyone from the Morrison government to really believe those empty promises.
“(Australia) needs to recognise that there is no need for its government to submit to the US’s political manipulations, since the US is not as important to the Australian economy as it once was.”
It points out that while the US used to be Australia’s largest export partner, it has since slipped down to fourth place.
China, of course, is now in the top spot. And if trade tensions continue to escalate, they could affect our biggest exports – iron ore, coal and natural gas.
Today it was reported that Chinese power stations were being told to turn their backs on Australian coal and buy domestic coal instead.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack told ABC News Breakfast the government was “very concerned” about restrictions being put on Australian coal.
“We want to make sure that our coal exports have a destination,” he said.
“China has long been a customer of ours. They know the quality of our coal, of our iron ore and other resources. For their steel mills, for their energy needs, they’re going to require Australian coal.”
“It may be a longtime habit of Australians to see the US as their indispensable economic partner, yet the truth is that they are not the beneficiaries of the ‘America First’ policy under the Trump administration, and instead could even be the victims of it,” The Times says.
“The pandemic is taking an unprecedented toll on the US economy, and the US government will be busy diverting losses, which is why it would be impossible for the US’s vocal support of Australia to translate into any substantial economic assistance.
“The US may still be a powerful ally to Australia, but it is questionable whether it is a reliable one. Pompeo’s ‘backing’ is enough to suggest the US doesn’t really care about what kind of pressure the Australian government would face so long as it continues to hit China.
“If Australia wants to seek an answer regarding the origin of the virus, the resolution widely agreed upon at the World Health Assembly will be entirely sufficient to serve that purpose.”
There is no sign of the Australians government actually backing away from its close relationship with the US.
Speaking to 2GB radio yesterday, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said Australia would continue to stand up for its values.
“It’s important now that we stand up. We celebrate the amazing contributions of Chinese Australians who arrived in the 19th century, who fought alongside our diggers during wars,’’ Mr Dutton said.
“Our problem is not with them. But the values of a communist regime are not compatible with ours so you will have tensions from time to time.
“But Australia is not going to be compromised on our standards, our values and our beliefs. I think it’s right that we stand up for all of that.”
Veteran Liberal Senator Eric Abetz struck a similar tone.
“World history teaches us time and time again you’ve got to stand up to bullies because if you don’t at the beginning, by the time you do need to stand up to them, then the consequences are huge,” Mr Abetz told AAP.
He accused some Labor MPs of being “basically apologists or ventriloquist dolls for the Communist regime”.
Neither man was quite as blunt Mr Pompeo, who yesterday said the world was “waking up” to the Chinese government’s behaviour.
“China’s been ruled by a brutal, authoritarian regime, a communist regime since 1949,” the US Secretary of State said.
“For several decades we thought the regime would become more like us through trade, scientific exchanges, diplomatic outreach, letting them in the World Trade Organisation as a developing nation. That didn’t happen.
“We greatly underestimated the degree to which Beijing is ideologically and politically hostile to free nations.
“The whole world is waking up to that fact.”