Contributed from Victoria
Anthony Albanese’s trip to China is important. After all, China is Australia’s biggest trading partner, and what happens in this relationship will have a major impact on our economy and prospects for the future.
Anthony Albanese is the first Australian PM to visit China in 7 years
Video from 9 News
The relationship involves more than this as well. It is tied to Australia’s place in the world. Are we to remain an outpost of western influence in the Asian and Pacific regions or embrace our neighbourhood and become part of it.
Our neighbours, many of which had suffered as colonies of the west, are now exerting independence and their right to self-determination without coercion. They want to be masters of their own destiny.
Australia lags in this respect. Although sharing the past as a set of British colonies, the habit of dependency on the old master remained. There has always been a current against this, as evidenced by the eureka rebellion. Its consequences, and in the history after this, a certain level of dependency remained.
During the twentieth century, the United States supplanted the position of Great Britain in the role of post-colonial big brother.
China’s trajectory was very different. After being torn apart by the colonial powers and occupied militarily she won her independence through war and revolution, followed by a period of national reconstruction and development. Chinese people had long been treated badly within western nations, including Australia. They were excluded. To be Chinese was to be humiliated.
This has changed. China has stood up and the Chinese are now treated seriously. More so as China quickly became an economic powerhouse, towards becoming the world’s biggest economy and leader in new technological advancement.
Rising tension between Australia and China over the last few years lay mostly in the different historical trajectories. The so far dominant tendency in Australia is to remain an outpost of western power in the region. This stands at odds with the Chinese will to break the chain of dependency and travel its own course, and the fact that this has become an increasingly attractive alternative model for other nations. This is what generates the tension.
Many pages have been written about how China has bullied Australia and imposed sanctions on our exports. Much of this narrative has distorted reality and left out that it was the Australian government that begun by blocking Chinese telecommunication company Huawei’s mobile phones and involvement in the rollout of the G5 network. These and other blocks set the ground for what came. Most of the blocks on exports to China came about for this reason. some of them involved allegations of dumping of Australian products on the Chinese market.
In addition, it was the Australian government that begun accusing individual Chinese in Australia for being spies and expelling Chinese journalists presenting without proof of wrongdoing.
It isn’t hard to see why a China that still remembers being bullied by the west might object to this sort of treatment and retaliate in kind.
Nor is it hard to see that this has been orchestrated by big brother in Washington, intent on throwing a spanner into China’s economic growth. Trade and diplomatic war aren’t in the interests of China or Australia. It costs jobs and opportunities, and damages Australia’s reputation in our region and most of the rest of the world.
Furthermore, we are far more dependent on trade with China than they are on us. They can and are diversifying their sources. If Australian continues on a hostile path, the risk is losing trade permanently, and this will have a bad impact on the Australian economy.
Chinese Australians have been subjected to a rise in racial attacks. There is no way to justify this. Improving the relationship with China will help to overcome this.
These are the reasons why Anthony Albanese’s visit is so important. The overall tone of discussions with leaders, including Premier Xi, have been positive. Trade restrictions on both sides are being eased and there is agreement that this easing up must continue.
Problems remain. The Chinese side is unhappy about being instructed on how to run their own affairs, and Australia’s involvement in a Washington led anti-China military alliance, which is seen by most Chinese as a continuation of the gunboat diplomacy of the old western colonial powers. Australia’s ready involvement in Quad and AUKUS are good examples.
Anthony Albanese continues to peddle the Washington line. At least he doesn’t do it as aggressively as his predecessor Scott Morrison. This is obviously a hard habit to break away from.
Interference in China’s internal affairs and military buildup is explained away in Australia as defence against communism, and the protection of human rights and democracy. The irony is that whatever one’s own views about the political system, there can be no respect for human rights and democracy, without defending the right of a people to choose their own destiny.
Like it or not, no one denies that the people of China overwhelmingly endorse the direction in which their country is going. It has taken them out of poverty, given them pride in being Chinese, and the achievements of their nation in economics, culture, science, and other fields are the envy of the world.
The question for Australia is whether to stay on the dwindling and sinking ship of the United States led western alliance, or to become mature enough to leave and embrace the emerging future.
Albanese won’t bring about this shift on one visit. It will take time. The United Staes retains too strong hold over Australia’s economy, and Washington continues to exert its influence over Australia’s political scene.
But we can say one step in the right direction has been made, and this can be built on.