China's Communist Party leadership was not pleased to hear a call from Australia for a global inquiry into the origin of the Covid-19 virus and China's possible role in it. China's threats to punish Australia seem to be part of an increasingly bullying, aggressive approach by Chinese officials towards countries in the region. Pictured: China's President Xi Jinping. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
China's Communist Party leadership was not pleased to hear a call from Australia for a global inquiry into the origin of the Covid-19 virus and China's possible role in it.
Australia further requested that the investigation be conducted outside the purview of the World Health Organization (WHO), which had had been spreading lies and disinformation about the transmissibility of the virus. China seems to have decided that Australia's insistence on an independent study was a violation of the spirit of their bilateral relationship. Indeed, for the past three decades, the Australian economy has been buoyed by expanding commercial ties with China. This relationship has now soured, and China has been threatening Australia with economic warfare unless it reconsiders its inquisitive foreign policy.
Making good on its threat, China slapped an 80% tariff on Australian barley and has threatened to boycott Australian wine and beef. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has rejected any such attempts at economic coercion.
The attacks by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on Australia's policies and politicians have since become even more strident and personal. Chinese state-affiliated social media accounts have called Australia "gum stuck to China's shoe" and suggested that Australia's head of government had been kicked in the head by a kangaroo. Also, Chinese State Security agents have attempted to silence independent Chinese-language media in Australia by pressuring advertisers to withdraw their sponsorship.
Beijing's threats to punish Australia seem to be part of an increasingly bullying, aggressive approach by Chinese officials, not only toward Australia, but also toward India, Taiwan and China's neighbors in the Pacific. The CCP is receiving growing resistance from the Pacific nations to China's aggressive expansionism. China will nevertheless continue to pull all the levers of its influence in Australia, and most likely elsewhere, to its advantage. China might, for instance, dispatch lobbyists to pressure Australian businessmen who have benefited from past economic cooperation with the Chinese in an effort to persuade political leaders to back off on their criticism of China for its handling of the COVID-19 virus.
China's decision to play hardball with Australia, however, might be a miscalculation. China's communist regime may have drawn the wrong conclusions about what they may have hoped would be Australia's lack of desire to protect its Free World values and its belief that such values are more important than short-term economic advantage.
Australia still needs to lessen its economic vulnerability to China. Extracting itself from the web of relationships that entangle Australia can extricate itself from the claws of the dragon. Australian meat exporters could increase shipments of pork products to Japan, Vietnam, and other Southeast Asian neighbors. Australia, unlike China, enjoys warm relations with all members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Australia might capitalize on these cordial diplomatic ties to maximize mutually beneficial trade.
Australian political leaders could also create tax incentives to facilitate greater investment by Australian business leaders in India's enterprises, especially in defense-related industries. Australia could also divorce itself from Chinese supply lines by shifting them to other advanced economies in the region such as South Korea and Singapore. Australia could encourage wholesale imports of computer and electrical products from other East Asian manufacturers of these products. The Australians could decide no longer to export uranium to China from its own mines in the Northern Territory and elsewhere, and thereby discontinue servicing China's plans to construct about 100 nuclear power plants by 2025. Australia might well find a willing alternative customer in India.
Australia, on June 10, sent a clear message to China by fostering enhanced defense ties with India -- China's rival for Asian leadership. Australian PM Scott Morrison and Indian PM Narendra Modi, in a video conference, announced that the two countries had formed, as a bulwark against Chinese expansionism in Asia, a comprehensive strategic partnership. Australian Minister of Defense Linda Reynolds praised the agreements, which will provide for interoperability of weapons systems and promote sharing defense technologies.
Australia is now ready to be a full partner in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), a cooperative defense information dialogue consisting of the U.S., Japan, India, and Australia. Australia will likely also participate in the Indian-sponsored Malabar military exercise, which focuses on how India and Australia might better patrol international straits vital to commerce in the region by using military facilities on Indian and Australian off-shore islands and atolls.
China may continue to bellow, but Australia will remain bound to the West as a nation that embraces democratic political and free market economic values. Australian soldiers have fought alongside U.S. troops in every major conflict since World War I. For instance, Australian Defense Force (ADF) soldiers were among the first to deploy to Afghanistan after 9/11. Shared values between Australians and Americans -- and their ability to continue existing as members of the Free world -- should be a far more potent magnet than short-term profits.
The only real solution to China's duplicity and aggression would be for Western nations -- all 186 nations that were harmed by China's lies during the Covid-19 pandemic -- to cut all ties with China, to start a firm policy of "Made in America" or "Made Anywhere But China" to show a willing independence from a country that openly aspires to dominate the world.
China -- perhaps hoping that everyone is sufficiently distracted by the virus the Chinese Communist Party unleashed on it, as well as by the "free gifts" from China that, in their trade-off for freedom, promise to be fatal -- is clearly on the march. The world might remember that it would have been so much easier to stop Hitler before he crossed the Rhine.
Dr. Lawrence A. Franklin was the Iran Desk Officer for Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He also served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve.