Australia Sabotaged Its Own Interests in China Relations

The destruction over the past five years of Australia’s mutually beneficial diplomatic and trade relationship with China was probably a successful “Five Eyes” information warfare operation,  writes Tony Kevin.

Hong Kong protester throws egg at President Xi Jinping’s portrait on China’s National Day, Oct. 1, 2019. (Studio Incendo, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By Tony Kevin

The address to Federal Parliament by Chinese President Xi Jinping on  Nov. 17, 2014, marked a highwater mark in bilateral relations.  Xi was in Australia for the G-20 summit in Brisbane hosted by Prime Minister Tony Abbott. His theme was that China was committed to peace but ready to protect its interests.

Since then, the relationship has gone downhill — first slowly and haltingly, but over the past two years with sickening acceleration. Now the relationship seems irretrievable. For educated Chinese, Australia is now an object lesson in Western arrogance, hypocrisy and betrayal of friendship.  The dinner party has ended in upended chairs, shouts and bitter accusations as both sides angrily walk away.

After the high symbolism of the Xi speech, all seemed well. In 2015 the Darwin Port was leased to a Chinese company for 99 years.  Growing numbers of Chinese students and tourist visitors to Australia were becoming mainstays of Australia’s thriving higher education, tourism and property sectors. China as an Australian export market grew steadily in significance: last year it represented nearly 50 percent of Australian commodity export earnings. Victoria in 2018 signed a memorandum of understanding with China to work with China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

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From the beginning, there were signs that powerful forces were determined to cripple Australian-Chinese engagement: and they have now seemingly won.  The present breakdown is tragic for Australian economic and political interests. Many innocent Australians’ livelihoods are being harmed by our own government’s and political class’ stupidity.  It is hard to see now how the damage done to Australia-China relations may be healed anytime soon.

Covert Interference

Diagram of the “Five Eyes” intelligence network including the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand.  (@GDJ, Openclipart)

Controversially, I contend that Australia has over the past six years lived through a textbook experiment of covert foreign policy interference by powerful Anglo-American influences, subtly working through local sympathizers in public life here.  Australian political elites — already culturally predisposed to trust Anglo-American friends, and naive as to their power and guile — have been persuaded to adopt increasingly adversarial positions against China across a broad front.  This essay can only hint at the breadth and skill of this classic Five Eyes information warfare operation: it would take a book to expose it fully.

Clive Hamilton’s notorious attack on China,  Silent Invasion, was published early in 2018. Hamilton had been China-bashing on the fringes of Australian academe for some years beforehand but was still being generally dismissed as an embarrassing outlier. Andrew Podger’s 21 March 2018 review in The Conversation was typical of the Australian mainstream rebuttal of Hamilton’s views, then considered extreme:

“Perhaps Hamilton’s book is a useful reminder that we must not be naïve about our relationship with China. But his prescription, premised on China being our enemy and determined to achieve world domination, is precisely the wrong direction for addressing the genuine issues he raises. We should engage more, not less.”

Meanwhile, negative views of China’s agenda, supported by well-funded Canberra think-tanks like Australian Strategic Policy Institute and Lowy Institute, were quietly gaining influence in strategic areas of Australian governance.  Attorney-General Christian Porter, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, backbencher Andrew Hastie and Senator Eric Abetz emerged as vocal critics of China. On the Labor side, Penny Wong and Kimberley Kitching seemed ready to join the pile-on. Others were silent, anxious not to be tagged as “panda-huggers.”

In 2018, the influential and U.S.-sympathetic Joint Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade supported Malcolm Turnbull’s Foreign Interference Legislation, pressed by Australian security agencies and aimed principally at China. The law was passed in 2019.

Chinese academics and journalists, even a senior NSW parliamentarian, have been harassed and vilified under its powers.  Now, a further bill will strengthen Commonwealth control over state and university links to foreign governments: again, the prime target is China, and any Australian premiers who may dare to enmesh their states economically with her. Victoria’s and Western Australia’s Labor premiers are particular targets.

Hong Kong Critic 

On the foreign policy front, Australia, misled by obviously foreign-encouraged street violence against the Hong Kong government, became a vocal critic of China on democracy issues there. Australia criticized alleged human rights abuses against the Uighur ethnic group in Xinjiang Province. But we do not criticize human rights abuses in India and Palestine.

Australia conducts repeated naval freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea, in protest against Chinese consolidation of its military control over islands there. Australia supported a bogus U.S.-influenced South China Sea case against China in the International Court of Arbitration, a case bitterly condemned and rejected from the outset by China.

Since 2018, Australia responding to American pressure has banned Huawei from telecom operations here, causing a major rift. The philosophy of economic engagement expounded by Abbott and Xi in 2014 is since 2018 under direct frontal attack. In August 2020, a non-strategic Chinese purchase of a large Australian dairy company was vetoed. 

The message had now become, Australia wants to go on profitably exporting minerals and foodstuffs to China but to have as little to do with China as possible at the human level. Chinese students here have been accused of doing the bidding of the Chinese Communist Party, and concerns raised about Chinese influence in our universities.  Chauvinism and Sinophobia in Australia have grown.

Covid-19 caused further major rifts in 2020. Prime Minister Scott Morrison clumsily mishandled a peremptory Australian demand to WHO  – reportedly originating in a request to him from U.S. President Donald Trump – to mount an intrusive international investigation in Wuhan into the origins of the “Chinese virus.” China saw that act in particular as a gross act of treachery by a friend.  Morrison never apologized.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., Sept. 20, 2019, on the South Lawn of the White House. (White House, Shealah Craighead)

The tone of Australian mainstream media commentary on China has by now changed utterly to hostility.  Establishment commentators and leader writers compete on who can season their journalism with the strongest anti-Chinese language. All pretence of objectivity or straight reporting of tensions is gone: this is now advocacy journalism.  Dissenting opinions are discouraged. As media increasingly runs with the ball of Sinophobia, Morrison has begun to try to step back.

He and Turnbull having started the hares running, now call unconvincingly for moderation.  Not just the Murdoch Press but the Australian Financial Review is full of anti-Chinese polemic. China is bitterly criticized as seeking to dictate terms to the world. The Western media outside Australia are picking up the cue.  The campaign has taken on McCarthyist, even racist-tinged tones: how dare these Chinese presume to stand up to our Western “universal values?”

Every Chinese effort to rebut the growing abuse is taken as sign of further Chinese bullying. Their Canberra embassy’s circulated “fourteen grievances”  – an effort to list the problem China  has with Australian behavior towards them as a basis for public discussion –  were  mocked. China is falsely stereotyped as the provocateur and Australia the victim.

Chinese embassy in Canberra, Australia. (Nick-D, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Around a few weeks ago, China would have finally decided that Australia could no longer be regarded as a trustworthy and decent partner in dialogue.  They would have given up on Australia. The Brereton Report with its reported SAS murders in Afghanistan was an irresistible opportunity for what the West has offensively labelled “wolf warrior” Chinese diplomacy.  The photoshopped image of an SAS baby murder, illustrating a tweet by a senior Chinese foreign ministry official criticizing Australian hypocrisy,  was emphatically condemned by Morrison, who demanded a Chinese apology. China refused. 

La commedia e finita.  Australian politicians have swung in behind Morrison, while our traders and growers look on with helpless horror. How can what was a good relationship in 2015 have degenerated to this in just five years? Senior people in industry and trade – like Morrison’s own Covid recovery adviser Nev Power pleaded on Dec. 2 for a diplomatic solution to ease tensions between Beijing and Canberra.

But those who want to see Australia decoupled from China in as many ways as possible stay contentedly silent, looking back with satisfaction on their hidden work of destruction. Australia is safely back in the Five Eyes laager, and those who hoped economic rationality would triumph over global geopolitical exclusion games have been defeated.

Australia’s all-important Asia-Pacific region quietly draws a different lesson from this sad story: the lesson is, do not behave as Australia has done in dealing with China. Treat China with normal diplomatic respect and courtesy, as befits friendly neighbors. Even regional countries that have clashed militarily with China know not to provoke her needlessly, as Australia has done.

Morrison probably sees stoking up anti-Chinese prejudices as a useful distraction from his many governance failures at home: on Robodebt, on Covid-19 preparedness, on bushfires and climate change. Sock the Chinese as if there are no consequences for us.

But the consequences will be great. Australia will be needlessly poorer, more isolated from our region, and more dependent on the uncertain protection of faraway Five Eyes friends. Without a dialogue with China, our necessary engagement with our region will be handicapped. Lee Kuan Yew’s friendly warning — “be careful or you will be the poor white trash of Asia” — comes back now to haunt us.

Tony Kevin is a former Australian ambassador to Poland and Cambodia, an emeritus fellow at Australian National University, Canberra, and the author of Return to Moscow (2017).

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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33 comments for “Australia Sabotaged Its Own Interests in China Relations

  1. Deborah
    December 9, 2020 at 23:46

    In High School for English one book we had to read and study in 1st Form/Year 7, was The Lucky Country by Donald Horne.

    “Australia the lonely country.” ~ Chairman Mao

  2. December 9, 2020 at 19:59

    I have known Tony Kevin in his former life as an Australian diplomat (his second wife was my lecturer at the ANU in Canberra).

    Tony has always been pro-China, forgetting – or unable- to record the way the CCP has wriggled its way into Australian institutions and the political elite (Ask any politically-aware Australian about the ‘Aldi bag full of money’).

    As a conservative journalist I believe and hope that my government will resist China’s bullying and the blandishments of the China lobby. We are Australians and we stand with western democratic values.

  3. Realist
    December 9, 2020 at 02:05

    The American hegemon seems determined to take down every one of its vassal state lackeys when its empire finally collapses due to an endless series of completely stupid and unnecessary self-serving acts of unbounded avarice and bloodthirsty aggression. If Australia and NZ have any interest in surviving the inevitable Fall they will attempt to reconcile with their neighbor China ASAP. Same advice for the EU and its close neighbor and natural trading partner Russia. Maybe they can cop “the Devil made me do it” excuse, which seems pretty accurate to me.

    • Professor Ai Ruisheng
      December 9, 2020 at 07:46

      The problem is exacerbated by foreign reporters, especially Americans, who write about China without ever setting foot on the Mailand. There is one Yankee phoney on YouTube who pontificates about everything Chinese but like every American, I have ever met, cannot pronounce Beijing. It’s not a French word!!
      I lived in China for twenty years and I often read things that are not true. Most Chinese have a better knowledge of the world than the average Westerner, although generally framed in generalisations. e.g. Australians very lucky, New Zealand is very clean, Israelis are very smart, oh and Americans are rich and stupid. All the girls love Burberry, Beckham and Clinton and all the boys want to be their favourite NBA star. Most people think that all officials are bent but deserve something extra because they work so hard.

  4. Rob Roy
    December 9, 2020 at 01:34

    Interesting article but I wonder why it wasn’t updated before printing?

      December 9, 2020 at 05:17

      Can you give us an example of what you mean?

  5. Moi
    December 8, 2020 at 21:51

    On the “issues” Australia has with China:

    – Australia partnered with the US in the war on terra. After 20 years in Afghanistan all they have done is create death and misery for millions and breed more terrorism. China fights terrorism with re-education which is infinitely more civilised and, above all, more effective than the West’s approach.

    – Australia conveniently forgets that 45% of Hong Kong residents backed the new security laws when they were introduced. The Hang Sen stock market rose 10% within days. Far more than 55% of Australians oppose new laws when they are introduced into that country.

    – It’s said that the Five Eyes greatest objection to Huawei is that the former can’t use the Chinese equipment to spy on the world because there are no in-built backdoors.

    So the Australian government is far from honest with its citizens at the same time as driving their livelihoods into the ground.

  6. Tom Kath
    December 8, 2020 at 19:18

    As Paul Keating said last year, “The nutters are in charge now.” Yes, he was referring to these “secret services” which are the cancerous scourge of humanity. The ultimate conspiracy of liars and cheats secretly predating and cannibalising their own species. Disgustingly powerful scum!

    As for Australia’s position in the future world, Lee Kuan Yew’s warning sums it up perfectly.

  7. December 8, 2020 at 18:24

    Born British, my Gr, Gr, Grandmother (Mary), was a founding “Mother” of Aus. Her diaries have since become sacrosanct, revered as the evidential history of the pioneers of the great migration. Her accounts of the early emancipation of the colony are full of the poem, life, struggle and hardship befalling the early settlers. Chinese and Aboriginal labour was essential to them and was considered paramount in their success and future wellbeing. To denigrate that ancestral allegiance is to besmirch those early founders beliefs and the relationships and financial gains derived from their cooperative endeavours. Australians would be well advised to question their current Governments headlong rush into destroying 150 years of harmony with its main economic, social and territorial beneficiary. It would appear that the world’s interpretation of an “Aussie” is that of an American with a funny accent.

  8. Dwight Spencer
    December 8, 2020 at 18:12

    Five Eyes is the one single regret I have for New Zealand. Such a beautiful free social democratic nation that is one of the greatest countries on earth should divorce itself completely from such an evil political and intelligence alliance. Kiwis should realize that this association actually shames their country.

    • December 8, 2020 at 22:01

      Dwight, yes ….it is sad that NZ has got caught up in the 5 Eyes spying scheme. Also worth mentioning is that post WW2 and the Atom bombs being used falsely by the US ,NZ would not accept ANY Nuke powered vessels to tie -up in any of their ports. Wasn’t it that Neo Conservative ,John key ….who went along with the 5 Eyes? Shame on them !

  9. Peter Schweinsberg
    December 8, 2020 at 17:51

    So Tony Kevin wishes that all Australians kau tau to emperor Xi and his cadres.

    Not for me bro.

    That sort of behaviour is most un Australian.
    Just look at how, we together, have coped with the Whuhan wet market flu, and what Xi did to cope.

    • Chris W
      December 9, 2020 at 22:16

      While reading the comments I almost questioned my self, are these comments made by real Aussies? Until I saw your comment.
      There are still large number of Aussies believe the MSM propoganda about China.
      I really feel sorry for you.

    • Donald A Thomson
      December 9, 2020 at 22:30

      Australia has done around 18 times worse than China at fighting COVID-19. The USA has done around 800 times worse and counting.

      Yes, Australia and NZ leave all NATO countries in the dust but that was a trivially easy job. Look at how the hysterical Germans, Swedes and Yanks have messed up. Even the Swiss are the same. donthomson1 (at)

  10. Mark Thomason
    December 8, 2020 at 16:57

    Western intelligence agencies have taken a major role in reshaping our governments, not just in Australia but in all of our countries.

    They launched a major attack on Trump.

    Before that, they stymied the efforts of Obama to get out of Afghanistan, by simply refusing to give him information and options.

    They spied on Americans at home, lied to Congress about it, got caught, and got away with that.

    Australia’s example is just one more.

  11. Ian
    December 8, 2020 at 16:07

    It’s still stunning to watch how politicians and media of a supposedly sovereign country can turn on a dime like this and demonize a nation that was only a few years ago a partner, just because it serves the interest of the US.

    I don’t live in Australia, but I really worry about what this means for all the Chinese people who live, work and study there. Statistically they are only a small sliver of the population, but if you go to the CBD of Melbourne, Sydney, or even Hobart (!) you will find large populations of Chinese immigrants. This conflict-mongering with China has real consequences for these people who will now face racist attacks and be forced into a black and white, wartime questions of loyalty and patriotism. It’s really gross and I feel sad for the people of Australia who are both losing economically because of this, but are having their society poisoned with jingoism, racism, and witch hunts.

  12. rosemerry
    December 8, 2020 at 15:28

    How Australia can have let its already subservient attitude to the USA turn it into an enemy of its neighbour and biggest trading partner China in just a few years is a very sad and dangerous story. It is bad enough that the USA still thinks it can defeat China in any form -military, intellectual (!), technical, international, diplomatic(!) instead of cooperating and progressing together, but for a midget like Australia to attempt this is madness.

    I am Australian, spent many years in Canberra and know Clive Hamilton, whom I admired for his books on the environment and economy. To see such support for misguided Sinophobia in a land with multiple problems and very biased media makes me very ashamed. 5I now live in France, so am not exactly surrounded by kindred spirits!)

    All the best to Tony Keven, who at least tells it like it is!

    • December 9, 2020 at 20:09

      Bonjour Rosemerry

      I, too, know Clive Hamilton and was present when he launched his book on how China has succeeded in infiltrating our political class and institutions – I suggest you read Clive’s book and then see what you think. Australians owe Clive and Alex Joske for their incisive study on how deeply the CCP has penetrated the Australian community.

  13. James K
    December 8, 2020 at 14:48

    I was wondering whether the same sort of thing happened when it seemed liked the US was putting pressure on the UK not to have Huawei as part of its 5G network – needless to say it buckled

  14. jaycee
    December 8, 2020 at 13:12

    This is a very aggressive campaign which has been initiated by the national security bureaucracies of the 5-Eyes nations, and has become ubiquitous over this past year. The intent is to strangle China’s national development, with an immediate focus on disrupting its Belt and Road initiatives. It is multi-faceted: attack cultural exchanges, attack academic cooperation, encourage the de-coupling of economic links. Use lawfare techniques to harass Chinese business executives. Sponsor secessionist political forces in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Encourage human rights NGOs to publish and publicize one-sided investigations of locales such as Xinjiang. Accuse China of allowing the pandemic to spread. Accuse China of rampant intellectual property theft (the more inflated the claims the better). Aggressively attack any critic of this program.

    Lieber, the Harvard scientist, who was perp-walked and dragged into court in shackles, has been publicly denounced as a traitor by DNI Ratcliffe for engaging – six years ago – in a completely legal academic exchange which only later came under the scrutiny of US lawmakers. His career has been effectively destroyed and this is one of America’s most accomplished scientists. It is of utmost concern that an unaccountable national security bureaucracy can see fit to destroy such a figure solely in the interests of advancing their questionable agenda (the weak foundation of the case against Lieber is obvious in the supporting text of the indictment). US lawmakers have already very nearly proclaimed basic science as a national security secret. It appears this runaway train has achieved too much momentum to be safely slowed.

  15. Jeff Harrison
    December 8, 2020 at 11:44

    The US is in full create the imperium mode and is demanding the obeisance of its vassal states of which Australia is one. Unfortunately, the US lacks the diplomatic and sociological skills required to operate a large, multi ethnic empire and it certainly lacks the money and the access to a steady stream of wealth required for empire. For time out of mind, The West has bled everybody else to fund The West’s life style. That is coming to an end. Australia would be wise to recognize that.

  16. bobo rebozo
    December 8, 2020 at 11:16

    Good synopsis of the current state of affairs between China and Australia. Indeed, as the author points out, the volte face in just a few short years has been astounding. But what of the sectors of the economy relying on trade and normal relations with China? Have they no power or friends in the government? What is it with the shabby level of politicians in most of the Five Eyes countries (New Zealand a possible exception)? It seems unreal, nightmarish even.

    • Guy St Hilaire
      December 8, 2020 at 17:12

      Much the same here in Canada which is part of the 5 eyes.Our Justin Trudeau has really soured Canada’s relationship with China.
      Ironic that it was the Liberal party which first broke the ice and started a trade relationship with China many years ago.

  17. Guy St Hilaire
    December 8, 2020 at 11:13

    Like a good lap dog ,Australia ,member of the 5 eyes ,bends to Washington’s demands .After destroying Australia’s economy and when China and the US start talking again,Australia will be left to it’s own having been thrown under the proverbial bus .China can find resources / commodities elsewhere but who will purchase from Australia to make up the difference ……

  18. Not funny
    December 8, 2020 at 11:03

    Aussiland conned itself ;-)

  19. December 8, 2020 at 11:01

    I’m afraid the same sino-phobia is sweeping through out Canada. Canadians of Chinese back ground are being harassed in Vancouver, the new Conservative leader O’Toole has began a campaign of anti-Chinese rhetoric along with most newspapers and TV outlets.
    Anti-Chinese graffiti shows up every where. The subservience of the 5 Eyes to the US is almost pathelogical. Why countries will strangle their own economies for the total benefit of another is difficult to understand.

  20. December 8, 2020 at 10:39

    This comment is an exception to my ongoing intent to not post much anymore if at all anywhere on the world wild internet……unless I know I’m amongst folks who I want to be with
    I’ve been talking about Australia and New Zealand at THIS place in 2020 on numerous occasions and expressing my opinion why it just makes so much sense for them to have good relations with China, who happens to reside in the neighborhood. They are close by.
    Some things are obvious and some aren’t, but I’ll tell you this. You can always make amends and then if both parties act in ways over time that support their expression of initial redress, then all will be well. I say this in the interest of every-day folk in that part of the world cause the “so-called ‘political elite'” in Australia can truly shove it cause these bitches and sons of bitch jerk-offs are potentially screwing up the whole future of humanity. It ain’t gonna happen, so get on the train if you can see the future, but if you are too obstinate to recognize the obvious, then I suspect you will soon be replaced.
    and now, I will return to a place of serenity, but in my sanctuary I’ll be praying for peace for everybody – especially the peasant like me.

  21. John Danziger
    December 8, 2020 at 10:36

    I completely agree. Have the Australian leaders no knowledge of the history of China in the 19th a 20th centuries. If they did they might have understood how China has been treated and suffered under western power and is therefore sensitive to orders from abroad such as the foghorn orders from Dutton and Morrison concerning the cause of the Virus. Can anyone imagine that pair demanding that the USA agree to an independent committee to investigate US war crimes in the Middle East or elsewheres.

  22. Richard Lemieux
    December 8, 2020 at 10:02

    Looking at the very negative reaction coming from the Anglo-Saxon world following the rise of China and Asia as fully independent entities I feel that the Anglo-Saxon countries are basically expecting to regain a form of world domination and they have created the Five-Eyes alliance to achieve that goal. They want to move back in time to an epoch where Chinese people were their slaves or almost so. The problem lies in the very biased education system the “elites” of those countries are going through; a kind of an old boys club that provide both the politicians and the journalists working for the powerful media outlets. Working people don’t have the time and the resources to look behind the daily news stream and see find out really runs their governments.

    December 8, 2020 at 08:40

    An excellent summary article on the grim situation.

    I have just posted the link in a comment in China’s Global Times, an informative publication which has been immersed in this matter recently.

    • rosemerry
      December 8, 2020 at 15:35

      I read Global Times every day, and it certainly helps to redress the “Western” media POV. Trying to understand others’ reasons for their actions seems to be very “unAmerican” or “unAustralian” characteristic.

  24. lachlan
    December 8, 2020 at 07:54

    Sad but true. But forewarned by ex PM Malcolm Fraser who died a lonely but prescient voice of reason.

  25. Anna
    December 8, 2020 at 07:51

    The petty Morrison and his predecessor, the politically-correct ghastly hypocrite Julia Gillard, have left an outstanding Australian citizen Assange to the sadistic care of the US/UK ziocons.
    Julian Assange, a Political Prisoner, is in a high-security prison in the zionized UK. In contrast, the war criminals Clintons, Cheney, Bush, Blair, and Obama are free and well enumerated for their ‘humanitarian interventions’ and other mass-slaughters. As for western values, the values have been destroyed to satisfy major war profiteers’ and financiers’ interests.

Comments are closed.