If forced, will Australia choose China or the US?

Business doyen, Alan Kohler, probed the question yesterday:

…the Australian Huawei ban was tentative, a bit embarrassed, with Cabinet forced into it by the spooks in the Signals Directorate, but their hearts weren’t in it. And why would they be? China is our main trading partner, and we’re banning their national champion?

In stark contrast, the American action against Huawei earlier this month, is full on, both barrels, and unapologetic, and unlike Australia’s is aimed at US companies supplying Huawei, not the other way around.

…In effect, geopolitics has now been inserted into the global technology supply chain, especially where it involves China, which is most of it. And more importantly for Australia, America and China are on a collision course that is about far more than trade.

…America’s allies, including Australia, may soon be forced to make a very difficult choice.

We already know that Kohler’s stablemate Robert Gottliebsen has declared Australia for the Communist Party of China on behalf of the highrise construction sector:

The anger China has with Australia is unique and does not apply to any of its other developed country trading partners….business people were told mid last year that a number of our universities would see a softness in Chinese enrolments during 2019. And, of course, that’s exactly what is happening…Student demand for apartment rentals — vital to the income of those owning inner city apartments — has not been affected but the student softness would not want to escalate….Suddenly, a number of ships carrying Australian coal to parts of China have found it difficult to get a berth.

…the mistakes we have made in foreign affairs means that on this front we need a new approach. We are incredibly dependent on China — in some ways we are a state of China…Our role should be to provide a bridge between the US and China and not to culturally antagonise our largest trading partner.

Jennifer Hewitt, who often travels on the Fortescue Metals Group purse to Chinese events, is another unsettling voice today at the AFR:

Making a trip to the Solomon Islands his first stop as elected Prime Minister is designed to attract attention to Australia’s belated attempt to make the Pacific “front and centre of our strategic outlook”. According to Morrison, the Solomon Islands is a “key member of our Pacific family” – just one that has not had an Australian prime ministerial visit for over a decade.

Yet the diplomatic delicacy comes from trying to soften the impression Australia’s more recent interest is all about trying to ward off – or at least limit – China’s warm embrace of Pacific nations over the past few years. Even so, Australia, in an area where it can claim to exercise influence as a relatively big power, will be simultaneously attempting to have just that impact on China’s spreading authority.

…It won’t do much to improve Australia’s strained diplomatic relationship with Beijing.

Yep, there’ll be a price to pay. It may be quite high. But there is no choice. We are a liberal democracy. So is the US. China is not. We should defend free trade and open commerce plus the rules based order but not at the expense of freedom itself.

On other fronts there are more encouraging signs. The Australian’s editorial is onto it:

Mr Morrison has moved quickly to mark the Indo-Pacific as his top strategic priority. As well as his trip to the Solomons to visit Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, Mr Morrison on Sunday appointed his close ally Alex Hawke to head a new ministry devoted to the region. The April 2 budget also underlined this strategic reboot, with assistance to the Pacific increased to $1.4bn, or 35 per cent of total foreign aid spending, the highest proportion in almost 30 years. Taken together, the moves are a welcome rebalancing of our foreign policy posture after years of neglect. The last Australian prime minister to visit Honiara, for instance, was Kevin Rudd in 2008.

…China increasingly is asserting its influence through its Belt & Road Initiative and by leveraging the debts of Pacific, Asian and African nations incurred for Chinese-funded projects…The rise of China has been one of the great postwar success stories, especially for the hundreds of millions of Chinese who have been lifted out of poverty. While Australia continues to support this — especially through an economic partnership worth $200bn in two-way trade a year — we must remain mindful and vigilant about strategic challenges, especially on our doorstep. In standing up to China’s influence in our region, the Prime Minister is on the right track.

Bravo to that. Now let’s get Malcolm Turnbull’s domestic push back to contain CPC influence at home across government, society, education and media fully funded and underway as well.

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