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'If you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy': the Australia-China conflict

By Teck Lim - posted Tuesday, 29 June 2021


In the current Australia-China conflict, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian has stated that China is not interested in compromise because the "crux of the deteriorating bilateral ties" is "Australia's repeated wrong acts and remarks…as well as its provocative and confrontational actions." He has asserted that "Whoever hung the bell [on the tiger's neck] must untie it", meaning that those who have caused problems should be the ones to solve problems.

The question is can Australia and other Western nations work towards untying the China bell around their neck?

Learn from Recent History

Many Australians may not know it - but the Chinese have never forgotten - of the recent past history when China was invaded and exploited by Western foreign powers. These powers included Britain, the US, France, Germany and Russia. This period of Western aggression against China began from the Opium war period in the mid 19 century. Western powers were later joined by Japan in seeking to carve up China to become their colony. Millions of Chinese were killed or suffered during the century of western and Japanese aggression that followed.

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Today the US and its allies appear to be renewing attempts to bring down China in the bid to continue western supremacy. However it is a completely different China that they are dealing with.

Firstly it is not an undeveloped or disunited China that is now on the world stage. When the Chinese Communist Party came to power on 1 October 1949, it not only restored the country's honour. The party has overseen what appears to be a socio-economic miracle which has taken a country that could not feed itself and turned it into an economic powerhouse within a few decades.

More than half a billion people have been lifted out of poverty. In 2000, China's middle class amounted to just three percent of its population. By 2018, this number had climbed to over half of the population, constituting more than 700 million persons. The world has never seen anything like it. China is now the biggest engine of global economic growth. By the end of the decade it will overtake the United States as the world's largest economy.

Secondly President Xi Jinping - the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao - has vowed to complete the rejuvenation of China and to restore it to the apex of global power. Although an authoritarian leader by western standards, Xi and the Communist party enjoy the popular support of the great majority of the Chinese population. They have made it clear that the road for future Chinese development is through peaceful socialism with Chinese characteristics. This will be different from Western liberalism or authoritarian capitalism - a point missing from most western analysis.

Thirdly, in contrast to the rise of China which has been peaceful and within its own borders, the dominance of western nations including the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, has until recently seen the decimation of native and other indigenous communities. The US and allied nations have also been engaged in continuous wars without the justification of self defence against countries in Latin America, Africa, South East Asia, the Middle East and Central Asia,

The Other China

The reality is that China today by any measure is a global power. Although a global power, China has not thrown its weight around but has been a responsible world citizen. It has joined in a global rules based order and is a supportive member of the World Trade Organisation, the World Health Organisation and the UN's Security Council. It is a signatory to global compacts like the Paris Climate Accords and engages in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. On regional and global issues including the present pandemic crisis, climate change and nuclear and arms control China has been a good international citizen playing a constructive role in finding multilateral solutions. The latest example of China using its soft power is its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which is an ambitious programme to connect Asia with Africa and Europe via land and maritime networks along six corridors with the aim of improving regional integration, increasing trade and stimulating economic growth.

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Of course, this ambitious project exercise is also to strengthen Beijing's economic leadership. Many western analysts focusing on this initiative through a narrow anti-China lens have interpreted it as Beijing's attempt to gain political leverage over and exploit its neighbours. However, the other motivation is that the BRI is motivated by China's concerns to upgrade the nation's industry and to export China's technological and engineering services and products. The ultimate goal does not appear to be to impose Chinese dominance or supremacy but to generate win-win outcomes for participating nations.

What Next

US domination of the global economy has ended or will soon be ending. Instead of acting as the US's sheriff in the Asia Pacific region, Australia needs to acknowledge the legitimacy of China's international aspirations. That means coming to terms with China's concern with its national boundaries which include Hongkong, Xinjiang and even disputed Taiwan. Also not undermining China's attempts aimed at protecting its economic lifeline in the South China Sea. Perhaps the most serious of Australia's anti-China moves are the recent efforts to persuade Japan, India and other Asian countries to join in a larger military and economic front against Beijing.

Now that Trump is no longer President and MIke Pompeo has vacated his virulently anti-China foreign policy post, Prime Minister Scott Morrison should drop the megaphone diplomacy. This can be a first step back from a conflict in which Morrison and Australia will be the biggest loser if he continues to demonize China at national and international levels.

Yes, Australia is a lucky country. However it should not punch above its weight or push its luck.

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About the Author

Lim Teck Ghee, a former graduate of the Australian National University, is a political analyst in Malaysia. He has a regular column called, ‘Another Take’ in The Sun, one of the nation’s print media.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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