PRIME Minister Scott Morrison has outmanoeuvred China’s trade threats by securing alternate markets for discretionary items – strengthening Australia’s hand dealing with Beijing’s “structural” trade needs.
In a move described as “smart”, the Prime Minister has made Australia a harder target for Beijing according to defence and security expert Michael Shoebridge.
Mr Shoebridge, the Director of Defence and National Security at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said Mr Morrison was attracting international support from countries who faced similar challenges from China.
“More importantly, he’s making Australia a harder target for China to coerce and pressure,” Mr Shoebridge told Sky News anchor Chris Smith on Wednesday.
“This is about finding different kinds of markets. Think about iron ore and other energy & natural resource products. China keeps needing those even more than we want to sell them to them.
“So there is a structural need the Chinese economy has – that’s the last thing Beijing is going to coerce or damage Australia over.”
Mr Shoebridge said it was the non-structural “other things” that China was threatening to hurt Australian trade with.
“Things like barley, dairy products, wine, anything that’s discretionary for Beijing and not something they need to keep themselves running they will coerce us over,” he said.
“As we have already seen, things like foreign students.”
He said it was smart of the Prime Minister to shift away from Chinese markets in those areas and to realise the upper hand Australia has with structural trade such as iron ore and energy.
Mr Shoebridge said he didn’t expect the China/Australia relationship to return to pre-Coronavirus arrangements.
“I think there is a long term difference in our systems of government and the way we run our societies,” he said.
“And unless we want to change our society to look more authoritarian, China’s coercion is going to stay
“European nations are facing the same issue engaging with China – you can hear the Germans and the French talk in very similar ways to the way our government is talking.
“The Japanese, South Koreans and Indians are also thinking this way.”
Mr Shoebridge said the formation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue [India, Japan, Australia and America] was quickly seeing closer economic and security ties.
“Any reluctance that these four countries had of working together is evaporating given Beijing’s behaviour,” he said.
“South Korea is part of this picture and remember there is 600m people in South East Asia and most of those live in strong, vibrant democracies including Indonesia.
“So there is a lot of company for us on this pushback on Beijing.”
He said China’s behaviour was pure interference.
“This is all about China reaching in to other countries like we see them interfering in our universities.
“Our universities are censoring free speech just because of Chinese officials’ and state media complaints.
“That kind of reach-in is exactly the problem. If Beijing wasn’t doing that we’d get on much better.”PC