If there is any leader who has stood up against Chinese authoritarianism without being sucked into a direct geo-political conflict by Beijing, it has to be Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison. From Hong Kong to Taiwan, and the Wuhan lab investigation to China’s invasive political character, Australia has fought the ideological battle for a better democratic world without having any direct interests to achieve.
Within Australia, there are several “experts” who have remained critical of Scott Morrison’s confrontational China policy. They say Australia is one of the few countries to share a trade surplus with China. As such, the Australian economy is perilously dependent on exports to China, while the Australian Universities are dependent on Chinese students and therefore must not antagonise the Dragon.
But Scott Morrison had started a real ideological battle with the Chinese Communist Party rule in Beijing. Apart from the United States, it was Australia which first criticised the Chinese wet markets and even called for an international investigation into the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Today, it is largely believed that the COVID-19 outbreak is originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
From the very beginning, Australia was clear in its approach- it wanted to hold China accountable under Canberra’s democratic values. While Scott Morrison faced umpteen risks of an internal sabotage within Australia, the Australian government seems to understand the dangers of overdependence on a single trade partner, especially when that trade partner happens to be China. China can harm Australia ideologically and strategically.
Australia also has its strategic ambitions to achieve in the Indo-Pacific region. In the South China Sea, it is in Australia’s interests to ensure Freedom of Navigation, because if Beijing manages to reduce the strategic waterways into its lake, then it would gain an upper hand when it comes to blocking off Australia’s trade routes.
Therefore, the Australian Navy has also teamed up with the US Navy in the South China Sea in face of Chinese belligerence in the disputed waters. Canberra has also inked a logistics-sharing pact with its Quad partner, India. Between China and Quad, Australia has naturally chosen the latter. This is crucial if Canberra wants to become a Great Power, otherwise, its vulnerable position won’t take it anywhere.
It is not as if China hasn’t tried to scare Australia. China tried punishing Australia and imposed tariffs on Australian Barley and banned the import of meat from four Australian abattoirs. Chinese State media went overboard and the CCP mouthpiece, Global Times even stated, “It (Australia) is a bit like chewing gum stuck on the sole of China’s shoes. Sometimes you have to find a stone to rub it off.”
However, Morrison stayed firm. He declared, “We are an open-trading nation, mate, but I’m never going to trade our values in response to coercion from wherever it comes.”
Morrison, therefore, continued his ideological onslaught against China. Australia had even proposed a draft proposal to be placed before the WHO, demanding an independent inquiry into the Chinese virus. However, the EU had watered down the proposal to erase any reference to China.
On other fronts also, Australia has acted tough on China. Canberra opened its doors for Hong Kong after China brutally enforced the draconian National Security Law in the former British colony. Australia also revoked its extradition treaty with Hong Kong. In point of fact, Australia has also batted for Taiwan’s WHO membership.
It is also not lost on Morrison that China is trying to tighten its grips on Australian universities, institutions and companies. Chinese student groups have been a strong influence on University campuses in Australia.
Last year, there were reports of pro-mainland China students clashing with pro-Hong Kong protesters in the campuses. These Chinese nationals in Australia have the backing of the Communist Party of China (CCP), and China’s Foreign Ministry has explicitly backed these Chinese students running amok in Australia and violently censoring pro-Hong Kong voices down under.
Moreover, there are voices within Australia’s Labour Party that still vouch for “not offending the Chinese”. China’s invasion into Australia’s political system has created disasters like the Darwin port and a 107 billion dollars infrastructure project in Victoria.
Latest revelations have also shed the light on the level of Chinese investment in Australia’s strategic sectors. According to a Daily Mail report, China has reportedly become the single biggest foreign owner of Australian water. The CCP led Chinese authoritarian regime now owns 756GL of water after a three per cent boost of its share in 2018-19 to be well ahead of previous joint leader the US (713GL), followed by the UK (394GL).
Water is a strategic commodity. And with such a tight grip on Australia’s water resources, China can rob the Australian farmers of the most important commodity in the agricultural sector. Then Chinese State control over Australia’s power grid has also become a major issue in Australia. The Chinese involvement in Australia’s power sector has created fears of remote sabotage and some experts have cast aspersions that the imported Chinese transformers could put the power grid under threat of attack.
Morrison clearly understands that China is hijacking Australian institutions because China wants to replicate its authoritative model down under. Beijing has successfully penetrated the Australian system at several levels. This is not in line with Canberra’s big power ambitions. Morrison has therefore refused to get weighed down by the economic baggage of a trade surplus with China. He is fighting for his country’s democratic values and he isn’t letting Australia down.