Australia: A Seismic Shift | By Vikrant Sharma

Australia: A Seismic Shift 

By Vikrant Sharma 

Founder-Editor, The Global Telescope 

Australia is a massive country with a relatively small population (25 million people as per latest estimates). Most major cities in Australia are located along the coast, while a large part of the total area is covered by desert. The outback, as the interior areas that are largely uninhabited are called, is not conducive for human population, but it does provide Australia with an abundance of natural resources. In 2018, Australia was the world’s largest exporter of minerals, accounting for 23.5 percent of the global minerals export in the world. The second biggest minerals exporter, Brazil, had less than half the value of exports of Australia at a little under 10%. Australia has huge reserves of coal, iron, lead, gold, diamonds, uranium and more. 

The Australian economy has benefitted immensely from this fact. The number one country that Australia exports to is China, fuelled by China’s need for natural resources. About 1/3 of Australia’s exports go to China. China buys more natural resources from Australia than the next three countries on the list combined (Japan, USA, South Korea resp.). Chinese companies have also made significant investments in the Australian economy.

Another area where China has a significant influence in Australia is the education sector. Australia has grown as an international hub for higher education. The country hosts 875,000 international students, out of which about 262,500 are Chinese students (approximately 30%). These students contribute over 10 billion dollars to the Australian economy annually.

These are just two examples of China’s massive influence on the Australian economy. This relationship stretches into far more Australian industries, and it has done so for decades.

With these statistics in mind, you, dear reader, should now be able to appreciate how important it has been for Australia to make sure that it is on the right side of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the sole political party that runs China.

CCP has also tried to influence Australian politics. In the run up to the last elections CCP associated accounts on WeChat, a popular Chinese social media platform, had mocked Scott Morrison who is the current Prime Minister of Australia.

Wendover Production’s video ‘Australia’s China Problem’ provided much of the statistics and information I have provided above. When I watched this video back in November 2019, I summarised that Australia would not go against China, at least in the near future, as it wouldn’t make sense for them.

A pandemic turned this prediction on its head. Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia, has been one of the most outspoken critics of the Chinese government over the last few weeks. The 5-Eyes Intelligence Group, consisting of USA, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand, was one of the first to demand an investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 virus in China. Out of this group, Australia and USA have been the most vocal critics of Xi Jinping and his government’s handling of the virus.

Sydney, Australia | Photo by Dan Freeman on Unsplash

Sydney, Australia | Photo by Dan Freeman on Unsplash

Australia was also one of the most vocal advocates in asking WHO to include Taiwan in the World Health Assembly last week. As you may know, Taiwan is claimed by China but is run by a different, independent government. China follows a One-China policy and refuses to acknowledge the independence of Taiwan, and also asks aggressively asks other countries and global institutions to do the same. Prodding China on Taiwan was a clear indication to Beijing that Australia was no longer an ally nor was this a passing phase.

Australia was also one of the first countries, along with UK and Canada, to criticise and express concern over a new security law passed by Beijing for Hong Kong.

Major geopolitical developments have taken place as a result of these events in the past few weeks. USA and Australia have since been one-voice on many issues concerning China, including actively seeking an inquiry into the origins of the virus and issue of Taiwanese inclusion on the global stage.

As China provoked India along its borders in the north, and a standoff ensued between the two global military giants, Australia and India came together to sign a major defence agreement that had been in the pipeline. Under this, India shall have access to Australian naval bases and Australia shall have similar access to Indian naval bases. This makes this defence alliance a formidable force in the Indian ocean, one that can effectively block China off on the Indian ocean if it needed to.

China has, as predicted, threatened Australia with economic repercussions. China announced an 80% tariff for 5 years on imports of barley from Australia, which it later said was a result of trade tensions. India has recently made changes in its policy that make import of barley from Australia much more viable, and has presented itself as an alternate market, at least to a limited extent. China has also threatened and executed certain trade barriers on Australian goods, for example meat and wine. It has also blamed Australia for an increase in racist attacks on Chinese people in Australia, something which the Australian Government has denied.

When the Chinese ambassador said that the Chinese public might boycott Australian goods as a response to Australia’s continued push for an investigation into the virus, the Australian trade minister Simon Birmingham hit back by saying that this was tantamount to ‘economic coercion’.

As Australia is growing through a seismic shift in its foreign policy, it has aligned its interests with the West. Donald Trump has said he wants to increase the G7 group to include Russia, India, Australia and South Korea. While Canada, UK and the EU (Germany, France and Italy- the 3 EU member-states in G7) have all replied negatively on Russia’s inclusion, the world is seeing the inclusion of the other 3 states as a vital step in increasing the geopolitical group’s power in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly as the West faces the prospect of increasing confrontation with China.

UK has also expressed its desire to form a group of the G7 countries and India, Australia and South Korea to develop their own shared infrastructure for 5G telecommunication technology, in order to limit the powers of the Chinese tech giant Huawei which is a leader in the space.

The Australian envoy has said that Indo-Australian ties are at an ‘historical high point’.

All this while, Scott Morrison is enjoying record high approval ratings from his citizens, who are said to be happy with his response to the COVID pandemic and his demand of an investigation in China on the source of the virus.

As Australia aligns with the West and its allies, it is sure to face growing flak for it from China. However, as the West grows increasingly distrustful and weary of China, it also provides Australia a strong position as a major power in the Asia-Pacific region. Australia already has strong security, ideological and diplomatic ties with the West. This is a great opportunity for the country to come out of China’s economic shadow and emerge on the world stage as a strong player.


All views presented in the article belong solely to the writer. The editor does not support or condemn the views, and neither does The Global Telescope. The Global Telescope remains impartial and promotes every individual's right to freedom of speech and expression while not holding any responsibility for the views presented whatsoever.


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