Australia needs to find common ground with China

Australia needs to find common ground with China, by Robert Gottliebsen.

[Over] the trigger for the latest dispute — Scott Morrison’s call for an independent international inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 — we were totally justified.

Indeed China later agreed to a World Health Organisation inquiry.

But our history of “unfriendly” actions caused China to be enraged and led to the current actions. …

The dangers of lecturing:

For a long time relations with China were good. As far as I can tell the downward slide actually started in 2008 when former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd lectured students at Beijing university in Mandarin.

Then prime minister Kevin Rudd giving a speech in Mandarin at Beijing in 2008. In a speech delivered to university students, Rudd said there were significant human rights problems in Tibet, Picture: AFP

The Chinese suffered a century or so of outside rule and during that time they were constantly lectured, and they now hate being lectured with a passion — especially when it comes from a small country like Australia.

And for an Australian PM to lecture Chinese in China and in Mandarin over human rights and other matters created deep-seated rage. It might have faded, but when Julie Bishop became foreign minister the lecturing continued and extended to other politicians. Government officials would often lecture Chinese officials they meet in China. And each Australian lecture caused the memory of 2008 to be rekindled.

Former ANZ chief executive Mike Smith explained that with a touch of arrogance Australians believe that their democratic system is far superior to China and that we like to lecture the Chinese, not only advocating our system but denigrating the Chinese system.

The Chinese believe that their system with its central party control is far better for China than a democracy …

Chinese response:

As it happens, China’s relations with the US are far better than with Australia because the Chinese understand what Donald Trump is trying to achieve. There is a clear respect for the opponent.

Around the middle of 2018 a delegation of Australian business people in China were told of the building Chinese anger and that we would receive what we might describe as a “rap on the knuckles” as punishment for our bad behaviour. And, sure enough, some six months later China was true to its word. They targeted our soft underbellies like students, coal, apartments and agriculture but the blows were not severe.

Large Chinese apartment developers were told to sell their big Australian land holdings.

In the Chinese view the latest Morrison lecture was simply a continuation of Rudd and Bishop. We have no standing and are not listened to. Worse still we are now set to be punished again. …


Again, in the words of Dennis Richardson, we can be friends with China while still being allies of the US. And our standard of living depends on it.

hat-tip Stephen Neil