France 24

Why China is firing red bullets on Australia

Twitter provocation, new tariffs: China has recently stepped up vexatious measures against Australia. Relations between the two countries have rarely been this bad, and according to several experts the world should pay more attention to how Beijing treats Canberra. Explanations: The photo shocked Australia deeply. It shows an Australian soldier holding a knife and appears to be about to kill an Afghan child. It was posted on Twitter Monday, November 30, by Zhao Lijian, a leading spokesperson for Chinese diplomacy. Beijing should “be deeply ashamed” to have posted an image “so disgusting”, immediately reacted Scott Morrison, the Australian Prime Minister. His government, in the process, demanded an apology from Beijing. He also asked to Twitter to suppress this post while accusing the Chinese official of tampering with the photo. A list of fourteen grievances against Australia The provocation of Zhao Lijian, a diplomat accustomed to thunderous statements, “represents the most offensive statement that can be currently made for Canberra because it touches a very sensitive point in Australia ”, underlines John Lee, analyst at Merics (Mercator Institute for China Studies), contacted by France 24. She recalls, in fact, a damning investigation of the inspector general of the Australian armies who concluded, in mid-November, that special forces soldiers had “illegally killed” at least 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners. Read also on France 24: When China releases its “wolf soldiers” on the diplomatic scene But what is the relationship between these atrocities and China? None, except to see Zhao Lijian’s controversial tweet as yet another drop in the ocean of ever more divisive Sino-Australian relations. “They have never been as bad as they are now,” admits Heribert Dieter, specialist in Australia and geopolitical questions in this region at the German Institute of International Affairs, contacted by France 24. The current escalation has started in early 2020, when Australia was the first country to request an independent investigation to determine the origin of the Covid-19 epidemic. A call that “has[vait] Beijing is all the more offended as it has[vait], first of all, was done through the media, apparently without going through the usual diplomatic channels, ”recalls the Merics specialist. Since then, China has imposed repeated customs taxes on Australian exports, targeting barley, wine, beef or even seafood. Beijing has even sent the Australian authorities a list of fourteen grievances. China criticizes what it calls public subsidies for “anti-Chinese” research projects, Canberra’s condemnations of Chinese policy in Xinjiang or Hong Kong, or the authorities’ veto on a dozen projects. Chinese investment in Australia. “If you erect China as an enemy, China will become your enemy,” a Chinese power official reportedly told a press conference, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on November 19. The culmination of four years of tension In a sense , this new sequence of diplomatic-commercial tensions is only the culmination of nearly four years of progressive degradation of relations between the two countries. “In 2016, the controversy in Australia around the 99-year lease granted to a Chinese company to manage the port of Darwin [qui se trouve près d’une base militaire américaine] was one of the first signs of the problems to come between the two countries, “said John Lee, a researcher at Merics. The country was often among the first to denounce Chinese actions in several areas. “They banned Huawei from the development of the 5G network in Australia in 2018, were the first to qualify Chinese actions in the China Sea as illegal, and pressure was put on very early for this independent investigation into the origin of the Covid pandemic. -19 ”, lists Patrick Köllner, vice-president of the GIGA Institute for Asian Studies (German Institute for Global and Regional Studies), contacted by France 24. There was, moreover,“ a very Manichean and uninhibited manner of ‘mention the Chinese threat in the Australian media from the Murdoch empire, “he continues. In short, Australia was” the first major country to adapt its diplomacy to the new way in which Xi Jinping’s China approaches relations international ”, says this specialist. Canberra saw Beijing become more aggressive on the international stage, felt threatened and pulled its claws out, and Australia became the first nation of importance to pay the price. But she is also the collateral victim of the power struggle between China and the United States. “In this context of rivalry, the pressure exerted by Beijing can also be seen as a way of trying to influence the decisions of one of Washington’s main allies in the region,” said John Lee, the researcher at Merics.Paris or Berlin after Canberra For the Australian Prime Minister, China’s attitude towards Australia must appeal to “the whole world”. “This is not just a bilateral affair,” the Financial Times also said in a November 26 editorial. For the British financial daily, “all democratic countries must follow the situation very closely to prepare to jointly counter any pressures that China may want to exert on them,” writes the British financial daily. “The idea is that China would use Australia as an example. In reality, this would only be a signal sent to other countries tempted to criticize Beijing, ”summarizes Patrick Köllner of the GIGA Institute. “We must not kid ourselves, after Canberra, Beijing can attack Berlin or Paris”, assures Heribert Dieter who adheres to this theory. According to him, the offensive against Australia illustrates “for the first time how Beijing seeks to control in a large developed country the way one speaks about China. ”It would not be a coincidence if the famous list of the 14 points included a strong criticism of the media coverage of the Chinese news.“ Unable to tolerate the free expression within its borders, China is now seeking to muzzle it in other countries, “said the Financial Times. But Australia is not France or Germany.” It is only vulnerable to Chinese pressure “, underlines John Lee. More than 40% of Australian exports go to China and” Australia has few alternatives for some of its products “, specifies this researcher. The other powers, especially in Europe, are less dependent on trade of the great Asian power. But all the specialists interviewed by France 24 agree that the Australian misadventures must challenge the other powers. For Patrick Köllner, vice-president of the Giga Institute, this trade conflict in Asia has the advantage of showing very clearly the terms of the choice: “Either we want to continue to benefit economically from trade with China at the risk of having to criticize muted, or we have to start finding alternatives ”.