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Sino–Australian Relations; from Bad to Worse

Sino–Australian Relations; from Bad to Worse

On October 31, 2019, Posted by , In Analysis Reports,Uncategorized, By , , With Comments Off on Sino–Australian Relations; from Bad to Worse
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By: Joseph Dummar

Ever since the year 2000, economic trade between China and Australia has grown exponentially. David Chau from Australian Broadcasting Station reports, “In 2017-18, China was by far Australia’s largest trading partner, contributing $194.6 billion worth of imports and exports. This was more than the combined value of trade with Japan and the United States ($147.8 billion).”[1] Most of these economic ties were forged within just the last ten years.[2] For a time, it seemed like Sino–Australian relations could not get any better. However, since 2017, Sino–Australian relations have shown significant signs of decline. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute even stated, “A new cold war with China is playing out in all but name.”[3]

In February of this year, Australian Authorities were investigating an attempt to hack into the national parliament’s computer network. This September, they confirmed that the cyberattack on the Australian parliament was orchestrated by China’s Ministry of State Security.[1] China is also seen as responsible for a cyber-attack on The Australian National University (ANU). [2] The hackers stole 19 years’ worth of personal data from university members. The ANU is also the home of the School of Strategic and Defense Studies and the Crawford School of Public Policy, which holds close links with government departments and agencies.[3]

Aside from compromising the security of Australian servers, China is also eating away at Sino–Australian relations by manipulating Australian universities. In 2017 the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) launched a joint research center with CETC, a Chinese tech giant. However, a mere six months into the $20 million deal, the university canceled the program. Why? Because CETC was using UTS’s new technology to help the People’s Republic of China spy on political minorities in the country. Six different Australian universities are all receiving intense criticism for developing new technologies for China. Some of these new technologies include: bulk data collection to help China “shape, manage, and control” public opinion, secure wireless communication for stealth aircraft, technology that would allow vehicles to be tracked in videos, technology to track moving objects in videos (the Chinese partner in this project was a firm called SenseTime; SenseTime was added to a US blacklist for alleged human rights abuses against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities), and AI technology for monitoring Uighurs.[4] (Uighurs are the victims of one of the most extreme human rights violations in our time. Nearly the entire ethnic group, which lives in the North-Western region of China, is being systematically oppressed and monitored in their cities, and many others are sent to Chinese internment camps.)[5]

China is not just waging a cyber and technological war with Australia. It is also waging a political and economic one. For years, China has laid claim to the South China Sea, waters that five other countries claim parts of as well. To assert their claim over all others, China has slowly filled the South China Sea with military bases on artificial islands.[6] From these bases, they conduct blockades and cut off other countries of their claimed waters. Although Australia does not have a direct claim in the South China Sea it, and the rest of the world, are very interested in who controls it. Not only does the South China Sea hold about “190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 11 billion barrels of oil in proved and probable reserves.”[7] It is also estimated that one-third of all global shipping passes through the South China Sea.[8] This means that If China cements its claim of the entire South China Sea, then it would gain about $800 billion worth of natural resources and have the power to cripple global trade overnight. 

Although China stopped island-building in 2015 when the global community realized what they were doing, the new Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) appears to be just as or more effective at controlling the South China Sea. The BRI is a new trade program China is rolling out that works like this. China loans money to countries; those countries build trade infrastructure and then pay China back. This project will take 4.4 billion workers, 64 countries, a combined economic output of $21 trillion, and in theory, seems like a win-win situation for everyone.[9] However, the theoretical ideal is not always what happens. Some countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar received loans from China but were not able to pay it back, so as part of their debt forgiveness deals, China gained control of all four ports in those countries.[10] Suddenly this win-win has turned into a legal takeover of territory. Australia fears that the BRI will lead to China gaining more and more control over the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. (This gradual takeover has been termed The String of Pearls Theory.)[11] This increase in power is making China less of a friend to Australia and more of a threat.

China’s aggressive policies and shrinking economic ties to Australia (The University of Sydney reported that Chinese investment in Australia fell 36.3% in 2018[1]) has caused the public opinion of China in Australia to drop dramatically. The 2019 Lowy Institute poll showed that “[China] dropped 9 degrees to 49 on the annual ‘feelings thermometer,’ which measures public warmth toward other countries on a scale of 0-100. That’s the steepest drop in sentiment, and the lowest result China has recorded in 15 years of the poll.”[2] The ties between Australia and China only seems to be worsening, so Australia is increasingly trying to strengthen its relationship with the US. Earlier this month, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison vowed to cement the Quad, “…a grouping with the United States, Japan and India intended to act as a counter to China’s growing might…”[3] The Quad, or more formally—Quadrilateral Security Dialogue—was abandoned by Australia two premierships ago under the Gillard/Rudd Government. The fact Australia is returning to it shows just how desperate they are to counter China’s might.

Sino–Australian relations are going from bad to worse, and what impact that will have on the rest of the world has yet to be fully seen. However, at this point, it is clear that China’s growth in power is raising cyber, ethical, political, and economic problems and questions all over the world. If the current global trends continue then, China will likely become a new superpower, and Australia will be the unfortunate new


References

Australian PM backs revived Quad grouping to counter China’s might. (2019, October 03).   Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/australasia/article/3031484/australias-scott-morrison-backs-revived-quad-grouping-us

Chau, D. (2019, January 15). How much does Australia’s economy rely on China? Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-01-15/china-economy-slowdown-will-affect-australia/10716240

Drun, J. (2019, September 13). China’s Maritime Ambitions: A Sinister String of Pearls or a Benevolent Silk Road (or Both)? Retrieved from https://www.ccpwatch.org/single-post/2017/12/05/China’s-Maritime-Ambitions-a-Sinister-String-of-Pearls-or-a-Benevolent-Silk-Road-or-Both

Drun, J. (2019, September 13). China’s Maritime Ambitions: A Sinister String of Pearls or a Benevolent Silk Road (or Both)? Retrieved from https://www.ccpwatch.org/single-post/2017/12/05/China’s-Maritime-Ambitions-a-Sinister-String-of-Pearls-or-a-Benevolent-Silk-Road-or-Both

Ellis, S. (2018, April 06). China’s trillion-dollar plan to dominate global trade. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/2018/4/6/17206230/china-trade-belt-road-economy

Ellis, S. (2017, February 17). Why China is building islands in the South China Sea. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/videos/2017/2/17/14642818/china-south-china-sea-us-islands

How much trade transits the South China Sea? (2019, October 10). Retrieved from https://chinapower.csis.org/much-trade-transits-south-china-sea/#easy-footnote-bottom-1-3073

Jennings, P., Jennings, P., Morrison, S., Jennings, P., Morrison, S., Aspi, . . . Facebook. (2019, July 12). A new cold war will force changes in Australian behaviour. Retrieved from https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/a-new-cold-war-will-force-changes-in-australian-behaviour/

McGowan, M. (2019, June 06). China behind massive Australian National University hack, intelligence officials say. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/jun/06/china-behind-massive-australian-national-university-hack-intelligence-officials-say

McGowan, M. (2019, June 06). China behind massive Australian National University hack, intelligence officials say. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/jun/06/china-behind-massive-australian-national-university-hack-intelligence-officials-say

Munro, K. (2019, June 26). Poll: Australians Sour on China. Retrieved from https://thediplomat.com/2019/06/poll-australians-sour-on-china/

Packham, C. (2019, September 15). Exclusive: Australia concluded China was behind hack on parliament, political parties – sources   . Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-australia-china-cyber-exclusive/exclusive-australia-concluded-china-was-behind-hack-on-parliament-political-parties-sources-idUSKBN1W00VF

Parvaneh, D., & Samuel, S. (2019, May 07). China’s secret internment camps. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/videos/2019/5/7/18535634/chinas-uighur-muslim-internment-camps-reeducation

South China Sea Energy Exploration and Development. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://amti.csis.org/south-china-sea-energy-exploration-and-development/

The US-China Trade War: A Timeline. (2019, October 12). Retrieved from https://www.china-briefing.com/news/the-us-china-trade-war-a-timeline/ Zhang, F. (2015, June 23). Beijing’s Master Plan for the South China Sea. Retrieved from

Beijing’s Master Plan for the South China Sea


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