“We will set our own laws and our own rules according to our national interest,” Morrison said. “Not at the behest of any other nation, whether that’s the United States or China or anyone else.”
Michael Shoebridge, a national security expert at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said Canberra’s approach with Beijing — which previously focused “wholly on the mutual advantage of economic engagement” — shifted as Xi “aggressively used Chinese strategic, military, cyber, technological and economic power against Australia’s and others’ interests, not just internationally, but also inside our own nations.”
“We could have expressed our differences with China without burning the relationship,” he said. “The current government in Canberra believes it is imperative to get close to Washington and they believe the way to do that is to be the most anti-China of America’s allies.”
All such actions further anger China.
“For all the years of engagement with Australia, Beijing doesn’t understand the place or the people,” Shoebridge said. “Bullying Australians achieves the opposite of acquiescence and subservience. And Beijing’s coercion of Australia, now using our trade as a weapon, is helping collapse hard-won soft power gains Beijing had made here and internationally in the last 20 years.”
He predicted that China’s aggressive trade policy in particular could backfire, “because our high levels of trade will wane the more Beijing uses trade as a weapon.” And while Chinese officials have bemoaned attempts by Washington toward decoupling, this is exactly what they’re driving with regards to Australia.
But ultimately it will be Australia that pays the greater price, Carr said. He pointed to the “cruel irony” that the big winners from Australian businesses being excluded from Chinese markets could be Canberra’s allies in New Zealand, Japan, and — particularly — the United States.
“We inflicted self harm to impress Washington, but under its phase one trade agreement with China, it’s US farmers, wine makers and fishers who will fill the gaps in the supermarket shelves vacated by Australian produce,” Carr said, adding that Canberra will look “even more foolish if (President-elect) Biden opens up partnerships with China on climate and pandemic management even as he maintains pressure” on other issues such as the South China Sea, Hong Kong, and cyber security.
This story has been updated to include Zhao Lijian’s Five Eyes comments.