How China Overreached in Australia

How China Overreached in Australia

Australia is not the first, and will not be the last economy, to endure Chinese displeasure. But Australia is showing that smaller nations still have agency and options, and that it is no easy matter for China to cow liberal democracies into subservience.

Third, the fact that Australia has not been brought to its knees by its largest trading partner has a powerful demonstration effect for other democracies, something which Beijing was desperate to prevent. It is important to remember that it is not just a balance of power which matters in international politics but a balance of resolve. Beijing’s overreach and Canberra’s pluckiness have been significant in this respect. We might still be some time away from the Five Eyes countries adopting a collective economic security measure analogous to the North Atlantic Treaty’s Article V. This would be an agreement such that any economic coercive measures levied against one member demand a collective economic and diplomatic response. But the fact that the Biden administration made it clear to China in March that ending the punishments against Australia is a precondition for improved relations with America demonstrates collective resolve amongst allies is deepening. Indeed, a g7 joint statement in June of this year took the unusual step of directly criticizing Chinese actions, including its coercive non-market economic policies.

IT IS likely there will be further pain for Australia and future punishments applied to other allies with the temerity to pursue policies contrary to Chinese interests. It is also clear America and its allies are in for a long struggle against a Chinese state willing to use all tools of national power for its advantage. One is reminded of the quote, possibly apocryphal, attributed to Lenin: You probe with bayonets. If you find mush, you push. If you find steel, you withdraw. Beijing may not withdraw, but it is being reminded that it is in a struggle—and increasingly outnumbered.

John Lee is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney where he is an adjunct professor. From 2016–2018, he served as senior national security adviser to the Australian foreign minister.

Image: Reuters.