Australia's political games backfire

Australian trade minister Dan Tehan asked Australian businesses on Wednesday to "step up to the plate" in repairing ties with China as bilateral ties hit the lowest point in decades.

SONG CHEN/CHINA DAILY

Australian trade minister Dan Tehan asked Australian businesses on Wednesday to "step up to the plate" in repairing ties with China as bilateral ties hit the lowest point in decades.

Australian businesses have born the brunt of worsening ties. But as China remains an engine of global growth, Australia's approach to diversify its trade will not work well if it doesn't improve its relations with China.

After a seven-month investigation found that Australian winemakers were dumping their products in China, the Ministry of Commerce decided to levy duties from 116.2 percent to 218.4 percent on imported Australian wines from March 28 for the next five years.

The ministry also said Australian wines had been subsidized and sold below market value, resulting in substantial damage to China's wine industry, with the subsidy rate being between 6.3 percent and 6.4 percent. But to avoid double taxation, the ministry decided against imposing anti-subsidy tax on Australian wines.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data show a decline in beverage exports to China, which was driven by a 53 percent drop in wine exports. According to Wine Australia, Australian wine exports to the Chinese mainland reached A$1.28 billion ($976.6 million) in 2019, accounting for 44 percent of the country's total wine exports.

Experts say the share of Australian wines in the Chinese mainland market could fall further after the ministry's decision, as it had declined at least 20 percent since November when China announced the preliminary anti-dumping rate of up to 212 percent. Plus, some Chinese wine agencies have voluntarily suspended importing wine from Australia in recent months, turning to alternative sources such as Italy.

Another outcome of the souring Sino-Australian relations is the 61 percent decline in Chinese investment in Australia last year-the A$1 billion investment in 2020 was the lowest in six years.

With deteriorating Sino-Australian political relations weighing on barley and timber too, Canberra needs to review its anti-Beijing policies and take concrete steps to improve bilateral ties before it is too late.

China has been at the receiving end of some Western countries' trade sanctions. Therefore, it also knows the flip side of such sanctions and the damage nationalism and xenophobia can cause to both sides. That's why China is against politicizing the issue, and the fact that it has tried to avoid using trade as a diplomatic tool is proof of that.

Australia has been blindly following the United States in targeting China. In fact, Canberra began changing its policy toward Beijing in February 2020 in response to the then Donald Trump administration's call to unite against China in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Canberra even called for an international probe into the origins of the virus, ostensibly to blame China for the pandemic. Indeed, Australia is at the forefront of the anti-China camp.

When China took tit-for-tat action, Australia accused it of hostility and abusing its "trade advantages", and described China as being a "vindictive" and "unreliable" trading partner. Some Australian politicians and experts even demanded that the country decouple its economy with China's.

Obviously, this infuriated the Chinese people, although they know Sino-US frictions and rising anti-China sentiments in Australia were acting as a catalyst in intensifying Sino-Australian disputes. Some Chinese netizens have even called for a boycott of Australian products.

Australia has politicized the issue and tried to portray itself as a victim of "China's bullying". It has also mixed trade disputes with ideology to call for the establishment of an inter-parliamentary alliance against China and accused it of human rights violations. And by hyping the "China threat" theory, it is seeking to play a bigger role in global governance.

But Australia should not ignore the root cause of the China-Australia rift, and take measures to address the problems in a professional manner.

As long as Australia remains a vanguard of the "anti-China movement" and refuses to settle the disputes through talks, Sino-Australian relations cannot return to the right track.

The author is a research fellow at the Center for East Asia Studies, Xiangtan University. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.


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