A war of words initiated by Australia against China on Sunday is souring relations between the two countries, with two Australian Members of Parliament also recently barred from entering the Asian country. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne demanded that China end its imprisonment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang province, citing a 400-page internal Chinese Government report leaked to the New York Times. The report details how China supposedly has more than 1 million Uyghurs in detention.
The New York Times claimed their source was an anonymous member of the Chinese Communist Party who wanted top leaders to be punished for their ‘crackdown’ on the Uyghur minority. However, if we backtrack to August when reports first emerged that the United Nations ‘announced’ that one million Uyghurs were interned, it was proven to be false and made by a member of an independent committee that does not speak on behalf of the UN and who used reports from foreign funded opposition groups.
Rather, these constant allegations of human rights abuses against the Uyghurs is part of a larger sustained mechanism by the U.S. to pressure and discredit China as it continues to grow in international stature and relevance.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the papers were “disturbing” and said that these unfounded “reports today reinforce Australia’s opinion” of China’s human rights abuses. She then emphasized that her country has “always asked China to cease arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and other groups,” before expressing how Australia has always been “very concerned about those human rights issues,” ignoring Australia’s very own human rights abuses at Manus Island against refugees.
The Asian Development Bank claims that Asia’s GDP will increase from $17 trillion in 2010 to $174 trillion by 2050, and will see many Asian countries have a per capita GDP of $40,800 by 2050, on par with most of Europe today. A PwC report found that China will account for 20% of the world economy, India 15% and the U.S. 12% by 2050. There is no doubt that the world economy is slowly shifting towards Asia from the West.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled the Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS) report in June 2019. The IPS report demands that Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines and Thailand to serve Washington’s demands in Asia Pacific because “these alliances are indispensable to peace and security in the region and our investments in them will continue to pay dividends for the United States and the world, far into the future.” Effectively, the IPS is the U.S.’ strategy to attempt to maintain its unilateral hegemony in Asia-Pacific, and Australia plays a key role in this vision.
Australia has followed U.S. foreign policy and served a policing role in Asia Pacific on behalf of Washington since it signed the ANZUS security agreement in 1951. It is for this reason that Australia plays a crucial security part of the IPS. Nevertheless, as China’s Belt and Road Initiative continues to develop globally and involve Australian infrastructure, Australia’s military and foreign policy will have to acknowledge that Australia is an Asian-Pacific country, not a Western one.
This is especially crucial as China is Australia’s largest trading partner. Effectively, Australia is militarily reliant on the U.S., while economically dependent on China. This is demonstrated by China shielding Australia from the effects of the 2009 Global Financial crisis thanks to the Asian country’s mass purchase of Australian natural resources when it was experiencing a massive developmental boom.
As Australia maintains its military alliance with the U.S. but being economically reliant on China, Australian leaders must balance its relations. As it favors relations with the U.S., Australia is willing to continually criticize China’s supposed human rights abuses without substantial evidence. This however could be a counterproductive policy as it not only hinders its relations with other Asian countries, but also trust.
Australia will find it more difficult to maintain trade relations with China and its neighbours in Asia if it is willing to serve agendas that aim to discredit Asian countries without evidence. Australia must have a serious re-evaluation of their strategic thinking for the 21st century as constant allegations of human rights abuses can affect trade relations.
Therefore, it can be suggested that there would be a conflict of interest between the Australian business community that relies on China, and the political-military apparatus that has a different vision for the country’s future. It is unlikely that China will reduce its economic ties with Australia. However, the distrust and suspicion caused by Australia’s willing role in the IPS and its weaponization of human rights allegations will have rollover affects that could reduce Australian trade with other Asian countries, effectively meaning it will lose on opportunities to trade and invest in rapidly emerging regional markets.