What do Australians think of the US?

Sieren's China: mood down under

Besides the US, there is probably no other country as suspicious of China as Australia. "Beijing's values ​​do not match those of Australia," said Interior Minister Peter Dutton recently, and caused outrage in China with his "vicious anti-China rhetoric". His words are an "open provocation of the Chinese people," said China's ambassador to Australia. And the Australian opposition also spoke of a lack of "diplomatic skills".

A few years ago, Australia was still one of China's strongest supporters in the west. Canberra's list of allegations is long: theft of intellectual property, influence on students and universities - for example by Confucius institutes as well as undermining democracy by politicians loyal to Beijing and opaque donations of money.

University of Queensland students held a rally against Chinese influence on campus in July

There are also scandals such as the arrest of the ex-diplomat and political blogger Yang Hengjun, who was naturalized in Australia and who is being held in China for espionage allegations without providing evidence, or a cyber attack on the Australian parliament, which is said to have been carried out by Chinese hackers at the beginning of the year .

Australia's blockade measures

The Australian government is now actively trying to curb Chinese influence in Australia. A new law criminalizes political influence from abroad. Chinese investments in sensitive areas such as power networks or large agricultural areas are prohibited. In the expansion of the 5G network, Canberra is following its alliance partner USA and has refused the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei any orders. Prime Minister Scott Morrison calls for China no longer to be classified as a developing country. And Interior Minister Dutton is calling for an "open debate" on the New Silk Road, China's military expansion in the South China Sea and the expansion of China's sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific.

DW columnist Frank Sieren

However, Australia has one problem: China is currently the Australians' largest trading partner. 38 percent of Australian exports go to the People's Republic. That's eight percent of Australia's gross domestic product (GDP). No other country in the world is so dependent on China.

Economic disadvantages

So far, Australia's economy, which has been growing for a good 28 years, has benefited from working and consuming immigrants from China. Of the 25 million Australians, around 1.2 million are from Chinese families. Many now fear that they will become victims of the anti-Chinese mood and that they will be discriminated against in security-related professions. There are currently more than 100,000 Chinese students studying and paying high tuition fees in Australia. They too have been viewed with suspicion in the Australian media since some loudly sided with mainland China during the solidarity protests with Hong Kong. Chinese tourism, also an important economic factor for Australia, is growing more slowly than it has been in nine years. The tension has resulted in Chinese tourists and students turning their backs on Australia. Experts estimate that the looming decline could cost the country $ 543 million within the next two years.

The US is relying on a security alliance with Australia, India and Japan to show China's borders in the Indo-Pacific. In response to China's rise, Australia has increased its military. Last year the country rose to become the second largest importer of armaments, just behind Saudi Arabia and ahead of China and India. Washington likes that.

End of business relationship: Huawei in Australia

After all, Australia is benefiting economically from the trade dispute between China and the USA. Australia now supplies over 60 percent of China's iron ore imports and over half of its coal imports.

Canberra and Washington are currently working on an agreement that will further reduce dependence on China, particularly in the supply of rare earths. China supplies around 70 percent of the world with basic materials for batteries and cell phones. Australia has 14 of the 35 varieties that are needed in the US high-tech industry. Economic cooperation with Japan and South Korea is also to be expanded. Beijing confidently declares that they are not dependent on Australian raw materials and that they can also be obtained from elsewhere.

Alone against China

However, Australia is isolated in the region with its confrontation course with China. The other neighbors are moving closer to the rising world power. And Australia also wants to become part of the largest free trade area in the world, the "Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership", or RCEP for short, which is currently being negotiated. It is intended to unite the ten Asean countries in Southeast Asia together with Japan, South Korea, China, India, Australia and New Zealand to form the largest trade bloc in the world. The planned agreement builds on existing trade agreements and aims to eliminate existing tariffs on 90 percent of all goods traded within fifteen years. 3.5 billion people, almost half of the world's population, live in the future free trade zone. Washington doesn't like that the Australians want to be there.

And this already shows what the decisive question will be: How long do the voters want the Australian government to afford the confrontational course if the economic disadvantages of this policy are reflected in everyday life? One thing is clear: Canberra's partner Washington is hardly able to absorb the economic losses.

Our columnist Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for over 20 years.