Dragon’s exploitive policies have pushed Australia and New Zealand to reset their ties with the former. While Australia has decided not to be coerced by the Chinese actions and act in its own interests, New Zealand is doing away with its too much concern about the Chinese sensitivities to adopt an independent foreign approach.
China’s annoyance with Australia came to fore with the latter’s support for independent investigation into the origins of the Corona virus- a legitimate demand that has support from several nations. China was also unhappy with Australia’s support to India over the Chinese aggression in the Eastern Ladakh. Australia’s growing close relations with the Quad countries and upgradation of India-Australia relation to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership along with the signing of multiple defence agreements in 2020 revealed its intent of moving away from China. Australia was getting increasingly concerned over the Chinese attempts to enhance its influence in the region using coercive economic approach. Australia from being a hesitant participant, has now emerged as a robust entity of the Quad. On expected lines, China saw the Australian participation in the Quad as a move by the US to contain it.
Overall, the China-Australia bilateral relationship declined sharply in 2020, with China imposing both formal and informal trade restrictions on a number of Australian exports, including coal, barley, beef, wine, cotton among others, as a measure of punishment for the Australian demand. Recently, Australia under the new legislation cancelled two MOUs signed by the state of Victoria under the labour government in 2018 and 2019 with China’s National Development and Reform Commission on the Chinese participation in infrastructure projects under the Belt and Road initiatives (BRI). The BRI is increasingly seen globally as a debt trap diplomacy of China. Several countries have reviewed and cancelled the BRI projects. Thailand recently cancelled the Kra Canal project. Australia was concerned over the states getting under the unsustainable debts and finally making political concessions as happened in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port.
China’s Ambassador in Canberra Cheng Jingye termed the cancellations as the “negative moves”, accused Australia of economic coercion and provocations and tried to paint China as a victim. Such comments had come after the Australia’s Home Affairs Secretary Michael Pezzullo said free nations were watching “worryingly the militarisation” of the region, though he did not name China. Since the cancellation of the BRI projects, China has issued several statements against Australia. In an article in Global Times, a warning was issued that China would surely respond to it.
The Chinese wolf warriors too were pressed to issue threats to Australia. Wang Wen Bing, the spokesman of the Chinese foreign Ministry, stated that “China reserves the right to take further action in response to this”. Such warnings reflect the Chinese worries that its BRI projects, which are already being discarded by several countries, could be seriously in jeopardy with this Australian decision acting as a catalyst. There are reports that Australia is considering to scrap long-term leases held by Chinese companies at the ports in Darwin and Newcastle.
The statement of the PM of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern that differences between New Zealand and China are becoming harder to reconcile as China grows indicates that the relations between the two countries are also on the decline. In a speech at the China Business Summit in Auckland, Ardern said there are things on which China and New Zealand & “do not, cannot, and will not agree”, though adding that the differences need not define their relations. However, she clearly pointed out that “This is a challenge that we, and many other countries across the Indo-Pacific region, but also in Europe and other regions, are also grappling with.” The sentence indicates more than the words used. Some experts have seen this as an attempt to deflect the sharp comment made by Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta that New Zealand was uncomfortable against role of the Five Eyes. This is not true. She was reflecting New Zealand’s concerns over the Chinese activities. Nanaia Mahuta, had already put out a statement in March, 2021 voicing “grave concerns about the growing number of credible reports of severe human rights abuses against ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang”. There is growing concern over the Chinese activities against its minorities. While the Parliament decided to drop the term ‘genocide’, it discussed concerns about human rights abuses in the region in more general terms. The New Zealand government has been under increasing pressure both domestically and from international allies to take a stronger stance on the situation in Xinjiang. While so far, New Zealand was attempting to balance its human rights commitments with the demands of its largest trading partner, it is now moving to oppose human rights abuses by China in Xinjiang in clearer terms. Besides, New Zealand cannot be oblivious of the Chinese belligerence in the neighbourhood.
The change in the approaches of these two countries would significantly dent the image of China and would also harm it economically. One thing is clear that China is increasingly been seen as an unreliable partner all over the world.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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