China has retaliated against Australia, but I fear this is only the beginning.
Well that escalated quickly.
I’m definitely not liking where this is going.
In the same week that Canberra announced that an unknown foreign nation (although everyone in the media is sure it’s China) hacked the Australian government and all the major political parties, Australia-China relations took a worrying turn.
How serious is it? This serious:
Chinese coal traders are halting purchases of Australian coal and coking coal as clearing times through China’s customs have at least doubled to 40 days or more, four traders at major buyers told Reuters on Monday.
The traders said only cargoes from Australia, the biggest supplier of the fuel to the world’s top consumer, were affected.
“We have stopped ordering coal from Australia because it is unknown how long the restriction will last,” said a manager at a Shanghai-based trading company who usually buys around 400,000 tons of Australian coal every month.
…The Beijing trader said the restrictions on Australian imports were “the first time for Beijing to curb coal imports from a specific country but without a reason.”
… A Shanghai trader said he had stopped buying from Australia and would purchase more from Indonesia and Russia.
… Refinitiv ship tracking data showed coal shipments departing from Australia’s Newcastle port to China fell 30 percent last month compared with December to 18.19 million tonnes.
Yeah, that’s not good.
This seems to be in retaliation to Australia revoking the visa of Huang Xiangmo – a billionaire who came over here and started throwing money around like it was nobody’s business, including at both the major political parties.
(Who were happy to take it at the time.)
Now ASIO think he is an agent of the Chinese government.
(But, given how China’s political system works, can’t we assume anyone with money operating overseas is an agent of China?)
And this is the situation we have. We kick out one spy, and China freezes our coal trade.
“Back in your box, Australia.”
I worry that Australia has got itself in a ridiculous situation. Our economy has become hopelessly dependent on China, even though China remains staunchly opposed to the values we supposedly care so much about.
Right now, China’s police have been put on high-alert, as the government fears an outbreak of democracy:
China's police must prevent a “color revolution” this year, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, a top law-enforcement official recently said, surprising China watchers around the world.
The stern warning came from Zhao Kezhi, state councilor and public security minister, a vice premier-level official in charge of maintaining public order. It is rare for Chinese officials to publicly refer to the need to prevent popular uprisings, in a country where Communist Party rule is deemed ideal.
But in the speech at the ministry's annual national meeting on Jan. 17, Zhao said police must “stress the prevention and resistance of ‘color revolutions' and firmly fight to protect China's political security.”
“We must firmly defend the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and our nation's Socialist system,” he said, adding that the police must also “strike back against all kinds of infiltration and subversive activities by hostile foreign forces.”
And that’s the truth about what’s going on right now. Everyone talks about it like it’s a spat over trade, but it goes much deeper than that.
This is a fundamental conflict of values.
For a long while we’ve turned a blind eye to what’s going on in China, having happily bought into the Peaceful Evolution theory.
This is the idea that as China becomes more wealthy – as the middle class emerges – democracy will naturally follow.
And that’s given us the moral cover we’ve needed to trade with a totalitarian state. (Remember, this is the nation that gave us the big-data driven “Social Credit Score”.)
But the thing is, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Peaceful Evolution theory is a fantasy. Economic growth hasn’t led to popular uprisings. In fact, it’s the opposite. Rapid economic growth has given the one-party state legitimacy.
People are happy to live in a dictatorship so long as living standards are rising.
And that’s why China is on the defensive. As the US attacks their trade advantages, China’s debt-fuelled growth becomes vulnerable. If growth stumbles, colour revolutions become possible.
And here’s little old Australia, stuck in the middle, wanting to have its cake and eat it too.
It wants China’s money, but doesn’t want to submit to its values.
We are quickly finding out that you can’t have it both ways.