Acquiescence is not the answer

We are told that Australia’s political leaders must try to ‘rebuild trust’ with Beijing, while not kowtowing as the Chinese Communist Party clearly wants us to do. But how does this strategy work?

How could Canberra ‘rebuild trust’ with a regime that the critics acknowledge want Australia to acquiesce to? How could we ‘rebuild trust’ with a regime that posts a photoshopped image of an Australian soldier about to slit the throat of an Afghan child?

It is not a herculean diplomatic task to “rebuild trust” with such a regime. It is an impossible diplomatic task — unless, of course, we capitulate to China; which is not going to happen under Coalition or Labor governments.

That Beijing wants Australia to kowtow to it sounds like China is a very serious threat to our sovereignty. And the widely accepted sense of Xi Jinping’s nationalistic, ambitious and expansive foreign-policy goals reflects that assessment.

We are, remember, talking about a regime that is pumped up on nationalism and overwhelmed with resentment growing out of “the century of national humiliation.” It is this bullying nationalism that explains why Beijing is not good at winning friends and influencing people, as the heavy-handed ‘wolf warrior diplomacy’ of China’s ambassadors and foreign-policy spokesmen makes clear.

As a rising great power, infused with a powerful sense of nationalism, China threatens our sovereignty by wanting us to kowtow to it. Its foreign-policy spokesman is taunting us. The region views with growing alarm how Beijing is treating Australia. As a result, US-aligned states from India and Japan to Vietnam and Indonesia will want to work together to manage China.

What the critics of Australia’s policy fail to understand is that, after decades of living in a unipolar and globalised world where was no great-power security competition, we are now in a realist zero-sum game and the stakes are enormously high for all concerned. This is not an ideal situation. But that’s how international politics works.

This is an edited extract of an opinion piece published in the Australian Financial Review as Critics of Australia’s China policy don’t have much to offer