MUNGO MACCALLUM. The miracle of being two-faced and saving both faces

In the end, it was all about saving face. The dodgy compromise resolution to set up an inquiry over the origins of coronavirus left everyone claiming a win.

Credit – Unsplash

The European Union took credit for moving it and pushing it through. The United Nations showed it could and would take a stand and produce consensus. The World Health Organisation took over the running of the exercise. China got its way about timing and at least some of the terms of reference. And of course it was all Australia’s idea in the first place. What’s not to like?

Well, principally the depressing fact that the bickering indeed delivered a unanimous vote, but in the process made it all but meaningless. China could not bully its way into having the inquiry closed down altogether, but it got the next best outcome: cutting off its balls.

This is why its bellicose diplomats were able to gloat that Australia’s boasting about delivering a diplomatic triumph was a joke. The proposal as put forward originally was for a totally independent tribunal, not bound by the WHO or any other organization, its timetable and range unconstrained by national politics from any direction.

What emerged was a bureaucratic shambles which will not even begin to be considered until, as China insists, the virus is under control – read, until China is bloody well good and ready to allow it to proceed. And what’s more, it is to be scientific and objective – Beijing-speak for absolving any blame from its own actions.

This is worse than pointless: it is seriously counterproductive. Not only will the inquiry, if it ever takes place, be unable to target the wet market in Wuhan, let alone the biological laboratories near the city; it will make it practically impossible for anyone else to initiate serious examination. China, once again, is showing the world – and particularly Australia – who’s the big kid on the block.

It did make concessions, deciding that a Clayton’s inquiry was a better option than straight out opposition. The moment of truth came probably when the intense lobbying from the Europeans, the Australians and their other allies persuaded large a chunk of the African block to support a resolution.

Africa, like much of the developing world, is hugely important to Beijing – a key part of the clientele it hopes to enlist as part of its Belt and Road policy by which it will dominate large parts of not only the international economy, but across strategic areas of influence across the board. A stoush was simply not with the risk, especially when there was an alternative that could protect its own interests without any serious threat.

So China, absurdly, became a co-sponsor – the outcome Australia was pretending to urge while working as hard as possible to force its major trading partner into a humiliating backdown. The Chinese, of course, were well aware of the manoevring, and promptly applied a touch of the lash: whacking up the tariff on barley.

Utterly unrelated, spluttered desperate ministers in Canberra – that dispute had been going on for months, long before COVID-9 had even been named. Trade and politics just don’t mix. The timing was a complete coincidence, and for the moment let’s ignore the clear warnings that barley may just be the first move – exports from wine and seafood to education were on a current list that could be brought into play at any moment.

What matters more is that coal is not immune and even iron ore, the great remaining prop to shore up Australia’s faltering economy, could be vulnerable. This is quite literally unthinkable to Scott Morrison and his colleagues – even they admit that during the 2009 GFC crisis, flogging raw materials to China was crucial to keeping the nation out of recession. Now recession is already upon us and to lose our only chance of avoiding a still worse future would be catastrophic.

And this is why Morrison’s government is determined to pretend that not only will it not happen, but it can’t – the Chinese need us just as much as we need them, that it is what the great trading relationship has always been all about. We are their friends and allies. We

are all in this together.

Unfortunately this is delusional, folie de grandeur. China wants our iron ore, indeed wants all the stuff we can flog, not just to China but to anywhere willing to pay. But China has other markets if it needs them. And if Australia attempts to retaliate, to play a bit of tit for tat and start some kind of mini-trade skirmish of its own and even lands a couple of punches, so what? The government of Xi Jinping does not have to worry about some kind of electoral backlash from its long-suffering citizenry.

Equally, it is silly for Morrison to insist that China stick to the rules, to appeal to the World Trade Organisation as an umpire, to assemble a coalition of like-minded nations to come together demanding free and fair trade. For starters it won’t happen; but even if Morrison could bring off another of his miracles, and confront Beijing with an ultimatum, the reply would be treated with precisely the same disdain China evinced last week.

The only bully big and ugly enough to give China pause is the USA, and its efforts in waging its own trade war with the dragon have not gone too well in recent times. We have clung to the belief, seldom if ever fulfilled since about 1942, that in the crunch Washington would come to our side. But our great and powerful friend has other preoccupations and particularly in the age of The Donald, bailing out ScoMo is not one of them.

And to his credit, Morrison has made it clear that he is not going to grovel to Trump’s America either, leaving it out of the loop during his push for an inquiry. The USA voted in favour, but was never an active player. So our leader’s sudden assertiveness can be called almost even handed.

Morrison has not only saved one face, but two. The trick is not to overplay his hand, and avoid the temptation to throw himself too far forward and fall flat on yet a third face.

print

Mungo MacCallum is a veteran political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy.

This entry was posted in World Affairs. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to MUNGO MACCALLUM. The miracle of being two-faced and saving both faces

  1. Avatar Andrew Glikson says:

    And who would the world be blaming when it is evident the disastrous emission of more than 600 billion tons of carbon, in which just about every country is complicit, is rendering the planet uninhabitable?
    https://www.natureaustralia.org.au/what-we-do/our-insights/perspectives/can-we-avoid-an-uninhabitable-earth/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwn7j2BRDrARIsAHJkxmw3LhXszIlU9g1VHyqyfX32nEfweH1JJFQqiJPOJlyo26vIg1XicGwaAirLEALw_wcB

  2. Avatar Kien Choong says:

    It is right that the world work together so that we are better prepared for the next pandemic (which will surely happen again, but with an unexpected twist). So the international inquiry is welcomed.

    But it would not be an objective inquiry if the conclusions are already presumed, and the whole goal of the inquiry is to confirm one’s prior beliefs.

    Again, we need to work together as a global community. This basic premise seems overlooked in so many commentary.

  3. Avatar Simon Leslie says:

    We are all citizens of the one planet. Sometime in 2019 a virus jumped from another species to a human on a part of our planet we call China.
    How pathetic is our species that we seek to score political points by blaming someone for that chance event? Was there a Wuhan lab or A US Army biolab involved with the bubonic plague or the Spanish flu?
    Human incompetence and the desire not to lose face led to a delay in acknowleging the severity of the problem. This was repeated in almost every country.
    Does anyone seriously believe China would not want to help prevent this ever happening again?

  4. Avatar Hal Duell says:

    My reference to Fredericksburg, Maryland is an error. It should be to Fredericksburg, Virginia.
    In July, 2019, about 60 residents of an aged care facility about midway between Fort Detrick and Fredericksburg came down with an unexplained respiratory illness. Reportedly three died. I have read nothing that explains this.
    Perhaps there is a simple explanation, and there’s nothing to see here. But this is an example of what also needs to be looked at in addition to what happened in Wuhan, China.

  5. Avatar Geoff Andrews says:

    I must admit I did a bit of head scratching when Morrison came out swinging haymakers demanding an inquiry. Of all the countries in the world, we should be one of the last to “demand” an inquiry. If Italy, Spain or the UK felt aggrieved – fair enough, but us?
    I guess it’s the deputy sheriff’s job to do the dirty work.
    Our relationship with China is the same as New Guinea with us – boy don’t we jump to when New Guinea thunders.

  6. Avatar NEIL Walsh says:

    This article is rather Sinophobic: Mungo tends to do a lot of criticism, but where are his solutions? No problem without a proposed solution and all that. I don’t see China as to blame here. Australians should start seeking solution to our own manifold problems?

  7. I agreed with what Hal Duell has stated. Don’t get me wrong. I, as Chinese Australian background, can easily be assumed that I am here to defend any wrong doings of China.
    However from my research, we should be looking at both sides of the argument as objectively as we can.
    I respect Mungo MacCallum’s view. However he is not quite objective in assuming that the origin of the virus originated in Wuhan wet market in China as US and Australia assumed it to be with no concrete evidence.
    Interestingly scientific and health experts in USA and other places are asking questions regarding why US Army biolab in Fort Detrick was suddenly closed down in July 2019. And there are some scientific extrapolation that the Coronavirus could have started in US in September 2019 with its “winter flu”. There were patients now suspicious of dying from the Coronavirus instead of common winter flu. There were also doubt that some US Army personels who attended an Army Sporting event in October 2019 in Wuhan got sick in China. They could be suspect of the carriers of the Coronavirus to Wuhan? All these questions will have to be looked at and answered as well as many others with the proposed coming independent enquiry into the origin of the Coronavirus pandemic. I am a scientist and doctor in medicine. I can list other possibilities that the Coronavirus may have originated in Europe too.
    So let us be scientific and open-minded at this stage. Let us stop the pandemic first and try to save more lives so that we can have even a better picture before we carry out the independent enquiry properly. We should all stop the blame game as it will not help to get to the bottom of the our health issue here.

  8. I agreed with what Hal Duell has stated. Don’t get me wrong. I, as Chinese Australian, can easily be assumed that I am here to defend any wrong doings of China.
    However from my research, we should be looking at both sides of the argument as objectively as we can.
    I respect Mungo MacCallum’s view. However he is not quite objective in assuming that the origin of the virus originated in Wuhan wet market in China as US and Australia assumed it to be with no concrete evidence.
    Interestingly scientific and health experts in USA are asking questions regarding why US Army biolab in Fort Detrick was suddenly closed down in July 2019. And there are some scientific extrapolation that the Coronavirus could have started in US in September 2019 with its “winter flu”. There were patients now suspicious of dying from the Coronavirus instead of common winter flu. There were also doubt that some US Army personels who attended an Army Sporting event in October 2019 in Wuhan got sick in China. They could be suspect of the carriers of the Coronavirus to Wuhan? All these questions will have to be answered with the proposed coming independent enquiry into the origin of the Coronavirus pandemic. I am a scientist and doctor in medicine. I can list other possibilities that the Coronavirus may have originated in Europe too.
    So let us be scientific and open-minded at this stage. Let us stop the pandemic first and try to save more lives so that we can have even a better picture before we carry out the independent enquiry properly. We should all stop the blame game as it will not help to get to the bottom of the our health issue here.

    • Avatar Dennis Hutchison says:

      Sorry Doc, but nearly every recognised virologist says it emanated from China, and most likely from bats.

  9. Avatar Jim KABLE says:

    Honestly, Mungo? Australia left the US out of the call? It was the US giving the order to Australia to stick its head above the parapet which led to Marise and Scotty’s idiocy for our farmers/etc. The whole world understands that!

  10. Avatar Lorraine Osborn says:

    Describing China’s citizenry as “long-suffering” can just as well be applied here in Australia. China no doubt has big problems with corruption and suppression. So do we.

  11. Always a fan of Mungo’s but “bellicose” and not just “reactive” considering the domestic tone of China criticism here and the toadying to the US?
    Is the Belt and Road initiative a malign one? Is it not possible that an emerging economic superpower might see improving infrastructure abroad as being in its own national interest not to mention its value as an export commodity? Historically, China has not sought alliances as such, its sheer gravity attracted and chastened its neighbours at the same time. Only in the era of Imperialism when the last dynasty failed to contemplate modernisation did it become vulnerable.
    Finally, the “rules” of international trade and finance are American rules framed in the light of American interests in much the same way that IMF and World Bank “aid” to the Third World is tied to Neocon reforms.

  12. Avatar Hal Duell says:

    Why is it that we have bellicose Chinese diplomats, Chinese bullying, wet markets and biological laboratories in Wuhan all in the above article, and yet no mention of the closure of the US Army biolab in Fort Detrick, Maryland in July 2019, or the unexplained deaths in a Fredericksburg, Maryland nursing home in mid 2019.
    And France reckons they have a Covid-19 death from December 2019.
    By all means let’s have a full inquiry into where this virus came from. But China is justified in insisting any inquiry does not presume the origin of the virus prior to the inquiry.
    There is so much concerning this virus that is still unknown. None of the numbers associated with it are stacking up. Suspicions abound and finger pointing is rife, but any blame is premature at this point.

    • Avatar Jim KABLE says:

      Absolutely – and now the day’s news about US government “talking points” misinformation which led to some very wrong Daily Telegraph/Murdoch press stories! Trump/CIA/Pompeo – why is ANY credence being given to US views from the White House/other misinformation agencies??!!

    • Avatar Dennis Hutchison says:

      Hal, you must be kidding (Suspicions abound and finger pointing is rife, but any blame is premature at this point.), everything I’ve read on this the virologist say it came from China, not a lab, but from animal to human, most likely a bat.

      You accuse others of an anti Chinese bias, but imo, show a similar bias against the US in wanting to direct the origin of the virus to the US.

Comments are closed.