Our challenges in dealing with China

America was built on the Bible, the gun and slavery.Our interests in dealing with China are not the same as America’s interests. We have differences with China, but we must handle them in our own way rather than joining Trump’s strident chorus of criticism.

Because of Trump’s bullying, transactional trade ‘war’ with China this matter has been made political. I am of the view that our problems are ones of perceptions regarding a lack of balance in public statements by our generally secretive, government, its short term policies and failure to remember history and economic history, our place in the scheme of things and having to deal with two elephants. One of the two giant elephants is ‘governed’ by an oaf with short term ‘policies’, the other by a Party with totalitarian long term political policies, but not necessarily the economic cum market notions we are led to believe.

We are likely to become ‘collateral damage’ unless we play our cards more carefully and in a balanced way.

Because China has a totalitarian society its government has more freedom of movement in trade and foreign affairs than the nominally democratic government of the US, despite Trump’s blustering. Our vulnerable trade flows are heavily concentrated in the Asian region. This is a region where there are long memories and the US seems not to understand that it needs to deal with China in a mature way according to long agreed norms of international behaviour.

The US was built on the Bible, the gun and slavery. It is a warrior nation. In 1898 the Philippines was invaded by the US, which then declared military rule. North Korea was unnecessarily bombed into rubble during failed ‘peace’ negotiations in the Korean War. The US helped the French to try to re-colonise Vietnam after WW2 and then the US invaded Vietnam. Hanoi was bombed to the peace table and over a million died as well as 55,000 US service personnel, all in the name of anticommunism. This was a time when ASIO had half a million Australians on file, mostly for the same reason.

China has acted illegally under international law with its claims and defence facilities in the South China Sea, but it also remembers European Imperialism.

However, US currently has 800 military establishments in 70 countries, with 64 in South Korea and major facilities in Japan, under its defence agreement, and Okinawa. Then there are the Philippines major establishments of Subic Bay and Clarke Air Base, and on Guam and Diego Garcia. I do not see the US threatened by China, although I do see that China and Trump’s invited mate, Putin, have much to gain strategically while Trump more than probably poses a threat to the US economy, if he wins another term. He is supported by Murdoch, Fox News, News Ltd and the Republican Party, while ever the stock market is rising, and apparently our government is seen, by China and others as being pro-Trump. Our massive spending on defence does not necessarily make us any stronger economically, but our government is not acting in a balanced way for crass, short term political reasons.

But, what is the goal of our China policy?

We all now live in a digital economy where all capable powers spy on each other and the digital means available to political parties to influence the voting public are ubiquitous (after all, we bugged the Timorese). How the technology is used is out of control and the average person has no idea of what the hell is really going on, e.g., Facebook is harvesting data from millions of us to use commercially, opinion polls can be bought with bots, if you disagree with anything said or written it is labelled ‘fake news’ in a climate where truth, which has no ideology, has decayed and opponents are trolled.

We now have a vast infrastructure on ‘security’ to guide our governments in the world we live in, but again what do we know? I am prepared to believe our government is acting in our interest regardless of all the campaigns being run by non-state actors and by the US, media moguls and, allegedly, China.

It would seem our relationship went bad when Turnbull was persuaded to drop Huawei on security grounds, given the capacity of the CCP to involve itself in the market sector of the Chinese economy with its many State based enterprises. If, as is surmised, Morrison was on the phone to Trump and the Chinese were aware of the conversation (possible?) or found out by other means and then announced the unobjectionable idea of an inquiry into the origins of the COVID-19 virus, why did he announce it with no prior discussion with China- megaphone diplomacy? This when Trump says it is a ‘Chinese disease’ and is de-funding the WHO because it is ‘China’s pawn’? (instead of spreading panic, Trump spread the disease, because of his near total focus on his re-election and appeasing his ‘useful fools’ base).

I signed an Agricultural Co-Operation Agreement with China and dealt with He Kang, Agriculture Minister, and met key CCP members such as Zhu Rongji, Li Peng and Hu Yaobang, but that was a long time ago. Everyone in the early days of our relationship fully understood that we all had the right to represent our sovereign interests. The Chinese may not have then understood Western economies and supposed agreements to a rules based order, and membership of the GATT/WHO, but they were very ‘quick learns’ and they are prepared to use its agreed three major mechanisms.

On trade, we take many more cases on anti-dumping to the WTO than China does to us. Not that the US is interested in multilateralism on trade, subsides and agriculture is still not fully agreed. I understand that the banned meat exporter issue is about product description; OK we have gone through that before with the Japanese and particularly South Korea. The allegation is that wine is subsidised and affecting Chinese wineries. Wineries not in the boutique or family owned criteria, but with exceptionally large, mechanised plantings can produce export quality wine at very low prices and they and the industry has never required subsidisation. Apparently the problem with barley is that the Chinese regard research as being a subsidy. Growers pay half the cost of research and the government matches this to a small percentage of the gross value of production. Thirty thousand grain and oilseed producers can’t each do their own research and no doubt most Chinese research is done by the government?

As with so many others areas of government policy, there is a better way.

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John Kerin AO has been engaged in four working lives and was a politician and Minister in five portfolios in the Hawke and Keating Governments, including over eight years in Primary Industry.

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