Chinese demand for Australian exports, especially raw materials has been cited as a dominant reason as to why Australia didn’t fall into recession after the 2008 financial crisis: last year 70% of the exports from Port Hedland were bound for China, up from 45% in 2005 with all of Australia enjoying a similar climb.
Many headlines have stated: “China’s almost insatiable demand…”.
That’s good news in many ways. China is rapidly becoming Australia’s largest customer for just about everything and it is estimated that as China’s economy grows ever bigger that more and more industries will be “sucked into its orbit”. However one can detect a certain amount of discomfort in dealing with China, perhaps historically with the anti-Chinese laws of the late 1870s and 1880s, and the White Australia Policy of 1901. These were certainly declarations that the Chinese people were considered a threat to white Australia. This attitude of fear of difference again being reinforced by the Communist threat of the 20th Century.
“Australia’s economy is becoming frightfully dependent on the function of Chinese policymaking”, states Western Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam. “We’re setting ourselves up for vulnerability.”
According to the 2010 Lowy Institute foreign policy poll 46% of Australians believe that China will become a military threat to Australia within 20 years, prompting record support for the US alliance. And again in a survey conducted this year by the Lowy Institute 57% of respondents said the Australian government allows too much investment from China in the country, and 65% thought China’s aim was to dominate Asia. One commentator concluded: Which basically means that China controls our economy, and therefore, that they control us.
Today’s Age newspaper provides a lead story:
TONY Abbott has signalled that talks for a landmark free trade agreement with China – launched more than five years ago by John Howard – will be put on the backburner if the Coalition wins the next election.
The Opposition Leader has indicated that Japan would be a higher priority than China, because Japan is a pluralist democracy and a ”vastly more” market-based economy than its near neighbour.
One cannot help but wonder that rather than being based on sound economic principles that Tony Abbott’s real concern is one of, as Peter Costello recently expressed it: populism.