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China and Australia want to be friends, but not everyone is on board

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Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne
Australian
Foreign Minister Marise Payne meets her Chinese counterpart Wang
Yi at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, November
8, 2018.

REUTERS/Thomas
Peter/Pool


  • Australia and China have had a pretty significant
    diplomatic thaw this week as the respective top diplomats met
    in Beijing, the first high-level meeting in almost three
    years.
  • But the Communist Party-run Global Times told its readers
    that’s great for politicians, but ordinary Chinese still
    believe Australians are pretty awful and will continue to
    believe that for some time.
  • Australia has been frozen out by China over the last
    few years over a number of issues from: Chinese political
    influence in Australia, to Australian interference in the South
    China Sea.
  • Both sides said they would try to work together in the
    economically contested South Pacific as China seeks to shore up
    some global relationships in a time of trade wars and economic
    tensions.
  • The Global Times said fine, but Australia is a sandbox
    for experimenting with other Western countries.

Following a successful surprise meeting on Thursday, Beijing and
Canberra want to be friends again.

That’s good, but it won’t change the fact that, for the Chinese
people, Australia has made “probably the worst” impression out of
all Western nations, The
Global Times
has noted in a strongly worded opinion piece.

Despite a reportedly
warm first encounter
on Thursday between Australia’s newly
enlisted foreign affairs minister Marise Payne and Chinese state
councilor and foreign affairs minister Wang Yi (王毅 ) in Beijing,
the strident Chinese tabloid had some tough truths to share for
those hoping for a thaw in the frosty bilateral relationship.

In a typically withering opinion piece titled “It will be more
difficult for China and Australia to repair people-to-people
relations than to restore political relations,” the publication
compared Australia unfavorably with US President Donald Trump.

At least when Trump was openly hostile toward China, people could
understand why, the paper suggested.

“Trump has launched an unprecedented trade war with China, but
the Chinese people can at least understand the rationale of the
US. But Chinese people do not get why Australia is so hostile to
China (in the last two years),” the opinion piece reads.

In fact, the resumption of high-level meetings between China and
Australia will come a lot easier than rediscovery of the once
mutually admirative and friendly feelings between the two
peoples, the paper observed.

Making the enemy less of an enemy

“Due to its performance in the past two years, Australia has left
a bad impression on the Chinese people, probably the worst of all
Western countries,” the opinion column said.

It continued: “The Chinese people understand that we must make
friends with the outside world and try our best to make the enemy
less than the enemy. Therefore, it is acceptable to improve the
relationship between China and Australia rationally. However,
people’s understanding of the Australian position in recent years
is difficult to change in a short time.

For almost a decade really, Australia has been caught in a bit of
a slow motion PR trainwreck in China.

Emerging of a once-in-a-generation trading boom that peaked
around 2007, relations ironically began to sour around the same
time the Mandarin speaking China expert Kevin Rudd was voted into
office the same year.


Read more:

Australia’s former foreign minister let slip how casually easy it
is for China to tell another country what to do


Kevin Rudd Munich Security Conference
Former
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, left, at the Munich
Security Conference in Germany, February 16,
2018.

REUTERS/Michaela
Rehle


We don’t want to talk about Kevin

The rot really began when Rudd famously delivered an
unanticipated dressing-down of China in a speech at Beijing
University, using a little-known and controversial word ‘Zheng
you’ to describe a friend who is unafraid to tell it like it is.

Unsurprisingly the ensuing blunt assessment of China’s various
faults in fluent Mandarin before an audience of hyped-up,
patriotically infused, pre-Beijing Olympic students has never
been forgotten, or forgiven.

What has followed has been a shopping list of insults, perceived
or real, that have stretched the relationship to a breaking
point.

Chinese public opinion can grasp that Australia is economically
close to China, but politically and strategically attached to the
US, the Times noted.

“But Australia has taken the lead in boycotting China’s so-called
“infiltration” of the South China Seas … Australia also took
the lead among Western countries to exclude Huawei from
participating in 5G construction.”


china australia store fonterra milk
Customers
talk to a sales assistant at a supermarket in Beijing, August 5,
2013.

REUTERS/Kim
Kyung-Hoon


Salt on the wound

“This is to say that salt was sprinkled on the wounds (伤口上的盐) of
China-Australia relations.”

This position stands in contrast to the broad reporting of events
in Beijing on Thursday where foreign minister Wang Yi indicated
that the two sides had found “an important common understanding.”

The flashpoint of Thursday’s discussions this time centered on
the South Pacific, after Australia’s prime minister on Thursday
announced a surprise multibillion economic, diplomatic and
security dollar fund to counter China’s rising influence in the
region.

Beijing and Canberra should work together in the South Pacific
and not wake up one day as strategic rivals, the State Councilor
and former Ambassador to Japan said on Thursday.

“Australia and China are not competitors, not rivals but
cooperation partners and we have agreed to combine and capitalize
on our respective strengths to carry out trilateral cooperation
involving Pacific island states.”

An important extended thread in China’s
21st century Maritime Silk Road
, the redrawing and rebuilding
of trade routes, sea lanes and infrastructures, Wang said that
China would prefer to be Australia’s partner in driving
infrastructure in the Pacific.

Wang spoke of forming a “tripartite cooperative” with Pacific
nations after Morrison announced a rebooting of Australia’s
engagement with its neglected “backyard,” of which the
centrepiece is a $3 billion infrastructure fund to potentially
lure island states away from the maritime leg of China’s Belt and
Road Initiative.

All well and good for the islands, the Times said, “but it is
uncertain whether (people to people ties) will recover.”


Now read:

Australia’s new prime minister sounds like he wants to take on
China’s growing influence in the South Pacific

“Let Australia pay the price …”

On Tuesday, Australia flagged concerns at the United Nations
Human Rights Council review in Geneva on the Communist Party’s
aggressive expansion of “reeducation” camps directed against
local Muslim populations in western China’s Xinjiang province.

“In an interview, Payne said that she would ‘talk about human
rights’ in Beijing. This information shows that China-Australia
relations will not be too calm in the future,” the Times
cautioned.

“The example of Australia tells us that cooperation does not
necessarily mean that each other is a friend … of course, we
have to build leverage to harness (the advantages) of a complex
relationship.”

“Australia said a few words of disrespect to China, but if it
does actions that harm China’s actual interests … then we
should respond, let Australia pay the price, and steer mutual
cooperation through struggle.”

However, foreign minister Wang said that since taking office, the
newly elected Australian government (this one is about two months
old, and it’s not elected) has made “positive gestures” toward
developing China-Australia relations on many occasions.

According to the state council news agency Xinhua, both sides also vowed to
“promote bilateral ties on the basis of mutual trust and win-win
results.”

“We stand ready to strengthen communication and coordination with
Australia in multilateral mechanisms, as a way of jointly
safeguarding multilateralism and free trade,” Wang added, in a
clear nod to China’s need to shore up multilateral support as the
damaging trade war with the US continues to impact the economy.


Bondi Beach Australia
Huges
crowds attend the Festival of the Winds in Bondi on September 9,
2018 in Sydney, Australia.

Brook
Mitchell/Getty Images


A country, yes, but also a kind of sandbox for
experimentation

Xinhua noted that Payne acknowledged Australia does not regard
China as a military threat and that a prosperous China is a
positive and significant outcome for the entire world, as is
custom on these occassions.

Meanwhile, the Times closed it out like this.

“Australia is a middle-power Western country not far from China.
It is important to say that Australia is important to China. It
doesn’t matter if it is not important. China should regard
relations with Australia as a sandbox (一块沙盘) for experimenting
with the relationship between China and the West.”

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