World China sharply ramps up trade conflict with Australia over political grievances

13:05  27 november  2020
13:05  27 november  2020 Source:   washingtonpost.com

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TAIPEI, Taiwan —China's withering trade war with Australia is escalating sharply, prompting several of Australia's allies to express support for a country that is heavily reliant on its giant Asian trading partner and vulnerable to political pressure.

A staff member sorts Australian wine in an area selling imported wine in a bonded warehouse in Nantong, in eastern China's Jiangsu province on Friday. © Str/AFP/Getty Images A staff member sorts Australian wine in an area selling imported wine in a bonded warehouse in Nantong, in eastern China's Jiangsu province on Friday.

Beijing on Friday announced new tariffs of up to 200 percent on Australian wine, which the country’s trade minister said could make business “unviable” for a $3 billion industry that sends 40 percent of its exports to China. The move adds wine to a growing list of Australian exports that have been targeted by Chinese authorities this year. Other products that have faced trade barriers include coal, timber, seafood and barley, totaling about $20 billion.

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China has so far ignored Australia 's attempts to discuss trade tensions over beef and barley imports, and state governments fear The dispute comes after a torrid year for Australia - China relations saw clashes over political interference, human rights abuses in western China and Huawei 5G equipment.

The number of stranded coal vessels has quadrupled over the past two weeks. The trade blockage comes as Beijing continues to ramp up economic threats against Australia after Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for November 18: China releases bizarre dossier of 14 grievances with Australia .

The feud between Australia and its largest trading partner, now in its sixth month, has drawn in unexpected casualties: dozens of workers on cargo ships carrying Australian coal — which have been denied entry into Chinese ports — have been seeking help after being stranded for months off China’s coast.

Australian Trade Minister Scott Birmingham said Friday that the series of Chinese moves, taken together, appear not to be driven by legitimate regulatory concerns and “give rise to the perception that these actions are being undertaken … in response to some other factors.”

“Doing so is completely incompatible with the commitments that China has given through the China-Australia free trade agreement and through the World Trade Organization,” Birmingham said in his toughest comments to date, while stopping short of threatening a formal complaint with international trade authorities. “It’s incompatible with a rules-based trading system,” he added.

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China’s commerce ministry has provided technical reasons for holding up shipments of Australian grains and coal and has accused Australia of subsidizing wine to sell at unfair, low prices. But Chinese officials have on multiple occasions acknowledged the root of bilateral frictions were essentially political, and state media and Chinese academics have lambasted Australia for what they see as double-dealing: enjoying profits from economic relations with China while assisting in Washington’s anti-China geopolitical agenda.

a small clock tower in front of a house: The Chinese Embassy in Canberra, Australia. © Tim Wimborne/Reuters The Chinese Embassy in Canberra, Australia.

In a move that drew criticism from the White House and British lawmakers, Chinese officials met with Australian media last week to publicize 14 grievances with their government. They include Australia’s public statements about Taiwan, Hong Kong’s autonomy and human rights in China; its calls for an independent review into the coronavirus pandemic’s origins in Wuhan, its treatment of Huawei and Chinese state media journalists in Australia, negative reporting about China in the Australian press and research on China being conducted by Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank founded by the government.

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A range of stocks of companies with heavy exposure to China fell sharply Monday, after China allowed the yuan to fall to a fresh low against the dollar, exacerbating concerns about the current trade conflict with the U.S. “ Trade continues to trend in the wrong direction, as in retaliation for new tariffs, China

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian followed up by saying Australia made “repeated, wrong acts and remarks on issues concerning China’s core interests” and asked Canberra to take “concrete actions to correct their mistakes.”

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“The actions against wine remove any remaining doubt this is anything other than Beijing using trade to punish Australia for political decisions,” said James Laurenceson, director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology, Sydney.

The acrimony was rooted in distrust, Laurenceson said. Twenty years ago, Australian leaders assured their Chinese counterparts that Canberra would never break its alliance with Washington, but it would not join forces with the United States to target China. China today “no longer believes Australia is living up to that promise,” he said.

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In recent months, the Chinese government has reacted particularly harshly to joint actions from the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network that comprises the United States, Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand. After the alliance issued joint statements on China’s crackdown on Hong Kong’s opposition lawmakers, media and protest leaders last week, Zhao warned that China might “gouge and blind” the Five Eyes nations for meddling in China’s affairs and undermining its sovereignty.

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Days later, Zhao asked Australia not to be “ideologically prejudiced” and accept the differences between the countries’ political system.

As Chinese trade pressure on Australia mounted this week, some voices in Washington and London called for more coordinated action, although few specific proposals have been aired so far.

a person standing in front of a store: A woman shops at an imported food and wine shop in Shanghai on Friday. © Alex Plavevski/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock A woman shops at an imported food and wine shop in Shanghai on Friday.

Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the foreign policy committee in the British Parliament, told Australian television that Britain should “stand side-by-side” with Australia. The Financial Times said in an editorial that “without such coordination, Beijing will be encouraged in its efforts to divide and rule, inflicting real political and economic damage on democratic countries.”

During an Asia tour this week, President Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien also weighed in and warned Beijing that its retribution against Australia “really turns off both Democrats and Republicans.”

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Addressing the prospect of a change in U.S. administration despite Trump’s refusal to concede the election, O’Brien told reporters he was traveling through the Pacific to let countries know “we’re going to be here, we’ve got your back and we’re not going to be pushed out of the Indo-Pacific region.”

Richard McGregor, a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, said China often asks the West to tolerate and accept its one-party system of governance, particularly in the past two years as the Trump administration declared the Communist Party to be an existential threat to the international liberal order.

But some Chinese positions, including Beijing’s grievances with negative stories in the Australian press and demands for coverage to improve, betrayed an ideological intolerance of its own, McGregor said.

“China’s complaints go well beyond their well-known red lines, like Taiwan, to complaints about the sort of outspoken criticism that will always be part of any democratic society,” he said. “It is difficult to imagine a greater contrast between Xi Jinping’s recent speeches about China as an open trading nation and the naked economic intimidation of another country over political differences.”

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China’s Clash With Australia Risks Backfiring Among U.S. Allies .
China’s economic offensive against Australia is partly designed to warn countries against vocally opposing Beijing’s interests, particularly with Joe Biden looking to unite U.S. allies. Yet it’s already showing signs of backfiring. China last week imposed anti-dumping duties of up to 212% on Australian wine, the latest in a slew of measures curbing imports from coal to copper to barley. Tensions escalated further on Monday after a Chinese Foreign Ministry official tweeted a fake photo of an Australian soldier holding a knife to the throat of an Afghan child.

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