Someone importing iron ore from Australia

China versus Australia: The end of a symbiosis


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China's economy is growing, even in times of pandemic. And with it, the country's political and economic influence grows. But under Prime Minister Xi Jinping, Chinese foreign policy has become conspicuously aggressive. This is particularly noticeable in neighboring countries. What is it like to be a neighbor of the new China? In a mini-series we analyze the situation in India, Laos, Japan and Australia.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is known for his cold feeling. He is considered inconsiderate, opaque and power-conscious. Someone whose fine antennae for interpersonal relationships often fail and who therefore takes advice from an empathy trainer.

One scene burned itself into the minds of many Australians. Almost a year ago, when almost the entire east coast of the red continent was in flames, on a route as long as from Hamburg to Madrid, Morrison had flown unmoved to Hawaii on his summer vacation. Then he drove in khaki pants and rolled up shirt sleeves to review the situation in a burned down small town, where the concentrated anger of the citizens hit him. "Idiot," shouted one. "Fuck off!" The prime minister didn't move a mile. Hands in his pockets, elbows out, bodyguards at his back, he fixed his gaze forward in the sooty air and walked away with great stride.

So many Australians are all the more surprised at how emotionally their otherwise unemotional Prime Minister suddenly speaks when it comes to China. Relations between the two countries have recently deteriorated dramatically. There were allegations, threats and, most recently, China's tough import tariffs on the Australian economy, which has benefited from Chinese growth like no other.

Provocation after provocation

In April, Morrison left the point of the editor-in-chief of the state-controlled Global Times, Hu Xijin, responded. He was annoyed because Australia loudly called for an international investigation to clarify the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. Australia, Hu wrote, was "like chewing gum on the sole of a shoe in China" that you had to scrape off with a stone.

Further provocations followed. In early December, an official at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, alluding to alleged war crimes, posted a photo montage on Twitter of an Australian soldier cutting the throat of an Afghan child. It was enough even for the calculating Morrison. The Post is "downright outrageous" and "repulsive". "The Chinese government should be ashamed of itself," said Morrison, demanding an apology.

That did not happen. Instead, China is constantly building new blockades against Australia's export economy. Customs officials at Chinese airports are rotting boxes of lobsters from Australian waters. Yarn mills stop spinning Australian cotton. And Australian farmers are exhibiting their tractors in the middle of the season because China is no longer buying their barley.

It's an extraordinary twist because the relationship has long been considered symbiotic. Australia has a lot of what is of use to the aspiring China: raw materials such as iron ore, with which it builds skyscrapers, bridges and rail networks. But also clean water and blue skies, which attract tourists from the Chinese middle class. Thousands send their children here to study, buy houses with a sea view, and invest their money here. The two countries benefit from each other, not least because of their geographical proximity.