OPINION | We can withstand Chinese pressure

OPINION

Crispin Hull

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The Chinese Ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye.
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We have been here before, so do not worry. If China wants to boycott Australia over our perfectly reasonable request for an independent inquiry into the Covid-19 virus, it is their problem, not ours. The inquiry is not political brinksmanship but essential for reasons I’ll come back to.

There was a time in the 19 th century when 70 per cent of our imports came from Britain and 80 per cent of our exports went to Britain. By the turn of the 20 th century still half our exports went to Britain. We were still heavily dependent on Britain when it went in to the European Economic Community in 1973.

We almost panicked at the time, branding it a betrayal by Britain that would be economically ruinous for Australia. But there was no need to panic. Australia produces so much good stuff there are plenty of buyers. After 1973 we traded more with the US and Japan. People then thought we were too dependent on Japan. Not to worry, when Japan wound down, China started to take our goods and services.

Well, if the Chinese now are so stupid as to deny themselves the riches of Australian educational services, food, medicines and natural resources, let us stand by and watch the Communist Party of China shoot itself in the foot.

The Chinese Ambassador to Australia, Cheng Jingye, in a bullying threatening way hinted that the Chinese people might want to boycott Australia if Australia presses for the inquiry. Well, he might have that wrong.

The Chinese people will not voluntarily boycott Australian goods and services. History shows us that they want them. The boycott will only happen if the Communist Party orders it and the people are intimidated into obedience. If that happens many Chinese citizens will be angry if their government denies them access to the services and goods provider of their choice.

By imposing a “voluntary” ban on Australia, the Communist Party of China will only reinforce its distance from the Chinese people. The demand for a Covid-19 inquiry is quite reasonable. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne have been correct and courageous in demanding it.

The difficulty is the spinelessness of France, Germany and Britain. They should join the Australian demands. But they are fearful of Chinese retaliation. Well, they should grow a spine. More countries should join the Australian demand. China cannot boycott them all. Overall, China needs the rest of the world more than the rest of the world needs China.

Rather than China boycotting Australia, the rest of the world should boycott China, especially travel from and to China, precisely because we do not know how this virus broke out or if any measures have been taken to prevent a repetition.

Australian trade history shows that having one nation – Britain, the US, Japan or China – dominate your trade, does not mean you should be beholden to their every whim. To the contrary. We have to stand up to bullies. And we have to encourage everyone else in the schoolyard to join us.

So if the Chinese Communist Party wants to deny its people the advantages of Australian goods and services, it will backfire.

And Australia must not allow the Chinese to use the typical bullying tactic of picking off Australian companies one at a time – an arrest of a company director here, the impounding of a ship there, and so on. As soon as China does not live up to international legal standards, we should threaten a boycott back. The Federal Government has that power.

An Australian boycott of China, which would mean a ban on Australian exports of coal and iron ore into China, would be just as wounding to China as a ban by China on our exports. In fact, more wounding. This is because every thing good, bad, indifferent or ugly that happens in China lies at the foot of the Communist Party which runs the country down to the last detail.

So when the Chinese miss out on Australian produce, and produce from Europe and the US if they have the spine to join us, their anger will not be directed at the “filthy foreigners”, but at their own Communist Party where the blame lies.

Back to the important reason for an inquiry. We may be certain that it broke out in Wuhan in China. It is so virulent that that if it had broken out anywhere else beforehand we would have known about it, even in media-controlled China.

Many assume that the source was some peasant in a wet market eating a half-cooked bat. Maybe. But as Professor Clive Williams of the ANU has pointed out, Wuhan houses the Wuhan Institute of Virology, precisely because the animal-to-human transmission of viruses is as likely to happen there as anywhere else.

What if the virus escaped unintentionally from the laboratory, just as the smallpox virus escaped in 1978 to kill Janet Parker in Britain? If so, the US must carry some blame.

The world should know whether it was the wet markets or the laboratory. Only with that knowledge can we work towards eradication. The markets should close anyway because they threaten wildlife and are cruel. Closing them, of course, would severely test the power of the Communist Party. Perhaps that is another reason for avoiding an inquiry.

But if the markets close it would be false security if the virus came from the laboratory. The US has helped fund the laboratory. US scientists visited in 2018 and expressed concerns about bio-security. They recommended the US provide more money. But the anti-science Trump Administration refused.

Prime Minister Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne should hold their ground and encourage others to join the demands for an inquiry. Yes, China messed up the initial response, like many other countries, but unlike other countries China seems criminally reluctant to allow an inquiry to go ahead. Cleary, the Communist Party has something to hide.

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Crispin Hull is a current columnist and former Editor of the Canberra Times.


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