Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar put a call through to his Australian counterpart Marise Payne on Monday, to express solidarity against the relentless Chinese attempt to blackmail and bully it. The Chinese are using their trade and foreign policies to force Australia to abandon its independent stance in foreign affairs.
The escalating tensions were building up for some time but on Monday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was so offended by a fake image posted on social media by a senior Chinese functionary that he publicly burst out against Beijing. Demanding apology for the offensive image of an Australian soldier holding a bloodied knife to the neck of an Afghan boy, he called it repugnant and unacceptable.
The reference was to a recent internal inquiry by the Australian armed forces, which suggested that some of its troops might have been involved in the killing of civilians when posted in Afghanistan a few years ago. The inquiry was instituted internally by the armed forces but its report was leaked in a section of the Australian media. To rub further salt in the Australian wound, a still higher functionary in the Chinese foreign ministry defended the fake media post after Morrison had held a special press conference to demand the withdrawal of the 'repugnant image'.
The spat is indicative of the sharp downturn in the Sino-Australian relations in recent months. Australia faces a concerted Chinese attempt to intimidate it into submission. China being Australia’s biggest trading partner, accounting for some 30 per cent of its exports, has, in recent months blocked imports on completely flimsy grounds. Ships laden with coal, iron ore, shrimp and lobsters, etc. are docked at the Chinese ports, with the importers rejecting the goods on absurd grounds.
The policy of economic repression is the Chinese way to bend Australia to its will. Its long list of grievances include Prime Minister Morrison’s call for an independent investigation into the origins of coronavirus in Wuhan. Australia has also not held back on protesting the repression in Hong Kong and on Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. It also banned the Huawei 5G telecom equipment. That Australia is participating in the four-nation Quad exercises too must have riled Beijing.
Given that the clampdown on Australian imports can impact the Australian GDP, how it withstands the Chinese blackmail will be watched keenly in the democratic world. Nations facing the Chinese onslaught on land and sea have a special interest that Australia rebuffs the Chinese effort to subdue into submission. S. Jaishankar did well to register his support. Many more countries with a stake in democratic freedoms must stand with Australia.