International relations between China and Australia have “soured” and the Asian powerhouse’s mistrust of us is growing — an expert in the field has claimed.
Nick Bisley, a Professor of International Relations at La Trobe University, says the country was once reserved in its criticism of Australia but a series of perceived provocations means the Chinese are no longer biting their tongues.
He says Malcolm Turnbull subtly linking China with “coercion, corruption and intimidation” at a Shangri-La Dialogue in June and comments from Defence Minister Marise Payne — stating the superpower was not playing by the international rules — have caused widespread mistrust.
The Asian superpower was clearly angry at Australia after the Turnbull Government released its foreign policy white paper late last month, which was critical of the China’s behaviour in the South China Sea.
Its state-owned media even called Australia “immature”, “ungrateful” and a “distant propaganda outpost” in a tirade against the white paper.
“It is also clear that the sourness in Canberra is being reciprocated,” wrote Professor Bisley in an online analysis piece.
“The mood among Chinese elites ranges from head scratching puzzlement to outright hostility. “The people involved in these discussions are Australia specialists, many have studied here, sent their children to study here and have a generally positive disposition toward the country.
“Ordinarily, scholars from China tend to be cautious and often voice their opinions obliquely. Not this time.”
He says the country’s official line towards Australia is friendly — but privately the Chinese are showing “dismay, incredulity and even at times a little anger”.
“Australia opposes the use of disputed features and artificial structures in the South China Sea for military purposes. We support the resolution of differences through negotiation based on international law.”
This provoked an angry editorial in the Communist Party-owned tabloid, Global Times that said China’s economic influence in Australia should have eased people’s concerns.
It said China “could relegate ties with Australia to the back of the line, and ignore its immature outburst”.
Mr Bisley said China is wondering why Australia is even getting involved in the South China Sea issue.
“Australia has no disputes or conflicting security interests with China yet it repeatedly emphasises that China is making the region less secure,” he wrote.
“This seems to get under the skin of many scholars and commentators.”
Shortly after the white paper was released, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang suggested that Australia butt out of the issue.
“Australia is not a party directly concerned in the South China Sea issue, and it has made clear many times that it does not take sides,” he said in Beijing, according to AP reports.
“We hope the Australian side will honour its commitment and stop making irresponsible remarks.”
Professor Bisley also pointed a finger at the Australian media for its role in destabilising relations between the two nations.
He said the tone in some pieces about Chinese influence often use a “sensational and sinister” tone which is seen as “problematic at best and downright offensive at worst”.
“Whether talking about interference on university campuses, dual use research or political donations, minor errors would be used to close down dialogue and discussion,” he said.
The Australian white paper noted China’s remarkable economic growth and asserted that it had challenged the US’s position as the dominant power in the Indo-Pacific. It also remarked on how China had caused “tension” in the South China Sea.
“Australia is particularly concerned by the unprecedented pace and scale of China’s activities,” the white paper states.