Australia needs to stand its ground against Chinese pressure

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SINGAPORE — Australia needs to stand its ground and defend its interests in the face of mounting pressure from China, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Friday.

The relationship between the two major trading partners has been tense in recent years but deteriorated last year when Australia supported a call for an international inquiry into China’s early handling of Covid-19.

“From our point of view, we have to recognize that what is going on at the moment is a pressure play to effectively compel, coerce Australia to be more compliant,” Turnbull told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia,” as part of the network’s coverage of the Davos Agenda.

“It’s entirely instrumental – the indignation and the rage and the fury you see in places like The Global Times are all entirely calculated and instrumental,” he said, adding that all Australia has to do is stand its ground and “defend our values, defend our interests and demonstrate that bullying and coercion will not work.”

“Once that is demonstrated, then it will drop off,” Turnbull said.

The Chinese state-owned Global Times published an opinion article this week, in which Australia was described as the “culprit for the broken bilateral ties.” The article listed several issues it claimed led to the deterioration, including the decision to ban Huawei from Australia’s 5G rollout, which happened during Turnbull’s tenure, as well as Australia’s remarks around China’s presence in the South China Sea.

China took several measures last year that restricted Australian imports, ranging from levying new tariffs to imposing bans. Canberra asked the World Trade Organization to mediate in a dispute over stiff duties on Australian barley in the Chinese market.

Australia is one of the few developed nations in the world that exports more than it imports to China.

Government leaders in Canberra have said that while they’d like to see strained relations with Beijing improve, Australia will continue advocating for its national interests. Current Prime Minister Scott Morrison reportedly said he’s open to a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping if there were no conditions attached.

Turnbull explained that in its dealings with China, Australia has to “recognize there are boundaries of trust, there are some areas where collaboration and cooperation will flow very, very freely.”

“There are other areas, such as telecommunications, where there are big national security issues and vulnerabilities where we’ll take a different approach. China adopts exactly the same approach,” he said, adding that every country assesses its own priorities and sets its boundaries of trust. “You just have to respect those and work with them.”

On Monday, Xi addressed the World Economic Forum and urged the international community to put their differences aside and let multilateralism be the way forward.

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