Should Australia Choose China?
Vision Times Australia (看中国)
08 December 2019

The following is a translation of an opinion piece by Adam Ni (Ni Lingchao, 倪凌超) published by Vision Times Australia (看中国). Adam Ni is a researcher on China-related issues and a visiting scholar at the Australian National University. Linda Jakobson, CEO and Founding Director of China Matters, also took part in the ‘Choose China’ panel discussion. For more information, visit: https://festivalofdangerousideas.com/ideas/choose-china/

Scholar: Should Australia choose China?

Author: Ni Lingchao

I participated in the debate on “Choosing China?” at the “Festival of Dangerous Ideas” in early November. The debate focused on whether Australia should consider shifting the consistent direction of its diplomatic and security strategy policy from its traditional ally the United States to China.

I am firmly opposed to this dangerous idea. This practice is reckless and contrary to Australia’s national interests in my opinion.

The triangular relationship between Canberra, Beijing and Washington is crucial to Australia’s future development, economic prosperity, national security and our position in the world. In the years to come, we will have to navigate in a more complex world and survive in an Asian world and a domestic situation where the US-China competitive relationship is intensifying.

The strategic competition between China and the US will gradually expand in the coming decades. Because any changes are quantitative and qualitative, we don’t have to rush to change our strategic direction today. In many ways, the framework of this debate (i.e. whether or not China should be chosen) is itself misleading. The Australian decision, whether at the government level, by companies or individuals, is critical to the direction of our country. The choice between the US and China is not a one-time formal official choice, but gradually formed by millions of small decisions made each day.

Only if you believe the following points will you feel that choosing China is the correct decision for Australia:

The benefits of our alliance with China outweigh the costs of abandoning the alliance with the US;

In terms of Australia’s national interests, China is a more moderate force than the US today;

We are willing to transform our democratic and free lifestyle into an illiberal lifestyle closer to the Chinese system.

First of all, it is against the interests of Australia to choose China now because China is not as strong as the US and it will not be for decades to come. China’s economic, diplomatic, military and soft power lag behind that of the US. Even if it really turns out as predicted, it will be the middle of this century when China’s comprehensive national strength catches up with the US. While we often overestimate China, we underestimate the strength of the US. It is in our interest to stick with the stronger of the two. There is no doubt that the best option for many years to come is the US.

In fact, our US ally also offers many benefits which people today are indifferent to: the alliance strengthens Australia’s defence security. Despite President Trump’s behaviour which is eccentric and difficult to grasp, Australia has received military, intelligence and other US assistance and cooperation. Canberra has also strengthened its international influence by establishing close ties with the US. And Australia has gained a better position in negotiations with China. Therefore, it is still necessary to ally with the US in order to be in the best position to confront China.

Whatever happens, jumping ship, when geopolitics is full of turmoil and uncertainty, from a good ship with only a few problems to another with less favourable conditions and only untested potential, is immature. Why should we put ourselves in a worse position before entering the coming storm?

Second, China is not a benign power for Australia, but the United States has proven to be and will continue to prove to be one. China’s way of exercising power is increasingly arbitrary and authoritarian. It exerts influence in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait and hopes to change the current balance of power and change the international order and rules. If China can scare others and achieve its goals through powerful means, it will undoubtedly do so. We should be alert to this rising power. The day of its emergence has come. History shows that when arrogance transcends caution and reason, tragedy is not far away. I believe that China under Xi Jinping’s rule is too confident about its strength and future destiny.

Thirdly, speaking about values. The political values of the People’s Republic of China under the Communist Party of China (CPC) are completely different from the liberal values of Australia. Some of their ideas will be extremely abhorrent to those of us living in a free society. The CPC is the world’s biggest human rights violator. The human rights disaster that is happening in Xinjiang is a good example. More than one million Muslims are currently being held in concentration camps. The Party conducts large-scale surveillance, brainwashing and speech censorship of the Chinese population, as well as other social controls. As long as people dare to dissent, they will be suppressed by the Party because it thinks it is a challenge to its political power.

Therefore, if we do not agree with the actions of the Chinese Communist regime within its own country, then we should be alert to its intentions abroad. What it does in its own country also shapes its international image. For example, China does not care about human rights as much as liberal democracies do. The CPC carries out unscrupulous large-scale surveillance and suppression within China, and now they have even begun to export this sort of expertise, equipment and technology to authoritarian countries in the Middle East and Africa, among others.

If Australia chooses China, it would likely undermine our values, political system and freedom. Our alliance with Chinese power would change the values of our democratic society and move us in a more undemocratic direction. This is why we need to keep at least an arm’s length away from the CPC.

Australia’s national interests and the complex international environment require us to be smart, cautious and creative. It is illogical, stupid and unnecessary to choose China at this time. But “the time has not yet arrived” is also a dangerous idea. I hope that time will never come, at least not while China is still under its current authoritarian regime.

 

Translation by: Chris Lanzit, NAATI Certified Professional Translator (Chinese-English), NAATI Practitioner ID: CPN0BC84W

Date of Translation: 19 December 2018

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