Shaky West perceives Beijing as a threat

By Zhou Fangyin Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/7 19:33:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) said recently that the country is facing an unprecedented level of threat from foreign interference and espionage, worse than that during the Cold War. It also listed China as an "extreme" threat. Various forms of China threat theory have been floating in Australia over the past year and the ASIO has given an unprecedented push to it.

The motive behind the China threat theory is confusing as there is a high degree of interdependence between China and Australia and globalization is the driving force in ties. It also begs the question what shape the theory will take in the future.

Some believe it's mainly driven by Australia's domestic affairs, especially its partisan politics. In a fragile position, the Australian ruling party is trying to divert the public's attention from domestic issues by citing external threats to keep itself in power.

There is no doubt that partisan politics has had an impact on Australia's China policy, but it's not the main cause, as the theory has been gaining ground simultaneously in the US and some European countries. Besides, if partisan politics were the main reason, the theory would have been eliminated by the change in government in Australia. But that's not the case.  

Economic factors also fail to explain why the China threat theory surged in Australia. China-Australian economic and trade relations have developed rapidly over the past year. China continues to be Australia's largest trading partner, export destination and source of imports. Meanwhile, Australia recorded its largest trade surplus with China while clocking biggest deficits with the US. Australia has benefited immensely from its economic and trade ties with China for quite a long time, which Canberra doesn't deny.

Even national security does not explain the rise of China threat theory. Thanks to its unique geographical conditions, Australia does not face apparent security threats. The Foreign Policy White Paper issued in November 2017 says Australia is still one of the safest countries in the world. The Australian government and media are hyping up alleged Chinese espionage in Australia without adequate evidence.

With the rapid rise in China's strength, it has become more confident of its development model, culture and influence on the global stage. At the same time, Western countries' confidence in their political and economic model as well as the superiority of their own civilizations is declining. Under such conditions, unnecessary anxieties can be triggered, leading to perception of exaggerated external threats and internal crises. The situation pervades the entire Western world, and is particularly prominent in Australia. Faced with China's rising confidence, Australia tends to treat it as an ideological threat. It worries China will export its model and impose its ideas and policies on others as some Western countries did after they became powerful.

China has repeatedly asserted that it pursues peaceful development, sticks to a policy of non-interference in others' internal affairs and non-alignment, and seeks dialogue rather than confrontation. Unfortunately, Australia harbors a skeptical attitude. Its behavior toward a rising China is based on a figment of imagination. Rather than worrying about the imaginary China threat, Australia should objectively assess China's development and the changes it has brought. It should deal with problems in China-Australia relations in a pragmatic manner so as to secure more interests for itself.

The author is a professor at the Guangdong Research Institute for International Strategies.


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