After Huawei setback, China should not give up efforts to improve Australia ties

By Dong Di and Luo Zhen Source:Global Times Published: 2018/8/29 18:23:40

The Australian government on August 23 blocked Chinese telecoms equipment makers Huawei from providing equipment to Australia's 5G mobile phone networks. It claimed in a statement that it barred the involvement of any firm "likely to be subject to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government that conflict with Australian law," as that may result in failure to adequately protect the 5G network from unauthorized access or interference.

The ban has cast a shadow over China-Australia relations. Just over one month ago on July 19, Australian think tank, the Australia-China Relations Institute, released a report calling on the Australian government to attach more importance to the Belt and Road initiative and "develop a coherent policy" regarding engagement with Asia-Pacific infrastructure projects. It's in the interest of neither side to mess up China-Australia relations. The reasons behind the ban on Huawei are worth pondering.

Australia has long been suspicious of Huawei. In 2012, the company was blocked from supplying equipment to Australia's National Broadband Network. In order to forestall Huawei's plan to lay the underwater internet cables for the Solomon Islands, Canberra forked out millions of dollars to fund the project in June this year.

Now, the telecoms giant has been targeted again. Some Australian politicians wanted to solicit political support by playing the China card. One day after Huawei was blocked from rolling out 5G technology in Australia, former treasurer Scott Morrison replaced Malcolm Turnbull to become Australia's new prime minister after winning a three-way battle for the leadership of the Liberal party. Morrison defeated key challenger Peter Dutton, a former cabinet minister, by a 45-40 vote. Reports suggested that Morrison played an active role in excluding Huawei from Australia's 5G network in a bid to bolster his own credentials for the top job.

Australia has harbored a complicated attitude toward China. On the one hand, it has now gone 27 years without experiencing a recession, and developing relations with China, its biggest trading partner, is essential for Australia to further boost economic growth. On the other hand, facing China's growing national strength, Australia hopes to strengthen its alliance with the US to hedge Beijing's influence. Just as Morrison said, the Australian government's first priority is always "the safety and security of Australians."

The recent years have witnessed increasing engagement between China and Australia. While it helps promote the interest of both sides, anti-China sentiments have also spread among some Australians. Politicians either used the sentiments to woo public support or were forced to change their attitude toward China. Being tough with China to some extent has become political correctness. Huawei and even the China-Australian relationship have become the scapegoat for Australia's domestic problems.

The Australian government's ban on Huawei is detrimental to the long-term development of relations, which should be opposed. Meanwhile we shouldn't push Australia too hard to make it confrontational. Our enterprises and country will encounter setbacks and hurdles in the process of going global. We should draw lessons from it, accumulate experiences and ensure bilateral relations develop in keeping with mutual benefits.

The authors are research fellows with the Pangoal Institution.


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