Foreign corporate interests foment anti-China mood in Australia

By George Mickhail Source:Global Times Published: 2018/9/12 19:13:41

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Hysterical claims in Australian media about China's "political interference" due to its undue "financial influence" on the continent are often infused with xenophobic undertones for two primary objectives. 

The first is to channel the anger of the population for widening socioeconomic inequality in Australia at China, and the second is to prompt a "collective" societal support for US foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific, which has been reframed as a "war" against the insecurities fomented by China's "unfair advantage" in international trade and globalization. 

No doubt, China's rapid socioeconomic and technological transformation had caught many countries by surprise.

Furthermore, criticism of China's trading position as "unfairly advantageous" seems to be in denial about how the last hundred years have shown that "comparative advantage" in the free global trade of assets - human, industrial, natural, and financial had brought great prosperity to our global economy.

This incessant "binary and cartoonish megaphone diplomacy" about China over the past couple of years by a chorus of lobbyists, think tanks and media mouthpieces would lead any "casual" observer to think that they are orchestrated by some powerful lobby of state and/or non-state actors.

No doubt, the recent removal of an elected Australian prime minister for the fourth time in less than a decade by an alliance of politicians, think tanks and the media - acting as proxies for ("shadowy") corporate interests warrants a closer examination of the anti-China claims, the interlocutors and whose interests they serve. 

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) states on its website that the US, with 27.5 percent of the total $3.3 trillion invested in Australia at the end of 2017, and United Kingdom, with 14.7 percent, were the country's largest foreign investors. China was its ninth largest foreign investor with 2 percent. The DFAT website emphasizes that "the levels of Hong Kong (SAR of China) and Chinese investment in Australia have grown significantly over the past decade." 

On examining the source of those figures - Australian Bureau of Statistics catalogue 5352.0 - International Investment Position, the DFAT statement seemed to obfuscate the fact that over the past decade, the significant growth levels of investment were not limited to Hong Kong and the mainland.

Those levels were lower than the growth levels of investment by Belgium, South Korea, British Virgin Islands, Ireland, India and Saudi Arabia over the past decade.

So, if claims of China's financial influence failed the test of experience, then one should turn to those who peddle such claims and whose interests they serve.

One of the predominant interlocutors that consistently propagate anti-China rhetoric on almost a daily basis is the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). Its unfailing "analytical" bias against China and pro-American positions may be explained by looking no further than its funding sources. 

In 2017, it received $3.5 million (47 percent) of its total funding of $7.4 million from the Australian Department of Defence (DoD), and $3.9 million (53 percent) from non-DoD sources. 

There were 31 corporate sponsors and 16 corporate supporters that contributed to its non-DoD funding. Of those, 26 percent are Australian and the remaining 74 percent are foreign institutions, though none are Chinese. 60 percent of its non-DoD funding come from American (28 percent), French (9 percent), Spanish (9 percent), German (7 percent) and Israeli (7 percent) corporations. 

One may interpret ASPI's pro-American positions and anti-Chinese bias within the stated geopolitical context of "supporting" the Australia-US alliance through analysis and advice to government. However, there is perhaps a more salient economic rationale for why foreign armaments corporations would care to finance an Australian think tank. 

The global competitiveness of China's manufacturing naturally includes its armaments industry. The meteoric economic rise of China is a serious threat to US economic dominance, and especially so to its armaments industry due to China's successful partnerships with more than 80 countries along its Belt and Road initiative. 

It stands to reason that US and other foreign armaments corporations would protect their commercial interests in the Asia-Pacific by enlisting the assistance of think tanks, like ASPI who would act as their proxies in lobbying governments and influencing public opinion about their commercial competitors. It is rather embarrassing to point a finger at China for foreign interference when Australia's allies' financial interests are trumping the country's national interest.

The author is a senior lecturer at the School of Accounting, Economics & Finance, University of Wollongong, Australia.

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