Honeyed Western support for Australia a political show
Published: Dec 02, 2020 09:48 PM

Bottles of Penfolds Grange, made by Australian wine maker Penfolds and owned by Australia's Treasury Wine Estates, sit on a shelf for sale at a wine shop in central Sydney, Australia, August 4, 2014. Photo: Xinhua/REUTERS

Amid intensifying China-Australia tensions, especially the trade spat between the two countries, a number of MPs from the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), including US Senator Ted Yoho, Italian Democratic Party Senator Roberto Rampi and Christian Democrat Member of the European Parliament Miriam Lexmann, have called on their citizens to ditch their national wines this December and instead drink "a bottle or two of Australian wine," in a gesture to show support to Australia and stand against China. 

Formed in June, the IPAC comprises over 100 MPs from 19 countries in the Western world. It is another Western alliance with an anti-China mission. Its latest campaign to "aid" Australia is just a political show rather than offering any real support to Australia. By supporting Australia in name only, they are inciting Australia to confront China. They are not only exploiting personal political gains, but also helping domestic wine industries grab a share of the Chinese market.

If the interests of Australia are really in the minds of these MPs, they should think of ways to ease the tensions in China-Australia relations and offer feasible solutions to downplay the disputes between them. They should also realize that Australia is economically dependent on China. 

A report in the Sydney Morning Herald in November noted, "Australia has the biggest market share in China of all wine-exporting nations. Australia also has many wine producers that export wine only to China." Geoff Raby, former Australian ambassador to China, told The Guardian that Australia needed China more than the other way around and the suggestion Australia can turn to other markets is "nothing other than wishful thinking." The Australian Financial Review on Wednesday cited an industry expert as saying that "Europe is hard yards for Australian wine."

Indeed, the one or two bottles of Australian wines to be consumed by IPAC MPs and compatriots in their countries could be too little to have any significant impact on Australian winemakers. It is worth noting that among the 19 IPAC members, eight are the world's top wine exporters - France, Italy, Australia, the US, New Zealand, Germany and the UK. In countries like the US, three quarters of wine consumed is domestic. 

And don't forget when China imposes tariffs on Australian wine and barley, other countries can replace Australia's market share in China, and almost immediately. 

Analysts believe if Australia stops shipping barley to China, this could present an opportunity for US exporters. Tony Kevin, former Australian ambassador to Poland and Cambodia, noted in a recent article that there will be honeyed words of support for Australia, but "American and European exporters will pick up the formerly secure markets that Australia is abandoning." 

As China-Australia relations have turned sour, the easiest card to play by Western MPs is to pressure China and fan the opinion flame. The latest show serves only these MPs' purpose of manipulating Western public opinion and exploiting political gains. 

Even the US National Security Council tweeted that Australian wine would be featured at a White House function this week. If we look at the countries which are making the anti-China chorus, they are mostly the same old US and its allies.

Australia should not count on them. The ball is in Australia's court to solve the current impasse in bilateral ties.